Dear Corruption Watch

We are all too painfully aware of the textbook scandal, but I wonder what functions and powers district education departments have? Do they play any role in the allocation of funds to schools? What sort of oversight do they have and should they have blown a whistle on the lack of textbooks?

School Blues

Dear School Blues,

Thank you for your question. It raises one of the most important issues, if not the most important issue in this country: can we deliver quality education to the people who need it most. And specifically, what sort of mechanisms are there to remedy the situation if we are failing, as your question suggests.

In February of 2011, the Guidelines on the Organisation, Roles and Responsibilities of Education District Departments was issued by the Department of Basic Education. This document states that the roles and functions of a district office have one overriding purpose: to advance the implementation of quality education and improved service delivery in all education institutions. That is all good and well, but after a somewhat lengthy and meandering discourse, the Guidelines conclude as follows: “The education district development guideline will not achieve the desired results on its own. It needs to be vigorously implemented by the Department of Basic Education and provincial education departments.” The problem starts at the top and cascades down to the bottom. For the most part the education district departments and the education district offices are toothless. There is one possible chink of light which we will deal with presently but let us quickly explain what powers the education districts and their offices have.

Firstly, they have no original powers and functions and operate in terms of national and provincial legislation and delegations. This means that what they are able to do is limited to the authority given to them by national and provincial legislation. They are unable to raise their own revenues. Their funds are allocated by national government. Their job is to operate as a link between provincial education departments, schools in that province, and the public.

Should they have been a whistleblower on the textbook debacle? Anyone and everyone should probably have been a whistleblower, but if your question is are they mandated in terms of their functions to reveal systemic failure in education as part of their job, then we need to look at their functions more closely.

They have three primary functions: they provide support to schools, they account to the provincial education department for the performance of these schools, and they provide public information by informing and consulting with the public in an open and transparent manner (the chink of light).

It is perhaps with this third function – keeping the public informed – that the issue of whistleblowing arises. Whistleblowers are usually individuals not organisations. But the question here is whether an education district office has a delegated mandate to bring to the attention of the public something like the textbook debacle. Whether such an action would strictly speaking fall into the legal definition of whistleblowing is neither here nor there. Could they have played a role? Could they have done something? The obvious answer we would think is yes, most certainly.  

It would appear that nothing prevents an education district office from informing the public of what is going on and given that one of their primary functions is to do just that, and to do it in an open and transparent manner as mandated, they were not only entitled, but obliged, to tell us what was going down in the Limpopo province. Let’s hope we hear more from these offices in the future…..

We are all too painfully aware of the textbook scandal, but wonder what functions and powers district education departments have? Do they play any role in the allocation of funds to schools? What sort of oversight do they have and should they have blown a whistle on the lack of textbooks?