The Cabinet needs to admit that there is a crisis in SA's education system and treat it much like it dealt with the HIV-AIDS pandemic, rights organisation Section 27 said yesterday.

These comments from the lobby group came as the Department of Basic Education was scrambling yesterday to meet a deadline to deliver textbooks to Limpopo schools.

Indications yesterday were that the department was unlikely to meet the deadline, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) in Limpopo saying at least 40 schools had not received books. The DA also said most schools were closed for the holidays and had not been notified of the textbooks delivery.

Last month, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the department's failure to provide textbooks to Limpopo schools violated the constitution.

Section 27, which brought the court application, said yesterday a mixed picture was emerging by late afternoon.

"We have been informed by the head of the intervention team in an SMS that delivery of textbooks for grades R, 1, 2 and 3 has been completed," spokesman Mark Heywood said.

"However, at the same time we have received reports from some primary schools that they have still received no textbooks at all."

The department was initially ordered last month to provide Limpopo schools with textbooks by June 15.

Section 27 held a meeting with the department after the first deadline expired, where it was decided that delivery of the textbooks should be completed by yesterday. Mr Heywood said the group would "take whatever further steps are necessary" if the department failed to comply with the court order, in which Judge Jody Kollapen ordered the department to devise a catch-up plan.

"I would argue that Cabinet needs to take similar steps it took to respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic ... Cabinet needs to take control, with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga reporting directly to the Cabinet," Mr Heywood said.

However, he said while there was a crisis with the education system in SA, it could still be remedied. "There is a crisis with the quality of teaching and the management ... the Department of Basic Education needs to come up with plans in consultation with the public, to resolve this crisis.

"We cannot allow this situation to drag on for longer otherwise we will be condemning learners and condemning the economy."

Mr Heywood said the organisation would "take whatever further steps are necessary" if the department failed to comply with the court order.

The principal of one school, which the department claimed had received 99,7% of its textbooks, told Section 27 that no books had arrived. "Despite many attempts, we have been unable to reach senior officials in the department (yesterday) to obtain urgent updates as to the state of delivery," Mr Heywood said.

Last week, Ms Motshekga said there was no crisis in the education system and that the court cases her department faced were just meant to "sensationalise delicate matters".

In addition to the court action instituted by Section 27, another lobby group, Equal Education, said earlier this year it would take Ms Motshekga, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the nine provincial education MECs to court for their collective failure on school infrastructure.

Equal Education co-ordinator Doron Isaacs said yesterday the lobby group wanted to work with Ms Motshekga to address the "very urgent challenges facing education, including the need for school infrastructure".

"At present, the minister seems very reluctant to embrace Equal Education," he said.

Ms Motshekga's spokeswoman, Hope Mokgathle, said she was confident that all the books would be delivered to schools by midnight (last night) and the department was monitoring progress.

With Sapa

phakathib@bdfm.co.za