| South Africa: The Unlikely Limpopo Student Recovery
03 August 2012, Daily Maverick
Here's a joke for you. The Limpopo government fails so the state steps in. The province is a mess, but we're assured its functions will be fulfilled. Mid-way through the year, students are without the textbooks they need to study. Allegations of corruption surround the contract to deliver the books. We're told books are delivered. They aren't. When some finally are delivered, we're told students will get help to catch up on the months they missed. They won't be.
The butt of the joke is the students. At every farcical step, their education has been compromised. As the public sings in enraged harmony over their plight, they continue to wait, returning to school day after day for help that never seems to come.
The textbook failure is the crucial conflict in the narrative of a nation-wide education crisis. Its effects have been damning. "We are not going to take our children to school. It's useless; there are no teachers, no books, no classrooms," said Clifford Mohloana, chairman of the school governing body at Luthuli Primary, Seshego, on the first day of the third term. The school didn't open.
"We need textbooks because some teachers can't teach and you don't understand what they are saying," a student at Millennium College, Seshego, told Mail & Guardian.
"At least you can rely on textbooks in subjects [taught by] such teachers," said another.
As per court orders, on Tuesday the department of basic education updated rights group Section27 on its catch-up plan for Limpopo students who have been studying the new curriculum without the required materials. The situation doesn't look like it will improve.
The catch-up plan uses 43 of its 45 pages identifying the differences between the new and old education curriculum. It concludes that there isn't much difference at all and students should have been able to learn from last year's books. It says the problem is teachers who don't know the content. It resolves to distribute subject guides targeting problem areas for both teachers and students by 31 August at the cost of R61 million.
Speaking in Limpopo on Wednesday, basic education minister Angie Motshekga said the catch-up plan has started and they've set up a call centre for principals to report delivery problems. She cast doubt on reports the delivery failure had compromised mid-year exam results.
Sunday Times recently reported 70% of grade 10s in 25 Limpopo schools had failed their exams.
But in a scathing press release, Section27, who championed the rights of Limpopo students by investigating textbook delivery and taking the department to court, questioned the catch-up plan and its use of subject guides without extra classes.
It pointed to a department release "stating again that 'the difference between the National Curriculum Statement and the National Curriculum Statement CAPS is minimal'; 'that schools were able to cover a substantial amount of work using the old NCS grades 10 to 12 textbooks' and that an 'analysis of the information from schools showed the main issues were not around lost time because of late delivery of textbooks.'"
Section27 continued, "This is being used as justification for the lack of a plan for extra tuition. But if it is the case that learners were not disadvantaged, why the outcry? Why the apologies? Why the investigations? We remain firm in saying that an adequate catch-up plan should include more than only the distribution of study guides."
Section27 also noted the great irony in distributing study guides to solve a crisis in distributing textbooks. "There is no guarantee that these guides - like the textbooks - will be delivered on time." The group said the department was in violation of the court order and expressed concern it had stopped reporting on the delivery of textbooks and recommendations in Professor Mary Metcalfe's investigation. Basic education spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said a company to distribute the guides was yet to be appointed.
The DA's Annette Lovemore was also critical of the effort. "The catch-up plan's limited provision for extra tuition is not merely a violation of the court ordered settlement agreement, but suggests a complete disregard for the disadvantage that has accrued to learners," she said.
"A catch-up plan focused merely on the delivery of subject guides places primary responsibility for the education of our children in the hands of children themselves. This is not acceptable."
In a previous statement, Lovemore also attacked the claim that the curriculum has differed little. "This raises serious questions as to why previous years' books were dumped and burned, if the education department itself is now trying to argue they were still of use."
Taken as a whole, the ongoing narrative leaves only two conclusions: the department of basic education is incompetent or it simply doesn't care.
The answer is probably somewhere in between, laced with corruption and a struggle between the provincial and state departments.
Investigations from the president or the premier might offer some idea of what went wrong. But whatever reason we get to explain the infinite crisis, the joke's on Limpopo students, the neglected future of their communities, their province, and the country.