Textbook boss’s own books in schools
JEANNE VAN DER MERWE
THE CEO of one of South Africa’s biggest textbook companies and key ministerial advisor on the new school curriculum has penned more than 50 textbooks approved for use in the new school curriculum.
Fathima Dada, the local CEO of publishing multinational Pearson, is a co-author on several readers, workbooks and teacher’s guides for Grades 1 to 6 published by a Pearson subsidiary, Maskew Miller Longman.
Dada, a former CEO of Maskew Miller Longman, was an advisor on three committees that advised education minister Angie Motshekga on the design of the new curriculum, including assessment standards, subject contents and teaching materials such as textbooks and teacher guides during 2009 and 2010.
A total of 42 titles on which Dada shares authorship appears on the Department of Basic Education’s catalogue for Grades 1-3 from which schools must choose their textbooks. Among them are a series of English reading books, mathematics workbooks and teacher guides in four languages and lifeskills workbooks and teacher guides in nine languages for Grades 1, 2 and 3.
The national catalogue for Grades 4-6 contains a further 12 English titles with her name on it, including teacher guides and workbooks for social sciences and lifeskills.
In order for a textbook to be considered for use in state schools, it has to be approved by a selection committee appointed by the Department of Basic Education.
All publishers submitting material for approval are required to declare that they had “not seek(ed) to influence the selection committee in any way” and “not solicit(ed) privileged information, regarding the selection process or requirements, from any DBE official or appointed screener”.
Publishing insiders say that information gleaned from such high-end policy discussions could potentially have given Pearson a considerable advantage over its competitors, but it was also crucial that publishers were represented throughout the design of the new curriculum.
Dada countered that she had had “more than an arms length distance between (her) work for the Ministry and the school book business”.
She said she was not directly responsible for managing Maskew Miller Longman’s business, as the company had had its own CEO running its day to day affairs. She said her role within Pearson Southern Africa Holdings over the past few years had been on “developing the business outside SA, and developing businesses outside of school textbooks”.
Dada told Media24 Investigations she had written the books when she hadn’t been in Pearson’s employ, and the royalty earnings on the books she wrote were negligible, as she was part of a bigger team of authors. Since the time of her involvement, the books had been extensively re-written by other authors to comply with successive curriculum revisions.
She said she had no influence over whether books that she authored were submitted by Maskew Miller Longman to the national education department for approval, and said that several other textbooks on which she had been a co-author had been rejected by the department.
Andricus van der Westhuizen, the DA MP who asked the question in Parliament, said: “We feel that you should either be a businessman who competes with others for business opportunities, or you must say I’m in government, or a government advisor, and I won’t do business with government. You ought not to colour your position in such a way that suggestions of impropriety may arise.
“The fact that she is also a textbook author raises the possibility that someone writing the curriculum could have written it in such a way as to suit work she had already produced.”
He said her position would have been much less problematic had she signed ownership of her work over to the publishing house.
The Publishers’ Association of South Africa did not respond to a request for comment.