“How Can We Learn Without Books?”

The State’s Failure to Deliver Textbooks and the Learners who Suffer the Consequences

Learning and Teaching Support Material, or LTSM, is essential for providing quality education to learners. LTSM includes textbooks, stationery, workbooks, dictionaries and readers. These materials are needed for every facet of learning – from class work to home work. Despite the importance of LTSM, many schools in the Eastern Cape have been forced to make do, for extended periods of time, without these resources.

The South African courts have recognized that textbooks are essential to providing quality education. In fact, the right to education as guaranteed by Section 29 of the Constitution has been interpreted to include textbooks as a fundamental component of that right. Specifically, the Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that “It is the duty of the State…to fulfill the s 29(1)(a) right of every learner by providing him or her with every textbook prescribed for his or her grade before commencement of the teaching of the course for which the textbook is prescribed.[1]” Yet, year after year, many provincial education departments across South Africa fail to provide adequate LTSM in a timely manner, or at all.

Prior to 2012, schools in the Eastern Cape were provided with the funds to order their own materials, catering to each school’s individual requirements. In 2012, the Department of Education adopted a centralized procurement model whereby schools were instructed to select materials from the National Catalogue and send a requisition to their provincial Department. From there, the Department was responsible for ordering and delivering the LTSM. While the goal of centralization may have been a noble one – to streamline the process of ordering and delivering materials while simultaneously reducing costs through bulk ordering – it has not gone according to plan.

In October 2016, the LRC represented two schools in the Eastern Cape: Bethelsdorp Comprehensive School in Port Elizabeth and Nombulelo Secondary School in Grahamstown. Both schools are “no fee,” Quintile 3 schools located in townships and are entirely reliant on funding from the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE). As a result, both schools cater to some of the poorest residents of Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown. For these schools, the challenge of LTSM was not new. Bethelsdorp Comprehensive School had been without adequate LTSM since 2013. Nombulelo Secondary School had similar concerns. By the time these schools sought the assistance of the LRC, they had both made numerous complaints to the ECDOE in an attempt to rectify the situation. Their complaints were typically met with silence.

The schools found that several problems arose by virtue of not having textbooks; learners would have to share books making it difficult, if not impossible to complete homework. Similarly, if a textbook was lost, multiple learners suffered. Schools were also burdened with the added expense of making photocopies of materials to distribute to classes. Teaching and learning became strained. The situation was untenable.

In October 2016, the LRC drafted a letter of demand on behalf of both schools instructing the ECDOE to deliver textbooks immediately. In response, the ECDOE agreed to settle the matter. As the 2016 school year was coming to an end, the ECDOE undertook to expedite the delivery of LTSM materials for Bethelsdorp Comprehensive School and Nombuelo Secondary School for the 2017 school year. The schools would then be guaranteed to have the requisite textbooks as soon as classes started on 18 January 2017. While this was not a solution to the problems of the past, it was a positive gesture for the future, and the textbooks were very well received. Nicci Hayes, Principal of Nombulelo Secondary School said, “It has been such a relief to the staff and learners knowing that they will start the year on solid footing.” She stated a learner referred positively to textbooks as a “picture” to give context to the lessons in class.

Now that Term 1 of 2017 has reached its end, it has become clear that this victory was a small gain. While both schools had received textbooks for 2017, countless others, until just weeks ago, had not. Furthermore, schools were finding that other LTSM materials were not being provided and in January 2017, the LRC drafted another letter to the ECDOE demanding delivery of stationery on behalf of 28 schools in the Eastern Cape.

These problems continue to persist and are mostly felt by children in poor, predominantly black communities. With their exclusive dependence on government funding, they are unable to financially compensate for the lack of materials when the government fails. Despite some small gains, the problem of LTSM mismanagement continues.

The LRC continues to represent schools that have not received materials necessary to provide their learners with a quality education.


By Taylor Akin, edited by Samantha Brener


[1] Minister of Basic Education v Basic Education for All (20793/2014) [2015] ZASCA 198 (2 December 2015) order at para 53.

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