Unpacking SA’s education crisis – part sixFriday, 05/10/2012 - 10:25
In this, our sixth and final instalment on the unfolding education saga, we ask what lessons have been learned from the Limpopo textbook crisis to avoid a similar breakdown in the future, both from the government’s perspective and civil society. We look at systematic problems in the education system that affected the Eastern Cape, as well as work being done to strengthen parent interaction.
Media professionals are free to use all copy and photographs from this series on condition Corruption Watch is credited as the source.
The failure by the Limpopo education department to deliver textbooks, after 18 years of democracy, has become a rallying point around which the public and political and civil bodies have organised to address not only failures in Limpopo, but in the education system as a whole.
Investigations by the National Treasury and the crisis team, which included the Hawks, revealed the province’s failure to deliver textbooks was just the tip of the iceberg.
A report by former Limpopo education department administrator Anis Karodia and a Special Investigating Unit probe has shown inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption in in the department, and has raised questions about the government’s outsourcing solutions for textbooks – and the lack of oversight in this regard – as well as the placement of teachers.
There is a concern that the Eastern Cape education department is struggling with the same issues, as are other provinces to a greater or lesser extent. The Eastern Cape department is also under administration.
Key problems identified in Limpopo according to reports by Karodia, Mary Metcalfe, the Auditor Gneral and a probe by Special Investigations Unit include:
- Inadequate oversight and management of budgets, resulting in a lack of paper trails to support transactions, and overspending of R2-billion;
- Lack of skills in the bid adjudication committee and civil servants to evaluate tenders in terms of the Public Finance Management Act and Treasury regulations;
- Mismanagement and possible fraud and corruption in tenders involving textbooks, educational tools and toys, software and school feeding schemes, leading to inappropriate and excessive spending on these contracts;
- Lack of control over textbook procurement, and lack of ability to assess delivery;
- Poor management of teacher supply and demand;
- Poor implementation of the post provisioning model – assigning teaching posts based on estimated learner numbers – which resulted in an oversupply of teachers in some schools and is thought to have cost Limpopo R1-billion;
- Ineffective communication between schools, district offices and provincial offices over textbook procurement and general delivery issues;
- Failure by the national government to monitor provincial government, allowing the education issues in Limpopo and Eastern Cape to take it by surprise; and,
- Failure by school governing bodies and labour organisations to take early action and raise awareness about the growing problem in the province before it became a crisis.
A collective failure
When the Limpopo education department failed to deliver textbooks, the first question asked was how it had been allowed to deteriorate to this extent without the government, labour or even the parents of the affected children raising the alarm.
Linda Chisholm, a technical adviser to the education department, at a symposium hosted by the Public Affairs Research Institute in August, said auditor-general reports had continually highlighted pillaging of state resources, institutional failure and conflict over what should constitute common state practice at provincial level.
But the Constitution directs that the role of the national government is to develop policy, oversee implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Actual implementation and budgetary accountability falls to provincial government. This means that while the national department can provide oversight and direction, the day-to-day tasks still rest with officials.
When the Treasury took over administration of Limpopo in December 2011, the system was largely dependent on provincial government reporting to national government, and supposedly alerting national government to problems.
Lobby group Section27 was prompted to take legal action after the Treasury took over administration, because the national government failed to act quickly to get textbooks into schools. Despite two reports calling for urgent action – from Karodia and advocate Pat Ellis, an independent legal opinion – Limpopo’s contract with EduSolutions was only cancelled in April. This resulted in a last-minute scramble by administrators to find new contractors to deliver textbooks.
October court order
The North Gauteng High Court on Thursday 4 October found that the national and provincial education departments had still failed to meet textbook delivery deadlines in Limpopo despite two court orders, which reflects badly on government.
The court was critical that Section27 was compelled to return to court after the national department failed to respond to at least four requests for updated information on the delivery of textbooks and the catch-up programmes.
The court ordered Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and the Limpopo education department to make sure all textbooks for grades 1,2, 3 and 10 are delivered by 12 October and books for grades 4, 5, 6 and 11 for 2013 by delivered by 15 December.
It also asked for a review of the catch-up plan that addressed concerns raised by Section27, and that an affidavit be filed to the court by 31 October detailing how certain issues were to be addressed.
Judge Jody Kollapen refused to appoint an independent person to oversee the delivery process, which was a blow to Section27.
The rights group had told Corruption Watch it had hopes this concept would extended to the rest of the country, provided it was implemented correctly.
Parent participation low
The failure by school governing bodies in Section 20 schools to raise the alarm is also a concern. Professor Laurence Wright, whose book Eastern Cape Education Crisis documents widespread corruption and deep-rooted systemic failure in that province, and Mark Heywood, the executive director of Section27, said parent participation in these schools was generally quite low. Parents often did not have the time or were not aware of their right to demand delivery from schools.
Section 20 schools are non-former model C schools that cannot manage themselves.
Heywood said: “We are now working with the National Association of School Governing Bodies to help strengthen the association. Governing bodies have strong protection in terms of the School’s Act, but there is often not the same level of investment in governing bodies of Section 20 schools as there is in the former model C schools, where parents can invest more time and money.”
Labour under fire too
Labour organisations have also come under fire for not raising the alarm in Limpopo. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said in September at a meeting with Gauteng shop stewards that unions needed to stand up and fight about issues rather than keep silent because of their partnership with the ANC. He referred to problems in hospitals and education.
Cosatu-affiliated Sadtu, the South African Democratic Teachers Union, has rejected allegations that it failed its duty by not making public the problems in Limpopo.
The union’s provincial secretary, Jacob Matome Raphasha, said in July this year that Sadtu had raised the textbook issue with the department of education in December 2011 and again at a meeting with publishers in February 2012, which was attended by Section27 representatives.
Raphasha said: “Sadtu was in class teaching when textbooks were not delivered in schools … We are convinced that Sadtu took the correct decision that in view of the failure of the department of education to deliver textbooks, Sadtu would continue to teach our learners and children of the working class against an irrational and populist stance of collapsing the system by going on strike.”
Civil society and education experts said they hoped that the court cases and lobbying would, at the very least, lead to greater accountability by the government. There was also a general feeling that while different civil society groups were concentrating on different areas – the Legal Resource Centre focuses largely on Eastern Cape and Equal Education on government failure to put in place regulated norms and standards – there was greater coherence around education.
The various groups had cooperated on Section27’s court case against Limpopo and there was greater sharing of information and collaboration. Heywood said: “There will be more active monitoring of education in the future by civil society.”
He was not convinced, however, that the government had learned anything valuable from Limpopo. “They are still in denial mode and there is a lot of self-defence, although there have been some good suggestions put forward by organisations on lessons learned and things that could be fixed.”
Section27 plans to turn its attention to sanitation in Limpopo schools once the issue of textbook delivery has been addressed.
Vetting and procurement headaches
The Limpopo textbook crisis drew attention to problems in vetting and procuring textbooks. It revealed clearly the lack of oversight by some provincial departments. Limpopo had no access to its own database, and so had no idea how many pupils were receiving books or even if the books were being received at all. Karodia had to get a copy of the database from EduSolutions to commission other suppliers.
According to Chisholm, the vetting and procurement of textbooks had been problematic from the start. Concerns about price and monitoring were raised as early as 2000; eventually Angie Motshekga developed a national curriculum when she was appointed minister of basic education, to try to remove opportunities for corruption and abuse by limiting the number of books.
It’s clear from Limpopo’s delivery problems that oversight of procurement and supply of textbooks by provincial departments needs to be increased and greater scrutiny of spending implemented. The retrieval of textbooks from outgoing students is also a concern, and orders for replacement textbooks are very high. This came to light when Corruption Watch spoke to EduSolutions.
Investigations into EduSolutions in Limpopo have led to other provinces that use the company, namely Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, being open to more scrutiny. Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal have issued press statements indicating that they are aware of how money is being spent. There are also calls by the DA for an investigation into Mpumalanga.
Chisholm points out that if auditor-general reports are anything to go by, then a review of the procurement and supply processes of the remaining five provinces are also in order.
Basic education ‘taken by surprise’
The national Basic Education department is setting up two bodies to strengthen oversight. Its spokesperson, Panyaza Lesufi, told Corruption Watch on 3 October, that the department was taken by surprise by the extent of the problems in Limpopo and Eastern Cape. “The provincial government failed to inform us. They tend to guard issues that make them look bad.”
He said he believed the department had stabilised issues in Limpopo. “We have addressed their financial problems and paid teachers’ salaries and outstanding bills, taken action against senior management in that province and set up a planning unit to oversee the running of schools, appointment of teachers and management of statistics.”
The national department has established a Planning and Delivery Oversight Unit, and after the required legislation has been put in place, the National Education and Evaluation Unit will begin operating. The former is intended to monitor performance in every province, according to Lesufi. “Senior people have been seconded to the unit and it will set targets for provincial departments to comply with, as well as evaluate the performance of principals and ensure that textbooks are ordered by 30 October as required,” he said. The latter will introduce an old type of school inspector system.
Professor Wright, an education expert, believes that the arrest and prosecution of officials and a review of systems will not, however, address the ingrained mindset of personal enrichment among education officials he had seen in his research into Eastern Cape.
This view was supported by an educational adviser, who would only speak off the record. He said he felt the situation in Eastern Cape was “almost irredeemable”. “If anyone tries to address the problem there they are removed,” he said. “I think there have now been 15 MECs in 18 years, it’s a no-win situation.”
Wright and Chisholm suggest that education of public officials is required, particularly in rural areas. Ironically, Wright believes that it’s through education in the school system that a sense of responsibility and an understanding of what it means to be a civil servant can be achieved.
“My concern is that the focus on corruption in Limpopo and Eastern Cape will be around arresting and firing staff, without addressing the fundamental systematic flaws in the system,” he said.