Is this the end of back-to-school?

Traditionally, the back-to-school season has been one of the biggest for the stationery industry. But a new plan by the Department of Education could see this lucrative period become a thing of the past.

National policy
In 2014, the South African government drafted the National Policy for the Provision and Management of Learning and Teaching Support Material (LTSM) for public comment.

The policy is intended to guide the provision and management of LTSM, including textbooks, home economics equipment and science laboratory equipment, and is aimed at all levels in the system, from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to provinces, districts and schools. This will affect all public (government) schools in the country.

LTSM is defined as a variety of learning and teaching materials used in classroom. These range from teacher- and learner-created resources to commercially produced classroom resources such as wall charts, workbooks, textbooks, e-books, readers, stationery, science kits, dictionaries, encyclopaedias and so on.

A recent article by The Daily Maverick discussing e-tenders and the procurement process stated that in education, procurement centralisation had reduced the costs of a year’s learning material and stationery pack to R130, down from R460, for each of the country’s 12-million pupils.

Minimum schoolbag
This pack is known as the “minimum schoolbag”, and is determined by grade and subject. It includes, among other things:

  • Exercise books
  • Exam pads
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Sharpener
  • Eraser
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Pencil case
  • Flip file

According to a Gauteng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi, the Gauteng Department of Education has appointed three service providers in the province for the management and distribution of LTSM for the 2017 school year. These companies are Zylec Investments (textbooks), African Paper Products (stationery) and Palm Stationery Manufacturers (stationery). Bongani Rainmaker Logistics will be responsible for placing orders with these service providers.

A circular published by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education indicated it will be distributing “stationery items in the form of phase-specific learner packs for use in 2017” to selected schools. It also indicated that schools may utilise the “LTSM Other” allocation to supplement “non-learner stationery items such as photocopy paper, teachers’ files and stationery for classroom use”.

The way forward
While the government has arguably struggled with service delivery in the past – most memorably with the Limpopo textbook debacle of 2012 – they are now ramping up efforts to deliver on promises. Procurement has been made more efficient and less corrupt through the e-tender platform, and tender information is publicly available so that service providers are held accountable. It may not happen next year, or even in the next five years, but the chances are good that LTSM will be rolled out across all nine provinces by 2022.

Figures from 2013 show that there are 11 975 844 learners in 24 136 public schools, while there are only 513 804 learners in 1 584 independent (private) schools. This implies an enormous loss of consumers for which parents need to buy stationery.

The stationery industry will need to rethink its position in the market if it is to survive this onslaught on its most lucrative season of the year.

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