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My first day of school in grade four marked the beginning of a ritual that would last the rest of my primary school career, receiving textbooks. I recall the competition between myself and my fellow learners to secure the neatest, newest looking book and the disappointment of receiving a scruffy, tattered book. When I got all my books I would go home and sit with my grandmother and cover all my books neatly in plastic and stick a label with my name on the plastic cover.  It was quite an empowering feeling having those books. In high school we had book swap days where we got to swap our textbooks with learners in higher grades as well as lower grades.  At the time of course, I didn’t fully appreciate how lucky I was nor did I realise the importance of textbooks themselves.Why are text books important


Ian Westbury, a Professor at Illinois University describes textbooks as the heart of the    school and without the ubiquitous text there would be no schools, at least as we know them.” 

(Ian Westbury, cited in Oakes & Saunders 2004)


Textbooks are an important learning resource.  Most public schools in South Africa lack libraries and have limited material resources. Textbooks consequently  serve as an important learning aide for learners and as a consultative tool for teachers. Textbooks provide learners with interesting new facts and information.  Teachers tend to refer to textbooks  as part of their lesson plans and prescribe homework from textbooks. 



Outcomes based education which was the dominant model of education is the early years of democracy moved away from traditional methods of teaching and thus less emphasis was placed on textbooks. In the OBE system teachers were expected to create their own learning materials.


In a speech on 6 November 2009, the Minister of Education Angie Motshekga signed the death certificate of OBE. Textbooks are pivotal to the more  traditional methods of teaching. Hence the Minister has promised that “all learners from grade 4 to 12 will receive their own textbooks for every learning area. The department will issue guidelines for textbooks and distribution, and the selection will be done nationally.” The minister went on to say that “ textbooks are going to be used as an effective tool to ensure consistency, coverage, appropriate pacing and better quality in terms of instruction and content.”


The Western Cape Department of Education launched a campaign to encourage matric learners to prepare and pass their final matric exams, this campaign called the 100% also emphasises the importance of textbooks in achieving this goal. Despite the good intentions of both the national and provincial departments of education, learners especially in working class communities experience textbook shortages. 


Olwethu ‘Shakes’ Matyesini (19) is a grade 12 learner at a school in Khayelitsha. Six months into his matric year he is yet to receive a science textbook from his school. He is taking seven subjects and currently only has a textbook for life orientation and shares IsiXhosa prescribed texts with other learners. How are learners meant to have an equal chance of enrolling at tertiary institutions if they are unable to complete their homework or study due to the lack of textbooks?


Equal Education sent a letter of demand to the Western Cape Provincial Education Department calling on them to provide textbooks to all matric learners at Chris Hani and Kwamfundo high schools at the beginning of the new terms. The two schools in question 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.


The difficulty for both the national and provincial education departments is the high cost of textbooks. Another challenge is textbook retention, whereby textbooks aren’t kept in good condition and used for more than one year. EE members are active in their schools in collecting books and maximising the life of textbooks. Equal Education will work to bring the cost of textbooks down and ensure the longevity of books at schools. In the meanwhile, the textbook shortage for matrics at Chris Hani, KwaMfundo and other schools, must be urgently addressed. 


On 30 July Equal Education will be hosting a 24 hour fast, to call attention to the inequities in education. The fast will begin at 6pm on  29 July and will end at 6pm on 30 July. We would like to encourage all those who are able to fast, to fast in union with Equal Education and support the call for quality education


Shehnaz Cassim-Moosa

Published in Muslim Views

Carla GoldsteinTextbooks