South Africa’s tablet roll-out at public schools in Gauteng has already been hit by thefts, propelling the education department to recall 88 000 tablets while it enhances security.

“Many industry pundits have questioned the planned roll-out, by government, of paperless environments at schools,” says Chris Riley, MD of The Notebook Company. “It is arguably ill conceived as it is highly unlikely there will be enough funds to provide each pupil with a laptop or tablet – and now they are being stolen. This is just one of the many challenges that could be faced.

“The government certainly does not have the additional funds to be recalling, and adding security features to, each and every tablet or laptop it provides to schools. This paperless education drive, championed by the Gauteng education department, could be dead in the water,” says Riley.

Speaking at a media briefing last week at Lyndhurst Primary school, Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said his department was recalling all the 88 000 tablets it distributed to 2 200 schools in 2013.

It was divulged that these devices did not have any security features to safeguard against theft.

Lesufi said he had already sent letters to all the principals of the affected schools in the province to return the devices with “immediate effect”.

While matric pupils will not be affected by this recall, Riley believes it will cause “a certain amount of chaos “at the affected schools. Because, while all textbooks are available online, students need to own a laptop or tablet – as well as have an Internet connection – to access them.

“This is not a good sign for the planned paperless education drive. It is a major hiccup – and could even point to the possibility that the government’s audacious paperless education drive could be dead in the water,” says Riley