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Textbooks for the Grade 12s

Equal Education (EE) recently campaigned to secure textbooks for grade 12s at Chris Hani and KwaMfundo Senior Schools in Khayelitsha. This campaign was necessary because halfway into the year, many of these learners still didn’t have their textbooks. This meant that they had to share books with classmates and rely only on their class-notes. This was very inconvenient for them and meant they were often unable to do homework and prepare properly for tests and exams. 

How did EE come to take up this issue? 

Earlier this year, Equalizers like Olwethu “Shakes” Matyesini, a grade 12 learner at Chris Hani, raised the issue of a lack of textbooks at their schools. In order to research the issue further, EE conducted two surveys of its Khayelitsha and Kraaifontein members – in March and in May this year. 

Both surveys revealed widespread textbook shortages at Khayelitsha and Kraaifontein high schools, with grades 8 and 9 being worst affected. But the second survey, in particular, also revealed that many grade 12s at Chris Hani and KwaMfundo were without their textbooks. With matric exams around the corner, this was an emergency. EE decided then that our first priority had to be securing these learners their books. 

What did EE do to try to secure the textbooks?

Equal Education first informed the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) about the textbook shortages on the 11th of May. EE was assured by the WCED that it would look into the matter immediately. But by the close of the second school term (the 9th of June), nothing had changed. The grade 12s at Chris Hani and KwaMfundo were still without their textbooks.  

To apply more pressure, EE’s lawyers sent the WCED a letter on the 18th of June. The letter asked the WCED to provide the textbooks by the end of the first week of the new school term (the 16th of July). It stated that if the WCED failed to do this, EE would consider taking the matter to court. At the same time, EE released a press statement informing the public about what was happening. This created a lot of publicity around the issue and placed considerable public pressure on the WCED to provide the textbooks. 

What was the WCED’s initial response to EE? 

Initially, the WCED did not respond positively to EE’s demands. It argued that Chris Hani and KwaMfundo had already received the money from Government with which they are supposed to buy textbooks, and that the shortages were a result of these schools’ failure to plan properly and look after their textbooks. 

How did EE respond to the WCED’s initial response? 

EE responded to the WCED by pointing out that both Chris Hani and KwaMfundo are non-Section 21 schools.  These schools do not control their own finances – the provincial education department does. EE said that it is therefore the WCED’s responsibility to ensure that enough textbooks are bought for learners at these schools. At the same time, EE acknowledged the importance of schools looking after their textbooks.    

How was the issue resolved between EE and the WCED? 

At that point it looked like EE would be forced to take the WCED to court. Fortunately however, this wasn’t necessary. On the 8th of July, EE met with Head of the WCED Ms. Penny Vinjevold, her deputy Mr. John Lyners and Mr. Benny Schrereke of the Metro East Education District (MEED). Mnoneleli “Milord” Ngubo represented the EE Leadership Committee at this meeting. At this meeting the WCED agreed to provide textbooks to grade 12s at Chris Hani and KwaMfundo. This was a major victory for these learners and EE – or so we thought. 

Did the learners receive their textbooks? 

At Chris Hani the grade 12s received textbooks, but at KwaMfundo they didn’t. Textbooks for isiXhosa, English, Physics, Life Sciences and Music were delivered to Chris Hani. Only Maths textbooks were not delivered; the grade 12s are still sharing these.

When the MEED sent one of its officials to KwaMfundo to investigate, many of the grade 12s without textbooks didn’t tell him that they were without their books.  EE was told by learners at the school that the reason for this is that these learners were scared. The principal, SGB and certain teachers had been intimidating two Equalizers at the school who had been involved in the effort to address textbook shortages at the school. They proceeded to call both learners’ parents to an SGB meeting to “discuss their child’s involvement in Equal Education.”   

How did EE respond to the intimidation of Equalizers at KwaMfundo and the non-delivery of certain textbooks?

EE had its lawyers sent the KwaMfundo principal and SGB a letter on the 19th of August, demanding that they stop intimidating the two Equalizers.  The letter also stated that the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, which means that everyone is free to join and participate in any organisation they wish, including Equal Education. 

EE also sent a letter to the Director of the MEED Mr. Melvyn Caroline on the 25th of August. The letter asked Mr. Caroline what was being done about the continuing textbook shortages at KwaMfundo, and at Chris Hani where grade 12s was still sharing Maths textbooks. At the time this article went to print, Mr. Caroline had not responded to this letter.  

The retention of textbooks is a highly complex issue. It involves effective management from the school as well as discipline from learners to keep their books in good condition.  Where resources are limited, textbooks must be returned to school, so they may be used by learners the following year. Schools cannot afford to buy an entire set of new books for learners each year, because the previous year’s books were not properly collected. 

Equal Education is committed to improving learners’ access to textbooks. We understand that doing so requires addressing a number of issues. These include: the high price and late delivery of textbooks, and the poor retention of textbooks at certain schools. EE will research and campaign on all of these issues in future.

Written by Brad Brockman
Researcher at Equal Education
Carla GoldsteinTextbooks for the Grade 12s