Equal Education responds to Department of Basic Education’s plans for further centralisation of textbook procurement

Home | Equal Education responds to Department of Basic Education’s plans for further centralisation of textbook procurement

Equal Education (EE) notes the statement made by Acting Deputy Director-General: Curriculum Development, Mathanzima Mweli, at the Basic Education Portfolio Committee Meeting on Tuesday 28 May 2013 that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has “started a project which is called ‘Building the Capacity of the State to Print and Deliver LTSM’”.


LTSM (Learner Teacher Support Material) comprises textbooks, workbooks, teacher guides, Science kits and other learning resources for the classroom.


Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minster of Education Annette Lovemore has interpreted Mweli’s comments to mean that “the Department of Basic Education essentially wants to become a publishing house”.


It is unclear from Mweli’s presentation at the Committee Meeting that the DBE is pushing for a state publishing house. Mweli noted the DBE’s plan to centralise printing and delivery at the national level. A state-based publishing house, as distinct from this, would be a fully centralised entity which would make the DBE – not publishers – responsible for producing and reviewing the content of textbooks.


Nevertheless, Lovemore’s concern over the effects of taking away “the function of textbook procurement and delivery away from Provincial Education Governments” by making this a national competency, warrants investigation.


It is important, in this discussion, to distinguish between distinct processes in the textbook chain – content production, printing, ordering, payment and delivery. The centralisation of procurement should not necessarily be conflated with the creation of a state publishing house.


Centralisation of several of these processes already began with the introduction of CAPS in 2011. Most notably, where before there were nine provincial textbook catalogues, there is now a single national catalogue. The process for submitting and evaluating prospective titles has also been nationalised.


Over the course of CAPS implementation, this process has been tightened and improved. The national catalogue for Grade 7-9 and 12 was released in March this year, giving schools ample time to make their selections, and publishers time to coordinate print runs. Overall, this has allowed for a greatly streamlined process and many stakeholders agree that the quality of books on the national catalogue is high. The national catalogue, and the centralising of the submission and evaluation processes are thus examples of the benefits that can be realised through nationalising certain processes.


There are also gains to be made from centralising the process by which schools’ purchasing orders are collected and collated, particularly when done electronically, as is currently the case in the Western Cape. If provincial orders were further collated at the national level and placed with publishers simultaneously, the benefits of economies of scale could be realised in a way which they are not at present.


However, nationalising other aspects of the textbook chain – specifically payment and delivery – would introduce three key concerns. Firstly, tenders at a national level would involve enormous amounts of money and be very lucrative, possibly inviting corruption on an even larger scale than we have already witnessed. The controversies surrounding Lebone Litho Printers, UTi and EduSolutions are an obvious threat to a competitive and open process at the national level. Secondly, nationalising these tenders may endanger the ability of provincial education departments that do have effective systems in place, to maintain the high level of delivery they currently enjoy. Finally, there would be legal hurdles involved in shifting funds for purchasing textbooks from provincial treasuries to the DBE.


Establishing a state publisher to write and produce textbooks would also raise serious concerns, particularly the quality, usability and delivery issues that have hampered the DBE’s workbooks project. In addition, the DBE would need to develop the capacity to produce the range of materials required by South African schools. Centralisation to this degree should therefore be considered with caution.


A potential justification for the centralisation of procurement and delivery, and perhaps later publishing, would be if the DBE could show that removing the publishing companies from the process would yield considerable cost-savings.  However, the DBE would need to demonstrate that this is possible. EE encourages the DBE to indicate the savings to schools it anticipates from any centralisation process. Transparency of this kind would improve public participation, scrutiny and debate.


The current system of provincial procurement and delivery does of course have problems of its own, including school-level corruption in the form of kickbacks that principals might receive for selecting a particular bookseller, and corrupt dealings between provincial education departments and major service providers. The recent alleged coercion on the part of the SADTU Mpumalanga branch to select Shuter & Shooter titles is a further example of the kind of localised corruption that currently plagues localised procurement.


An issue largely neglected by the DBE is that there is no plan in place to review the Grades 1-3 and Grade 10 catalogue, released in 2011. As it was the first year of CAPS implementation, textbooks for these grades were produced under tight time constraints and, accordingly, many are of substandard quality. It is unclear whether these titles will be re-evaluated and replaced. The DBE must address this matter.


EE is currently conducting extensive research into the procurement and distribution of CAPS textbooks in South African schools. This will enable us to develop the above ideas and concerns in greater detail and with greater certainty. The aim of this project is to assist the state with ensuring the on-going delivery of one textbook per subject per learner per grade, at a cost which makes this absolute necessity affordable for the country.




For more information please contact

 Catherine Boulle (Researcher) on 074 148 4970/ 021 387 0022/ Catherine@equaleducation.org.za

Michael Arnst (Researcher) on 072 766 0798

Doron Isaacs (EE Deputy General Secretary) on 082 850 2111