Thu, 6 Sep, 2012
Don’t expect anyone from the Eastern Cape education department to call you after 11am. Cutting down on telephone usage is just one of the many austerity measures instituted by the provincial department across all districts, and is indicative of a larger crisis in a department that is scrambling to take control of its spiralling budgets, textbook management and teacher appointment.
One of the cut-back outcomes is a pending power struggle between public schools and the department over who gets to handle the budget for textbooks in 2013.
Makana schools fear, if their power to handle their own book buying is taken away, the situation would degenerate into a Limpopo-type crisis where pupils were without books until mid-year.
Acting superintendent general of the EC education department, Mthunywa Ngonzo issued a document (Circular 11) to schools on 25 June, during the winter break, saying that he would summarily withdraw the powers of the School Governing Bodies (SGB) to buy textbooks for the 2013 academic year.
This came as a surprise to Makana schools, many of which have successfully handled their school procurement budgets for the last four years.
Prior to 2008, government controlled the purchase of books but it resulted in delays, incorrect material being delivered and the inability to rectify errors timeously. Principals fear a return to this state of affairs. “We are against the centralising of buying textbooks,” said Principal Madeleine Schoeman of Ntsika Secondary School.
“We don’t believe they [the department] can guarantee the delivery of text books on time.” Schoeman also worries that the local suppliers will be hit hard when schools are no longer able to buy from them. Many schools only received Circular 11 when they returned from school holidays (July 16), well after the deadline for response had passed.
Naturally schools thought they were then forced to comply with this directive and rushed to get their book orders in at the district offices. But some of them approached the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) for assistance.
“According to the Schools Act, if you don’t agree with the decision of the superintendent general you can appeal this with the MEC,” said Sarah Sephton of LRC. Based on this, the LRC wrote to the MEC and the Minister of Education asking them to revoke Circular 11. The Minister set this document aside but her department failed to communicate this to schools, leaving principals in the dark
. In response, the department issued a second document saying that they would go ahead with their decision to take powers away from the SGBs but that those schools that did not want to comply had until 5 September to voice their objection.
All of the schools visited by Grocott’s Mail were unaware that they had the choice to object, until last week Friday, where the superintendent general announced it at a department meeting with local principals, leaving them insufficient time to advise their SGBs.
“We do not want to procure centrally but it is impossible for us respond to the circular in the time frame we’ve been given. We’re in a very tight corner,” said Lindelo Ramokolo principal at TEM Mrwetyana. “We didn’t know we had a choice,” added Virginia Bennet who is in charge of textbooks at Mary Waters Secondary School.
This was the dominant feeling at most schools. Subsequently Superintendent Ngonzo extended the deadline until 21 September. However, this begs the question as to whether extending deadlines would only delay textbook delivery.
“If you look at the Auditor General’s report, you’ll see that there is no reason to believe that this department has the capacity to procure centrally,” said Sephton. The department argues that centralising the books budget will save money.
Also in an attempt to cut back costs, the Provincial Department issued instructions to reduce costs in catering, stationary, accommodation for officials and phone usage. While Makana learners face the threat of not having textbooks, department employee benefits and salaries remain unaffected by the cuts.
Teacher shortages not fixed
It has been a month since the High Court ordered the Eastern Cape Education Department to appoint teachers to vacant positions in schools in the province. Based on the judge’s ruling, the department has until 2 November to fill permanent positions. In the meantime, the department was ordered to appoint teachers in temporary positions by 2 September 2012 and pay those who have been working by August 17.
According to acting superintendent general, Mthunywa Ngonzo, the EC education department had appointed nearly 4000 teachers since the court order. However, some principals still report shortages. A principal at a local school reported that he had appointed of two temporary teachers, but due to the moratorium on promotional posts, he had three vacant posts for heads of department.
Similarly, there was at least one post yet to be filled in each of the schools visited by Grocott’s Mail. With respect to teacher payments, Ngonzo said that all schools that had submitted the correct documentation had been dealt with, and almost all payments had been completed.
He did however state that those teachers that had been appointed in an “irregular manner” would not receive any payment. “I can’t take government money and pay people that I don’t know,” said Ngonzo. “People who were appointed by SBGs or unions without approval from department will not be paid.”
Schools make do with photocopying
Ntsika Grade 12s are currently required to share Life Sciences books or use old ones which don’t have all the content on which they are examined. This is because current textbook budgets prioritise Grade 10s who are the first to receive books under the new CAPS (Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements) curriculum. CAPS being phased in over three years, beginning last year when schools were allocated budget to buy books for this year’s Grade 10s and a top up budget for the Grade 12s.
This year budgets are put aside for next year’s Grade 11’s and next year’s for the following year’s Grade 12s. In other words, the matric class of 2014 will receive new books each year. For other grades schools are required to recycle or fundraise for extra books and any equipment they may need.
Last year, Ntsika Secondary School was allocated R92 000 to buy Grade 10 CAPS material. According to Principal Madeleine Schoeman, the budget was enough to buy each Grade 10 one book for each subject; however in some subjects, like English, more than one book is needed.
In order to cover shortfalls, the school was able to fundraise double their allocated budget in order to buy computers, library books and other equipment. The allocated budgets are based on various factors such as the schools quintile ranking, whether they are a fee paying school or not, and their location.
A fear for some principals is that if the power to handle their own budgets is taken away, they won’t know what to fundraise for, nor will they receive the usual discounts they get from local suppliers. Fortunately Ntsika has a photocopying deal with Panasonic in Port Elizabeth who gives them free ink so that they can afford to photocopy content for their students.
Textbook sharing was also reported at Mary Waters, Khulitso Daniels and at Nathanial Nyaluza, where grades 8s and 9s have hardly any books.
Date set for National Assessment
Parents who want to know who their children are performing at school would do well to take note of the second Annual National Assessment (ANA) tests which take place on 18 – 21 September in Eastern Cape schools. The standardised tests will be administered to grades 1 to 6 and 9, and will focus on mathematics and languages.
Grahamstown district, chief education specialist Bongani Stamper said: “These tests are designed to establish whether the system is working.” The tests will benchmark student performance against the expectations of the national department. “This will allow the department to identify schools that are failing to meet targets and take corrective action as necessary,” explained Stamper.