As stakeholders in the typographical sector, comprising of the printing, packaging and allied industries, we commend you on the State Of The Nation Address (SONA) delivered by yourself on the 7th of February 2019, we also laud the work your administration has done since your inauguration in February 2018.
However, as stakeholders within the sector, we seek clarity on government’s position on the future sustainability of the printing sector in South Africa, with this being in light of your comments pertaining to the digitisation of learning in schools around the country.
After SONA, the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said in an interview that books and the chalkboard will remain integral to the education process. We applaud this as there is no better way to develop cognitive verbal critical reasoning skills so fundamental and sadly so lacking in later schooling levels as evidenced by poor results in our system. There is, of course, a place for digital learning in conjunction with print and we must hope that the Minister understands this.
Two Sides International research reveals that book based reading and writing skills developed at an early stage of education are fundamental to the development of any child. We see this recognition by the President in the implementation of early childhood learning development for all children two years before Grade R. Again, this gives credence to the argument that print just cannot be replaced by electronics as our learning processes would be compromised.
Whilst we all agree that the fourth industrial revolution is upon us, and that innovative solutions must be found and implemented in order to ensure the country’s readiness for these changes in the medium to long term, we must also take into account the social-economic realities our country is faced with.
The issue of crime in our country and especially the crime that takes place at schools which house technology such as computers is a problem that has already reared its ugly head in Gauteng, where MEC of Education Panyaza Lesufi and his department have launched digital classroom schools. This then poses a risk where there may be wastage of already constrained public funds should there be a total migration to digital learning in the next six years due to the scourge. Of course, the practical use of electronic devices in schools has been a challenge.
We tend to forget choice. When a young person is asked whether they would prefer a tablet or a book, they would, in most cases choose the tablet, often for the wrong reasons however. But, when a group of post graduate students are asked, they prefer books for a deeper understanding of the material they are studying. Tablets are of course used for research but not for learning. There is a big difference.
Depending on the applications loaded on to electronic devices, these can be a further distraction to the learning process. Research reveals that digital overload is becoming a reality, with young people already having access to so many and sometimes harmful applications on mobile telephones. There is a concern as to the environmental effect of replacing paper with digital devices, which is another subject for discussion altogether.
The issue of the procurement practices that the State will engage in when procuring the tablets and related materials for the implementation of this goal raises questions. Will the procurement process be free of conflict of interest from government officials and politicians, as has unfortunately become the norm when such ambitious undertakings are to be implemented by the State?
The print and publishing sectors in our country rely heavily on educational publishing as a source of revenue. This essentially means that the industry depends largely on the publishing and printing of educational material which mainly services schools and tertiary institutions. One of the structural issues faced by the industry is the cost of printing. Printers themselves face problems stemming from the structure of the paper industry in our country that currently exports pulp and imports the paper as a finished product. However, workbooks and especially textbooks have a long lifespan. There is a cost to print but printed material can be re-used.
The knock-on effect is then passed to consumers in the form of the pricing of books, which then in turn becomes a stumbling block for students and institutions alike as the cost of these materials has long been unsustainable and the upward trend of prices continues unabated.
During your State of the Nation address in 2018 you had a message for South Africans: ‘Thuma Mina’, and as stakeholders in the sector we have heeded your call to action. The South African Typographical Union (SATU) and the Printing Industries Federation of South Africa (PIFSA), now known as Printing SA, have commissioned research on the future sustainability of the printing industry and will be presenting the findings of the research during the Africa Print and Sign Africa expo, taking place from 11-13 September at Gallagher Convention Centre.
As sector role players, we welcome open debates with all the relevant role players in all forms of media. We therefore invite yourself and members of your cabinet as well any other role players to join us in debating these issues as we feel the sector still has a major role to play in the developmental goals of our country as a primary medium of education in classrooms and the general public.
Edward de Klerk
Chief Executive Officer
South African Typographical Union (SATU) +27123382021