Media briefing by Minister of Basic Education, Angelina Motshekga, on progress made by the Human Development Cluster on targets set since the State of the Nation Address
18 Sep 2013
Minister for Basic Education, Ms Angelina Motshekga, welcomed the Human Development Cluster and tendered apologies on behalf of two Ministers who were presenting to Cabinet. Minister Aaron Motsoaledi (Department of Health) was out of the country. The briefing was meant to report on the progress the cluster made on targets set since the State of the Nation Address (SONA) in February.
Minister Motshekga read out the statement.
Journalist: Could the Minister provide clarity on the health numbers? The press release indicates the numbers were from the first quarter of 2012, and the understanding is that they were from this year. A claim is being made that targets were exceeded and that does not add up; the statement said 1.2 million people were tested, and yet the target was 3.2 million.
Minister: It would not be proper to answer on behalf of the Department of Health (DoH). The cluster will come back before the end of the day to clarify the difference in the numbers. I would not be able to clarify them myself. But my understanding is that some of the numbers were quoted from quarterly reports and others were from annual statistics.
DoH Official: The 2012 matter was a typing error; reference ought to be 2013/14. The difference in figures would be clarified after the briefing.
Journalist: Could the Minister clarify the issue with the pass mark that is set at 30%. A view held by many educationalists in the country is that no matter how one defined it, there was a need to lift the pass mark requirement for the matriculation examination. This was just too low.
Minister: Umalusi had recently hosted a conference on assessments to get academics to talk about the 30% matter. Academics were invited to comment on the matter, but also resolve the matter so that Government did not appear defensive. The Department had a responsibility to hear what the country was saying. Hence, the President requested the Department to set up a committee on matric results. One of the things that would be investigated would be to determine a scientific way on determining whether the 30% was low.
The 30% had changed quite often; Minister Pandor (Naledi) had changed the pass rate. Initially there was a 25% pass for a standard grade, but she felt it was too low. The 30% was an improvement from what the Department inherited. The country should look to benchmark South African learners against the world, so that it did not become a question of any Minister requiring a platform to build whatever they wanted to build.
I have seen a number of interesting papers presented by scholars on the subject. Without pre-empting what would be contained in the report, it was interesting. In one article I read, in Australia 17% was accepted as a pass. People do not understand the pass rate; 30% equalled the amount of content knowledge that kids have. Anybody dealing with assessments would know this could not be entirely true. The 30% was a reflection of the quality. When one set up an examination paper, one had low order questions, mid and high order questions. One could ask the same question ten times but differently depending on the skill, and kids would score differently. Kids would always score different in terms of the different skills level they attained.
There are kids with certain scholastic limitations, who are able to operate at a certain level. One screened such kids at that level so that they do not have ambitions to go study medicine when they could not do medicine. This was debatable. I have requested the committee to have the report on assessments ready by December 2013. Next year the country needs to open up a debate on assessments. It would be useful to get everybody on board to discuss this question of 30%.
Journalist: Why was the Minister abandoning quintiles? And also could the statement “provinces closing the gap” be clarified.
Minister: Quintiles 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, were previously informed by infrastructure needs. Formerly, there were schools belonging to different quintiles in the same area. Infrastructure is improving in the schools but this does not change the fact that some parents opted for their children to attend better schools where they are paying fees. The same criteria are used for Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) schools; this is the category of schools that could no longer be quintile one anymore solely based on infrastructure needs. They had improved. The criteria the Department used included sanitation, ablution, and libraries to separate between the lower quintiles. With time this was no longer making sense. It had boiled down to whether the parent can pay or not. The infrastructure criteria were no longer sustainable; to make the process easy it was ideal to simply separate schools as either fee paying or non-fee paying. Before, the schools in the lower quintiles were given more money for infrastructure. Quintile 4 and 5, which were fee-paying schools, were given different allocations.
Journalist: The quintiles are now governed by regulations; when and how would the Department look at those regulations? The clarification seems to be an important announcement and could easily be misunderstood.
Minister: The Department is now saying provinces ought to equalize. One could not take away what the lower quintiles had. It was agreed that provinces must sort out their budgets and correctly align without affecting the schools. Some of the money was intended for infrastructure and that would have to be prioritised. In Limpopo, for an example, the procurement had been centralised; the province would compensate for the money schools would lose. This was the reason the Department was steady about doing it; this was a legal process determined by the Department using Government statistics. This was no longer sustainable and did not make sense. There was a legal process that was being followed to ensure a smooth transition. This was the reason notices were given in advance to provinces so they could start preparing for that change.
Journalist: At the end of the first quarter 2013 could elderly South Africans, at school and outside, claim to be better off than they were before?
Minister: A lot had happened in the country although there might still be disadvantaged areas. But that did not mean nothing happened. For the elderly students there is a very good programme Kha Ri Gude - (Kha Ri Gude “let us learn” is mass literacy campaign officially launched in 2008 where Government intended to spend R6,1 billion over five years). More than 700 000 adult learners will graduate this year. On an ongoing basis the Department recruited people to come to ABET programmes. The Department had exceeded its target of giving elderly people the second chance to be literate. A public announcement would soon be made on Kha Ri Gude and the number of those targeted. Outside of school, elderly people definitely benefited in that kids no longer carry lunch, they did not buy books, and they did not pay fees. Over 14 million workbooks had been distributed to schools this year. The integrated programme done with the Department of Health (DoH), targeted the poor kids where they are regularly tested for eyes, ears, and teeth challenges. Other departments were being mobilised to support the programmes. The biggest struggle was to jerk up the system so as to ensure that the culture of extra classes was done away with. This was a system-wide improvement, so as many kids as possible would have benefited from the programmes that were there.
Journalist: There was some evidence that non-collection of fees at the no-fee schools had actually had a rippling effect. Those schools experienced cash flow challenges resulting in inability to pay for crucial things. Could the Minister comment on that? What is “The race to the top” that had been referred to? How this is different to the turnaround strategy that is currently in place and that is linked to the National Development Plan (NDP)?
Minister: Tomorrow I will table a document on no-fee schools. The fact that schools was declared no-fees resulted in parents refusing to donate to schools even if they could afford it. There were things in schools that Government could not provide in time. The attitude of taking a back seat has disempowered communities. If parent were not encouraged to take responsibility, that would have adverse effects. Parents have to be encouraged to be involved, and that would, to some degree, allow them to demand accountability. The guidelines specify that if a parent cannot pay, the kid could not be sent home. These were all the things done to protect children but also parents were encouraged to contribute towards their children’s education. Parents buy their children cell phones and yet could not buy them calculators; this culture has gone to the extreme. This was not only limited to issue of money, it concerns other things like monitoring and being involved in general maintenance in schools. Parents should not be discouraged from donating.
The race to the top was one of the fantastic programmes to finish off the term of administration. The diagnostic test of the NDP said 80% of the schools were dysfunctional; this was what drove the vision around the collaboration. The collaboration had prescribed that all schools be profiled in terms of such things as furniture, classroom register, school leadership, and teacher absenteeism. Eight districts had been profiled already. The intention was to solve things from a scientific basis. Transversal teams had been set up from national. There were Memorandum of understanding with the Departments of Correctional Services (DCS) for example, where prisoners could be brought in to repairs schools if the Department did not have funds; Labour (DoL) helped with desks from one of its programmes for the blind; and Transport was involved in improving roads leading up to schools. The Department started with the best districts in the country; other districts would have to “race to the top” in order to get the focussed support. The private sector was also involved. This was, in a nutshell, how the concept of race to the top came about; it is districts that had proven that they had good leadership and were able to mobilise communities. A fuller report with partners would be prepared in due course.
Journalist: Apart from Vhembe district, which other districts were part of the programme - were these districts decided upon per province?
Minister: The Department excluded Gauteng and the Western Cape; these provinces are capable of delivering as they have very good systems. In KZN, there was a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that the Department worked with, led by Ms Mary Metcalf. Their line of work related to this concept. There were partnerships with the Kagiso Trust and the Beyers Naude Foundation in the Free State. The initial target was 20, but it was not possible given the amount of work. The number had since been revised to 12. Libode was taken from the Eastern Cape (EC), although not the best performing they were the district with the highest improvement. The EC and Limpopo will mainly be targeted. It had been quite easy to work with the two provinces because through the interventions the Department was already there in those districts.
Journalist: Was there enough money to address the matter of the backlogs? Was the Department in talks with the National Treasury to get some of the money that was not used last year back into the Department?
Minister: The R7.5 billion that was received from NT was for the entire Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), and not for a single year. For the first year, R800 million was received, and the Department had to implement through the Development Bank of SA (DBSA). Because of difficulties with the first batch of schools, contracts were cancelled and there was poor workmanship. There were delays with the first batch of schools. The Department had renegotiated with NT that it not stick to the MTEF, but extend the three-year period by another year so that the money could be pushed back. The Department had not lost the money, just that it could not spend it within the first year. The following year was allocated R2.5 billion and that too was not spent, but the Department had increased its capacity by also using a number of other service providers – like Coega, Mvula and the IDT – over and above DBSA. The FS is doing 30 schools in its own, and the WC is doing 14 schools. The money was still there, and there was a commitment that if the Department were able to spend the money would be availed. The backlog far exceeds the R7.5 billion the Department had.
Journalist: Why did the matter of the norms and standards take so long? Could it be said that the Department was finally at peace with the lobby groups that were pushing for these norms? When would these norms and standards come into full effect? Was the Department targeting the 75% pass rate?
Minister: When becoming a Minister, I inherited a framework on norms and standards. Government had long adopted a framework on norms and standards. Government was using that document.
This was the document informing our infrastructure plan. It had been there and was used by provinces. In order to make that document law, the Minister could not just decide that the framework was law. The lobby groups claimed I could unilaterally make it law and that as a Minister I had the powers. But sadly that’s not how the process happened. The fight was about regulating the norms and standards into law, not that there were no norms and standards. The delays will have no effect. The South African Schools Act (SASA) says the Minister may regulate. My predecessor preferred not take action and make those regulations law. The document was taken out for public input once there had been agreements with the lobby groups and substantive additions were received. The SASA Act was passed in 1996, and some of the things it proposed became outdated in 2013. A lot of work needed to be done. A determination had to be made, against the prescripts of the Act, according to the realities of the country. Not every school could have a library and a sports field; some schools were in inner city and would have to relocate. Developed countries like Finland do not have all the facilities; they resorted to sharing resources. I have no reason to be jealous of the South African kids, to deny them the ideal things, but in the real world things do not work out like that. We may not have agreed with the lobby groups but they got my point of view. We agreed with them that I had no choice but to follow the due process.
Journalist: What had happened to the schools register of need? A lot of work went into that and had it been maintained, it would not have gone away. Also, what was the view of the Minister on markers of final exams being tested, given that in a Parliamentary reply the Minister indicated that she supported South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) in opposing the plan by the Western Cape to have the markers tested as well?
Minister: The data in most provinces was quite outdated. Most provinces struggle with it, and even the Department. A tender has been issued to come up with the updated information. Some schools have been closed, some were small and the Department was rationalising. All that information had not been properly captured. That process had not been updated with high migration and urbanisation. I never said I do not want markers to be tested. This was a provincial competency, and the Minister could not prescribe to provinces. Different provinces used different methods to select their markers. And for the sake of Umalusi and standardisation it was felt that there had to be a common instrument nationally. In the WC they test the markers; while I was MEC in Gauteng we used the school marks. Teachers from poor performing schools were not allowed to mark. I hope by next year the country will have agreed on a common tool.
Journalist: What could be done with irresponsible parents who do not pay school fees to schools that are in need, especially those who spent money on cell phones while it is needed for calculators?
Minister: This was bigger than parents not taking responsibility. If the country is to improve its education, it has to take responsibility. Children should be made aware at home that education was a priority; and the view should be to opt to buy them calculators instead of cell phones. Parents, for an example, have to know that late coming could not be the responsibility of the Department - communities and parents had to ensure that kids were at school on time. A shebeen down the road should not be the problem to the Department, while everybody in the community believed it was normal. There was a need to make a call that education was a societal challenge.
The Gauteng province had taken an initiative where it trained parents on how to monitor the child, and identify red lights when there were challenges. A recent study had found that Russia was a leading country when it came to reading; 95% of that country was made up of advanced readers, while it was found that 95% in South Africa did not read. If parents did not buy their kids books, the country was still not serious about education. Parents ought to walk their children to libraries and bookstores, and not argue about Kaizer Chiefs on TV. The general topics in the house will not assist. The culture of not reading will not get the country out of the quagmire. We are not a reading nation; this was why our kids could not read. There was no urgency in saying education was a serious thing. Government will not succeed unless the nation got involved.
Journalist: What was the proposal on how to get the donation from parents? Will schools be putting out letters to parents to indicate donations were required?
Minister: Parents felt aggrieved when schools requested donations; they reacted as though they were charged school fees. There was confusion on what could or could not be done. The Department will be issuing out as gazette, and not regulations, how to go about donations. Different provinces would have to give guidelines on how donations could be done. The whole idea was to support the concept of schools raising funds.
The media briefing came to a close.
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