Reply to Western Cape MEC for Education, Donald Grant on the textbook crisis in Khayelitsha schools
MEC Grant’s response to the problem of textbook shortages among matric learners at two Khayelitsha schools is altogether unsatisfactory and evasive. The thrust of the MEC's response is that because the Western Cape is the leading province in education it is unjustified for Equal Education (EE) and Khayelitsha matric learners to raise concerns about not having textbooks for the entire year. The WCED’s relative success in many areas should not be used to defend specific failures.
In the Western Cape, EE works on a daily basis in Khayelitsha, Kraaifontein and Bonteheuwel and elsewhere. It is in these places that we work with WCED officials, school principals, learners and teachers to establish libraries, run after-school youth group meetings and conduct campaigns for resources and effective school management. We know the dedication and self-sacrifice of many educators and officials, and the despondency and apathy of others. It is very sad that when a civil society organisation raises the alarm, in this case about two schools that have not had adequate textbook supply since January, the MEC's response is to attack civil society and to blame the schools. Organisations like EE that bring to the public’s attention the fact that matrics are without textbooks for months, should be seen by the education department as resources and allies.
Although the MEC is rightly proud of the Western Cape’s education system, a considered analysis should give citizens of the province pause. The Western Cape matric pass rate has declined annually from 85.1 percent in 2004 to 75.7 percent in 2009 (still the best in the country). The physical science pass rate plummeted from 71.2 percent in 2008 to 52.9 percent in 2009. Although the Western Cape remains on top of South Africa's ailing education system, and for this the hardworking teachers and officials of the WCED deserve enormous credit, teaching and learning in the province takes place in starkly unequal conditions. The 2009 matric pass rate for Khayelitsha was 50.5 percent. This result is worse than the Eastern Cape which averaged 51 percent. In Khayelitsha, from amongst the 19 high schools, only 26 students scored 50% or above in both mathematics and physical science. In other words, parts of the Western Cape are performing worse than the poorest areas in our country. Overall success in our province obscures a reality of failure in under-resourced areas.
EE’s letter of demand and original press statement referred to textbook shortages at Chris Hani Senior Secondary School and KwaMfundo Senior Secondary School in Khayelitsha. At Chris Hani, matrics have not been provided with a Physical Science textbook, nor a Music textbook – despite the school being an Arts and Culture focus school. Matrics at the school are also sharing isiXhosa, Mathematics and Life Sciences textbooks. At Kwamfundo, there are significant numbers of matrics without isiXhosa and Business Studies textbooks, and others forced to share English, Life Sciences, Geography and Life Orientation textbooks. These learners are being denied the opportunity to prepare properly for their end-of-year exams.
We know that schools play a key role in the textbook ordering process. However, schools are a part of the WCED, not separate from it, and the MEC has a duty to monitor administrative failure and to ensure compliance. It is wrong for the MEC to blame “individual schools”, whose staff and learners are working under very difficult conditions, and who need the active support or intervention of his department.
Most importantly, the two schools in questions are “non Section 21 schools”. This means that, in terms of the SA Schools Act, they are not authorised to procure their own goods and services. Specifically, they are not responsible for their own textbook purchases, and depend, legally, on the WCED for this.
Moreover, the problems in Chris Hani and KwaMfundo – along with shortages in various other schools – were brought to the WCED’s attention on 11 May 2010. It is the department’s failure to respond that has prompted our need to publicise the crisis and consider taking legal action.
The MEC’s statement refers to “an additional 15 000 textbooks to Grade 12 learners in the seven core subjects in a top-up programme”. This is positive, but bearing in mind that there were 44,931 Western Cape matrics in 2009, all requiring a minimum of 7 textbooks, it has not solved the problem. The MEC’s statement also refers to an “unprecedented second top-up programme for Grade 12 learners to identify where there may still be textbook shortages”. This confirms our concerns, that notwithstanding the undoubted efforts of the WCED, there are still a substantial number of matriculants without textbooks at the midpoint of the academic year.
The deeper difficulties, faced by national and provincial education departments, and schools, are the high costs of resources such as books, and inadequate funding. Equal Education is aware that the determination of norms and standards funding, and the high costs of textbooks, are largely national questions. Another challenge is textbook retention, whereby textbooks are not kept in good condition and used for more than one year. EE members are active in their schools and communities collecting books and maximising the life of text books. A campaign in this regard by the WCED could go a long way towards addressing the problem. We will work with the WCED to increase national funding for poor schools, bring the cost of textbooks down, and ensure textbook retention. In the meanwhile, the textbook shortage for matrics in Chris Hani, KwaMfundo and other schools, must be urgently addressed.
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