Teacher laptop troubles begin

Audra Mahlong
By Audra Mahlong, senior journalist
Johannesburg, 06 Nov 2009

The teacher laptop initiative is unlikely to meet its 2011 deadline to provide all educators with laptops, says the Department of Education (DOE).

This is despite only introducing the project three months ago.

The DOE says provincial education departments are at different stages of preparation for implementation, and there is no indication of the number of teachers who have applied and have been approved for the allowance.

The project, which was supposed to have been phased in, starting 1 July 2009, was only introduced at the end of August, following departmental delays. The project is scheduled to be rolled out over a period of two years.

Just before the end of her term as minister of education, Naledi Pandor gazetted the initiative. It would allow permanently employed teachers to be eligible for an allowance to purchase a laptop. The programme would have provided a stipend of R195.83 per month, over 60 months, to more than 400 000 educators in SA, for a laptop package worth R11 750. President Jacob Zuma then dropped the monthly stipend to R130, over 24 months, with the revised package now being worth R3 120.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) confirms the project has been delayed, saying slow government processes caused the hold-up. The DOE was scheduled to publish lists of approved vendors once the initiative was gazetted, but failed to do so.

The teacher laptop initiative has been in the making since late last year, when it was announced at the social cluster directors-general briefing. The initiative gained prominence after the DOE snubbed a mobile computer contract, which Sadtu nearly penned as a R330 million deal with Rectron, to provide its 240 000 members with ultra-mobile low-cost notebooks.

Waiting game

According to the Government Gazette, every school-based educator employed in terms of the Employment of Educators Act and who occupies a permanent post would be eligible to qualify to participate in the initiative.

Several schools contacted by ITWeb noted that, while they were aware of the initiative, neither the provincial government nor their relevant unions had provided updates recently.

One educator from a Gauteng high school noted she had been told of the initiative, but added she had not been given any further information from the provincial department or her union. It would be quicker if teachers purchased the laptop themselves and waited for their allowances to be approved. However, she says teachers have been advised against doing that.

Each province determines its own roll out programme, which may include issues such as the granting of subsidies according to seniority, availability of funds and any other factors. All provinces have warned educators not to rush out and buy laptops, but rather wait until their provincial education departments inform schools of their roll out plans.

Incomplete standards

Following the gazetted terms, teachers will be expected to source the laptop packages, which meet the DOE's minimum requirements and conditions, on their own.

The laptops must have a 160GB hard drive, wireless LAN, Ethernet LAN and voice-fax modem Internet connectivity and a Windows XP, or higher, operating system.

The laptop must be loaded with Microsoft Office software, which will be available under a DOE-Microsoft agreement to the teachers at a discounted price. The DOE will also provide content, such as a school administration package and national curriculum materials, which will also be installed on the laptop.

The department acknowledges that changes were introduced before certain aspects of the initiative were finalised. Basic education minister Angie Motshekga says the DOE is engaging with Microsoft to extend the existing school level arrangements to make available the resources for educators either at a lower cost, or at no cost to the department.

Teachers will also not be able to acquire a computer from a company not approved by the teacher unions or the provincial education department. Currently, only two provincial education departments have published their list of approved vendors.

The DOE says the information should be available “in due course”, but adds that no timelines have been introduced.