Who is failing our learners?

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The Minister of Basic Education has had a tough few months – she has faced litigation on textbooks by SECTION27, on teacher post provisioning by the Legal Resources Centre and the Centre for Child Law, and on minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure by Equal Education and the Legal Resources Centre.

What is most troubling is her response to what cannot be seen as anything but a crisis in basic education, which needs to be taken seriously and dealt with urgently.•She has recognised that what is happening in basic education at the moment is a problem; she denies that it is a crisis.•Many weeks after the High Court judgment ordering her to provide textbooks to schools across Limpopo and to put in place a catch-up plan, halfway into the school year, the Minister apologised to learners and their parents for the “inconvenience” of the lack of textbooks.•In her answering affidavit in the textbooks case, the Minister described the proposed catch-up plan as “a monumental waste of time”.•Last week, in the teacher post provisioning case in the Eastern Cape, the Minister denied that the failure to appoint teachers to vacant posts for seven months is urgent.It is clear from these statements that the Minister and her Department are not taking basic education seriously, and this is working to the detriment of all of us: learners, teachers, parents and all South Africans who have an interest in quality basic education and its role in the future of our country.We are faced with a lack of textbooks in Limpopo and teachers in the Eastern Cape. We are dealing with several cases of sexual violence against learners by their teachers or fellow learners.We hear stories of classes being held under trees, and being cancelled in the rain. Learners go to schools without sanitation facilities, and are forced to relieve themselves in the bushes.It is hard against this background to deny that there is a crisis in education. We are finding ourselves having to convince the Department that they need to actively protect their learners from being raped at school.We have to go to court on issues such as teachers and textbooks. We are struggling for the bare necessities like classrooms, sanitation facilities, transport and nutrition to enable effective teaching and learning.

We still don’t have accurate numbers as to how many schools are awaiting delivery of their textbooks.

Today, well into the third school term, there are still many schools in Limpopo with no textbooks at all. The Department failed to comply with the court deadline of 15 June for the delivery of books and has since failed to comply with two subsequent deadlines, agreed to on the basis of their undertakings.Until textbooks are delivered, the catch-up plan can’t start. With each day that passes, it becomes less likely that learners will be able to close the gaps in their syllabus caused by the failure by the Department to deliver textbooks for more than half of the academic year.We still don’t have accurate numbers as to how many schools are awaiting delivery of their textbooks. We are also awaiting confirmation that there are sufficient funds in the Limpopo Department of Education to procure textbooks for Limpopo learners in 2013. Textbooks are a fundamental component of basic education.But they are also the tip of the iceberg. The lack of textbooks at schools across Limpopo is just one symptom of a systemic failure by the Department of Basic Education to take seriously their obligations arising from basic education and to prioritise the accountability of those responsible for breach of these obligations.Until the delivery of quality basic education is prioritised, we will continue to fail our learners. We need to shift our approach to this fundamental right: right now we see our teachers and learners failing in education; we need to see the truth that the education system is failing our teachers and learners.Nikki Stein is a member of Section 27. The group recently took government to court over Limpopo book crisis.

– By COMMENT: Nikki Stein, Section 27