Minister Schäfer Opposed to Current Proposal of a Single Subject Textbook
Statement by Debbie Schafer, Western Cape Minister of Education
Our understanding of the Department of Basic Education’s proposal to have a single textbook per subject per learner is that it is intended to bring down the cost of textbooks, and make it easier to monitor and implement the delivery of textbooks. However, the report in today’s Cape Times claims that it is to help redress educational injustices and inequalities of the past.
Just how having one single textbook will redress inequalities is not clear to us. It is my view that having a choice of excellent textbooks, with excellent teachers, is the best way to address inequalities.
The proposal is fraught with difficulties. Firstly, it poses serious risks for textbook publishers. By limiting competition, many publishers could go out of business, or at best have to retrench employees. Our country can ill afford any further job losses.
Secondly, any state monopoly on the dissemination of information is inherently undesirable. The DBE controls the curriculum – they should not also control exactly how it is taught.
Thirdly, teachers have different teaching styles and learners are at different levels of literacy. By them all being expected to use the same textbook, the consequence will either be that the textbook will be at a uniformly basic level, which will not stimulate the more advanced learners, or it will be at a level too advanced for some learners, which could have the effect of discouraging them. Education should allow for choice as far as possible within the curriculum.
The WCED has a history of encouraging choice, for example, by organising book exhibitions for teachers, and leaving it up to schools to choose books. We need books with local stories that young South Africans can relate to. Many publishers are already producing these kinds of books.
We have sympathy with the desire to bring down costs and ensure that each learner receives the necessary textbooks, but we believe that this can be done in other ways, such as buying through bulk orders, while still ensuring a reasonable choice allowed for by the national catalogue.
We are also sympathetic to the DBE negotiating transversal tenders for the selection of textbooks on the national catalogue, if they can achieve larger economies of scale than we can as a department. This is subject to the proviso that we continue procuring and distributing our own textbooks, whilst making use of the lower prices.
We are of the view that the DBE is trying to address a problem of inefficiency in textbook delivery in some provinces by trying to centralise it. There is no guarantee that this will succeed. Firstly, we do not believe that the DBE has the capacity to procure and distribute textbooks for the whole country. Secondly, they were suggesting that the Post Office be used for this purpose. In that event, perhaps the books will reach the schools for the following school year, if at all.
The answer to distribution lies in improving the efficiency of the provincial departments. The WCED has an excellent history of procuring our textbooks and ensuring that the books are received timeously. Our online ordering system has made it easier for schools to choose their books, within the parameters of the national catalogue. We have just completed a massive, three-year programme to provide textbooks to every child in the province, aligned to the CAPS roll-out.
The department invested about R605 million in more than eight million reading books and textbooks during the financial years 2011/12 to 2013/14, to support the introduction of CAPS and our language and maths strategy.
We allocated a further R30 million for textbooks in this year’s budget. Our investment in books represents a sizeable investment in the publishing industry by the WCED alone.
This investment does not include funds allocated to schools for their own purchase of teaching and learning materials in terms of national norms and standards.
Improving our literacy rates is one of the single biggest priorities in education.
Limiting the choice of books we provide and undermining the local publishing industry will have exactly the opposite effect.
Spokesperson to Minister Debbie Schafer
Cell: 076 175 0663