Metcalfe textbooks report: what you need to knowTuesday, 17/07/2012 - 13:13
By Mary Metcalfe
REPORT: VERIFICATION OF TEXT BOOKS DELIVERIES IN LIMPOPO
1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
I was asked by SECTION27 and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to verify the state of delivery of textbooks to schools serving Grade 1-‐3 and Grade 10 Learners in the Limpopo Province as at 27th June 2012. This was agreed between the parties in order to have an independent authority verify that an order of the court of 17th May 2012 to deliver textbooks to schools in Limpopo by 15th June and a subsequent agreement by the parties that delivery be completed by 27th June 2012 had been complied with. I was also asked to provide and analysis and recommendations that would contribute to ensuring that a situation where textbooks are delivered in the second half of a year is not repeated.
This required intensive investigation of a process and a set of time frames of great complexity in a time period of 14 days, including the finalization of the report. This executive summary will provide conclusions and recommendations but the full report of some 80 pages provides the processes used to reach these conclusions, and their evidence base. Both SECTION27 and the DBE have been given several opportunities to comment on successive copies of the report and that I am satisfied that their views have been adequately responded to. The report also names and thanks the team and others who gave assistance who assisted me to produce a report that has attempted to be as comprehensive as possible in the time frame.
The timing of this investigation (in the school holidays and before the start of the schools term on 16th July) was essential in order to verify compliance with the court order, and to give the DBE an indication of the scale of difficulties before schools begin. The compressed time-‐frame was also necessitated by the court order relating to the catch up plan, and that both parties understand that a meaningful catch up plan cannot start until delivery of textbooks is complete.
However, many steps lie ahead of the Administrator of the Limpopo Department of Education in order for him to finally verify how many books have been delivered in the right quantities to the right places. This will best be achieved in a climate of cooperation with the sole purpose of getting all the available books to the learners who need them as a matter of urgency. It may be that a climate of distrust, anxiety and pressure will contribute to evasion and concealment rather than the frank reporting needed to solve the remaining problems.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
1. Provinces ordinarily order textbooks before the end of a school year so that these books can be available when teaching and learning start at the beginning of the next school. The Limpopo provincial government was unable to order books in 2011 for 2012 because the province had overspent its budget.
2. The Cabinet in December placed the Department of Education in Limpopo under administration in December 2011.
3. For a variety of reasons to be investigated by the Presidential Team (appointed by the President to investigate the reasons for the delay in the delivery of textbooks), orders began to be placed with publishers for textbooks for Grade 1-‐3 and Grade 10 learners only in the first week of June 2012.
4. The first court deadline for delivery of these books was 15th June, and this was later extended to 27th June. Schools closed on 22nd June.
5. The first books only started arriving in the central warehouse from the 7th June 2012. More than a million books arrived over 2-week period, more have arrived since, and more are expected.
6. It would ordinarily take an estimated 6 weeks to process these books into school-based delivery lots, generate the necessary paperwork to track delivery, transport them from the central warehouse to the district warehouses, and then deliver them to schools.
7. If the intention was to deliver the material in a 2-week time frame then a much more comprehensive plan was required with greater resources, capacity and infrastructure than was made available.
8. When SECTION27 and the DBE met on 28th June to review compliance against the court order, the DBE presented figures that tracked movement of the books (that had at that stage been received) from the central warehouse to the regional warehouses. In fact, the records of the service providers show that very few of the textbooks had reached schools at that stage.
9. The settlement between DBE and SECTION27 required delivery to and receipt of books by schools by June 27. This clearly did not take place. SECTION27 believed the reports it was receiving should have been about receipt by schools. The DBE maintains that the reports were only of dispatch to and from warehouses, and they did not infer delivery to schools.
10. Whatever interpretation is accepted, both parties agree textbooks were not in all schools by the 27th June as agreed in the settlement agreement.
11. By the time deliveries started to schools, they were closed for the school holidays further compounding delivery difficulties.
12. Because there was no money in the Limpopo budget for textbooks, the orders had been rationalized and reduced. When books started arriving many schools could not understand why they had not received what they had ordered.
13. Limpopo schools have the poorest communication infrastructure in the country. Communication with schools had been poor. The circular that explains this was only dispatched on 29th June when schools were closed.
14. The pressure to squeeze this complex process into a 2-week process caused weak systems to buckle, and a full audit of delivery could not be completed because large numbers of proof of delivery notes had not been returned.
15. We are unable to make an accurate assessment of how many books have actually reached schools as yet since not all PODs have been received and captured and we are concerned about the number of schools that report that they do not have the correct books - in quantity, in language, or with categories missing.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
16. It is urgent that rapid and efficient mechanisms be put into place:
16.1. To communicate to schools both directly and through stakeholder organisations what they should have received
16.2. To facilitate the recovery and delivery of books has been delayed by system breakdown of the non-‐availability of school personnel
17. The resources that are required to top-‐up textbooks for all grades in Limpopo at the start of the 2013 school year, and to provide new textbooks for all learners with the roll-‐ out of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement to grades 4 and 11 in 2013 must be quantified and committed to now so that schools can be properly informed of what to expect, and so that the necessary planning processes for efficient delivery can be put in to place.
18. We have confirmed that warehouses belonging to the Limpopo Department of Education have volumes of textbooks from previous years that have not been delivered. These must be audited and distributed, and an investigation must be conducted into the circumstances of
19. Further auditing of the delivery process will need to be undertaken. I have provided the DBE with the formal report of the two audit companies that formed part of my team.
20. Government reporting against orders made by the court must be double-‐checked for accuracy and completeness against the order so that that information provided to the Executive Authority for subsequent communication or compliance reporting purposes is accurately and fully informed.
This report has attempted only to verify delivery by following the processes established to deliver textbooks in Limpopo in 2012. These processes were designed for error in the time-‐ frames allowed and with the resources made available. I believe that more work needs to be done to improve the entire value chain of LTSM delivery. The annual expenditure on LTSM is a multi-‐billion Rand budget and deserves the application of the appropriate resources and competencies to ensure the education system reaps the maximum benefit from this investment. The way forward must be more than about fixing a faulty distribution chain.
It is my view that the public interest litigation initiated by Section 27 has directed public attention to a component of the difficult conditions under which teachers teach, and learners learn. All energies must be directed to ensuring that all learners have adequate access to learning and teaching support material. This is in the spirit of the Kollapen judgment indicated that one week or even one day without LTSM is material to the education rights of the affected children.
2. SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS GOVERNANCE RECOMMENDATIONS RECOMMENDATION 1 AND 2:
The textbook procurement process for 2013 has already begun. It is urgent that clarity is provided urgently if funds will be made available for this purpose from the 2012/13 budget so that the planning can commence timeously and so that there is a sense of optimism that schools will start in 2013 with all the textbooks that are needed.
If an investigation is not already underway by a competent authority, an investigation must be conducted in procurement practices involving the overordering of books.
RECOMMENDATION 3 AND 4:
Until the proposed legislation is adopted which will put flesh on the skeleton of Section 100(1)(b), Cabinet should adopt a framework or protocol for how the executive will exercise its responsibility in instances where a provincial department is under national administration which it will use until legislation is passed. The framework or protocol will not have the force of law, but at least it will bring clarity for national and provincial officials and executive authorities. This recommendation is consistent with the intention of the President to develop ‘a special protocol to manage relations between the spheres and ensure that service delivery is not affected'.
The DBE and SECTION27 have agreed that I may make a separate submission to the Presidential Task Team on a set of observations made in the first draft of the report.
Government reporting against orders made by the court must be double-checked for accuracy and completeness against the order so that that information provided to the Executive Authority for subsequent communication or compliance reporting purposes is accurately and fully informed.
RECOMMENDATION 5: AUDIT OF TEXTBOOK NEEDS The results of the audit of school textbook needs referred to in the DBE court papers should be made public and action taken to remedy any deficiencies identified with firm time-bound plans.
RECOMMENDATION 6: COMMUNICATION
There must be urgent communication to all schools, including through the channels of stakeholder organisations to communicate:
- The contents of Circular 124 of 2012 and in particular the reasons for the delivery of LTSM that is different to what schools ordered and the reasons for fewer quantities being ordered than what was requested7
- Why a decision was taken to not order the maths and science textbooks for Grade 10 given the shortage of funds, the need to stretch the available funds over the areas of greatest need, and the prior distribution of the national Maths and Science textbooks
- This needs to be communicated in a way that builds an understanding of the challenges faced and the need to make the most use of the existing textbooks despite the lack of top-ups
- The challenges faced in securing LTSM for 2013
The SMS reporting line should be taken over by the Administrator for the Department of Basic Education, further popularized, and used on a weekly basis until queries are resolved. It could be used to communicate the information above.
This is important because in the absence of effective instruments of communication, schools are reliant on mobile networks for rapid communication.
There must be an immediate intervention to improve connectivity with schools. The DBE and LDoE should work with the Department of Communications as a matter of urgency to develop a plan with clear time frames and additional resources must be sought if necessary.
District offices must be provided with the necessary resources to communicate more effectively with schools as a matter of urgency.
RECOMMENDATION 7: TEXTBOOK PROCUREMENT AND DELIVERY
All officials, including service providers, should undergo extensive training to understand the procurement process and the importance of their roles in preserving the integrity of the distribution value chain.
The entire procurement of LTSM including requisitioning, ordering and delivery in accordance with national mandates, need to be documented and approved by the Department for effective monitoring and evaluation of LSM distribution.
Taking cognisance of the metrics involved in the procurement process, the Department should ensure that all cleaned requisitions be ordered by at the latest, the end of August of each year, to ensure that books reach schools before the end of the academic year in preparation for the new academic year's learning programmes.
Terms of engagement and signed contracts should be available to the project managers to tract, monitor and evaluate the performance of service providers.
Officials of the Department should take greater ownership of the systems to improve their understanding and interpretation of data provided by reports.
The capacity and infrastructure of the satellite warehouses need to be improved in order to ensure smoother flow and tracking of LTSM and to preserve the integrity of the procurement value chain.
Any changes to the procurement process should be timeously and effectively communicated to schools to ensure appropriate mediation of unexpected outcomes.
If key functions are outsourced, all data must remain the property of Government and back-up systems should be kept to cover the event of contract failure. Data on textbook coverage and supply should not be allocated to a third party, but rather be a considered as an essential internal competency. How this is collected and verified 8 would be an important development in improving the current situation and preventing further textbook crisis.
When key government functions central to the effective provision of education are outsourced, departments must maintain adequate capacity to monitor the service provider. Good practice in monitoring the performance of outsourced LTSM functions needs to be established and institutionalised. The notion of requesting a supplier to provide a report on performance is not an adequate or acceptable form of monitoring and evaluating a supplier's performance.
A system of verification based on the triangulation of data, through EMIS and a school-level feedback loop should be established as a minimum requirement. As a basis these should focus on the critical success factors of: on-time delivery, correct quantities and deliveries of the correct material to the correct destination. This will require additional specialised capacity at both national and provincial levels, and a well communicated regulatory framework for compliance with the requirements.
RECOMMENDATION 8: OUTSTANDING VERIFICATION AND CORRECTIVE ACTION
With specific regard to the current Limpopo textbook situation, it must further be recognised that the verification conducted during this review was severely limited and:
- A comprehensive verification of all deliveries against requirements and orders needs to be conducted, particularly with the intention of improving future processes.
- The Administrator for the Department of Basic Education must urgently obtain an explanation from the service providers regarding the numerous absent PODs. Given the volume of absent POD's and the number of books relating to this, it is difficult to understand where these books may currently be, or why these POD's are still not returned to the centre, if indeed these books were delivered. Of particular concern, is that if these books were delivered, but no proof was returned (signed POD's), on what basis would the distributors that delivered LTSM to schools from district warehouses be compensated?
- The audit team concluded that there is still a significant work that needs to be undertaken to confirm the outstanding POD's, especially given that it is of the view that these books have been dispatched from the central warehouse, as well as have been dispatched from the district warehouses. Either these books are in an extended transit from district warehouses to schools (i.e. deliveries are still not complete) or the process of receiving POD's from schools is taking too long or was poorly managed, giving an impression that books have not been delivered.
- Due to the imminent opening of schools, the audit team strongly recommends that the Administrator for the Department of Basic Education pay urgent attention to the following districts (depicted in Table 1 below).
In these districts, the audit team could not obtain PODs, within the sample verifying delivery of textbooks. The number and percentages represent the 9 books potentially not delivered (in the absence of PODs) within our SP1 sample for Grade 10 and 11:
- Due to fact that the SP2 data is inconclusive and provides inadequate information as what books were delivered to schools for Grade 1, 2, 3 and 12 the audit team suggests that urgent attention need to be on all 5 districts.
RECOMMENDATION 9 - 11: CORRECTION OF MIS-DELIVERIES
A process to investigate wrong deliveries must be urgently instituted so that books incorrectly delivered can be redirected.
If difficulties have been experienced in delivery to farm schools because of difficulties in securing access to farms, the Administrator for the Department of Basic Education should meet with organized representatives in the agricultural sector to assist in the facilitation of access to farm schools.
A public call should be made to get all books that are currently ‘misplaced' or ‘in process of delivery' into the hands of learners. This should have a short timeframe (possibly the first week of the school term) followed by the measures proposed by the Administrator for the Department of Basic Education (law enforcement agencies to recover the textbooks as assets of the State). The SACC has indicated that they would be willing to part of such an initiative, and all stakeholder groups could be involved.
RECOMMENDATION 13: BOOKS THAT HAVE LEFT WAREHOUSES BUT ARE NOT YET IN SCHOOLS
It is recommended that a system is established as a matter of urgency to clean up the delivery system, including identifying books that are still somewhere between the district warehouses and schools, and to correct mis-deliveries. This is an urgent exercise. In my view this should include an amnesty for a limited period to cover those instances where deliveries were abandoned because of communication difficulties, or because no person could be found at the school to deliver the books.
RECOMMENDATION 15 AND 16: LTSM FROM PREVIOUS YEARS STILL STOCKPILED
The Administrator for the Department of Basic Education must urgently arrange for a thorough audit of books lying in warehouses and deliver these to those 10 schools most in need, or to school and community libraries. Books that no longer directly match the new CAPS curriculum could be marked to alert teachers to this where necessary. The DBE has argued that recent textbooks remain relevant for the new curriculum.
The allegation made in the answering affidavit that orders of books had been inflated to increase commissions and possible links to the stockpiled books must be investigated by a competent authority.
This is an edited extract from the report released on 16 July 2012. The full version can be accessed here.