“We are in a textbook crisis and will always be in a shortfall. I don’t want to just criticise, but we need to cut down spending on personnel.  pupils who suffered the most were from previously disadvantaged schools”. — Edmund van Vuuren

MORE than 600 000 Eastern Cape pupils face sitting for their midyear exams without having had any textbooks for the first half of the year.

And the Department of Education cannot even guarantee that everyone will have them by the end of the year.

The beleaguered provincial Education Department head, Modidima Mannya, made this shocking revelation during an education portfolio committee meeting yesterday, where the department’s report showed that textbooks had been delivered to only 70 percent of the province’s two million-plus pupils.

Until three weeks ago, the department had still not finalised a R54 million tender to supply stationery to schools because it had been awarded irregularly.

The department now aims to have stationery at all schools by June, just in time for the holidays. The issue of stationery is one of the reasons that led the national department to take over the running of the ailing department, invoking Section 100 (b) of the Constitution.

In a fact-finding mission in January, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga found the department in “total disarray” following the termination of about 6 000 temporary teachers’ contracts, the suspension of scholar transport, school nutrition – and a crisis with the stationery tender.

Cross questioned by the committee’s Nombulelo Mabandla on the crisis yesterday, Mannya said the situation was “so complex” that he could not provide timeframes of speeding up the delivery of stationery, nor could he guarantee textbooks would be available to all this year.

“We have to be honest that, as desirable as it is, circumstances might not necessarily permit,” said Mannya, adding that failure by schools to collect books from pupils at the end of the school year and dishonesty were major factors in the lapse.

“We have not activated the retrieval system for textbooks, which means that every year we buy textbooks and the children leave with them (to the next grade).

“They should actually be retrieved so that we have them (the following year) and only need to do a top up.

“We haven’t really been topping up, we’ve been replacing, which is a major problem,” said Mannya.

But one portfolio committee member described the 30 percent shortfall at this time of the year as a “textbook crisis”.

Provision of textbooks, adequate teachers and enough time in class (the triple T approach) were mentioned by President Jacob Zuma as an ANC and government priority.

Affected schools fall within the Section 20 category of schools whose budget is managed centrally by the department.

Inadequate numbers of textbooks is just another blow particularly to schools that are still struggling in mud structures.

Mannya took a swipe at Section 21 schools – who are allocated finances directly by the department – saying their principals were not buying textbooks though they were provided money to do so.

“I think we have had unreported problems with the Section 21 schools where we transferred money, and they haven’t done what we said they must do … Even some of the suppliers have come to see me to complain about non-payment, which in certain instances has got nothing to do with the delays in the transfer by the department.”

This was contradicted by MPL Edmund van Vuuren, who defended Section 21 schools, saying department funding was grossly inadequate.

Currently, Section 21 schools in the top quintile – traditionally the more affluent schools – get an annual subsidy of R147 (as opposed to the norm of R156) per pupil each year, and 45 percent of this amount should be used for textbooks, he said.

“The allocation these schools get is far, far, far below what is needed. I dare them to go do an audit of textbooks in schools and you will find the number is higher,” he said.

“We are in a textbook crisis and will always be in a shortfall. I don’t want to just criticise, but we need to cut down spending on personnel.”

Van Vuuren added that pupils who suffered the most were from previously disadvantaged schools.

Another committee member, Michael Peter, also expressed concern that the department was falling behind in a priority area as mentioned by Zuma.

“I need a confirmation and commitment from the department as to whether or not it is committed to the triple T’s (teachers, time, textbooks).

“Is that (70 percent) not too nominal taking into account what the State President said?” —