By Cornia Pretorius
The Department of Basic Education was back peddling this week following a groundswell of opposition against a “fundamentally flawed” half a billion rand tender that has called for the development, printing and delivery of 45-million books to schools by the time schools reopen in January.
An internal departmental tender committee has been probing the tender process, which yielded 25 bids, following calls from the Publishers Association of Southern Africa (Pasa) to readvertise it with more realistic timeframes. This committee briefed director general Duncan Hindle on Thursday, but the final decision about the tender will rest with Angie Motshekga, the Minister of Basic Education.
Departmental spokesperson Granville Whittle added that the department agreed that more realistic timelines were necessary. It was therefore looking at a “staggered” approach, which means grade R classes may get their books in January and the other grades at various points in the year.
“There is no finality on the timelines yet. We also need time for the quality assurance of the books,” he said.
But publishers and education experts believe the timeline should be pushed out even more — to the start of the 2011 school year — to ensure quality books.
One publishers, who asked not to be named, said: “The only thing that makes educational sense and to minimise wastage is to start the initiative from the first term of 2011. But it is a politically driven thing. Consequently, the whole of South African education will get shoddy worksheets prepared in record time. It is not going to help the quality of teaching and learning.”
Tender EDO400, worth R522-million, calls for the development of 30-million full-colour workbooks in eleven languages so that each learner from grade one to six will have two exercise books — one for literacy and for numeracy — to practice their work for every school day of the year. It also includes 15-million parent guides also has to be produced to ensure children work at home.
The tender has been issued to strengthen department’s foundations for learning campaign, which was launched last year to improve South African children’s dismal literacy and numeracy skills.
But the Publishers’ Association of South Africa (Pasa) has objected to the tender, citing irregularities. These include the fact that after Motshekga mentioned the project in August and requests from publishers for more information, there was not a whisper about the tender until it was published in one newspaper and the Government Gazette on November 13.
The closing date for the tender was November 24 and they will have only eight weeks to deliver books to schools. The timeline for the tender has been likened to building a hospital in three months.
In response to questions from the Mail & Guardian, Pasa said an intervention was necessary to “uplift levels of literacy and numeracy in South Africa, but that workbooks should be part of a more holistic process which include the training of teachers, well-resourced classrooms and making more text books available.
“We believe hastily prepared work books, printed on expensive paper and in full-colour is not the most cost-effective remedy [for the problems in education].”
The association said the tight timelines would compromise the quality of translations and that it was not clear about the quality assurance mechanisms.
“Normally there is a submission process, a screening, an evaluation and approval by experts. Following on this, how will the success of these work books be measured?” Pasa asked.
Brahm Fleisch of the Wits School of Education, also said more time was required to ensure the development of quality books.
He said this was to ensure the books presented lessons in the right sequence.
“You have to cover topics in the right order. If you teach addition and subtraction, you need prior steps in the right order to achieve your outcomes. So if you develop 1 200 lessons [over a period of six school years], you need to plan every lesson very carefully — how it relates to the previous one and to the next one. It is a lot of work, complicated by the fact they have to be made available in all 11 language. They should not simply be translated, but have to be developed using the structure of each language.”
He said the books also had to be accompanied by some teacher training and it should be monitored by officials and school seniors.
Fleisch said it was not clear if the work books are to be used once only and then discarded. “If it’s a work book children should work in it. But it is very expensive. Will there be money to produce them again or should they be re-used?