Department of Education Strategic Plan & Budget 2009/10

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

29 June 2009
Chairperson: Ms M Makgate (North West; ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met with the Director-General and colleagues of the Department of Education to discuss the Strategic Plan and Budget 2009-2012, in preparation for the National Council of Provinces’ debate on it on 1 July 2009.

The Director-General was accompanied by the Acting Director-General of the new Department of Higher Education and Training which was in the process of being formed.

Departmental goals for 2009-2010 included implementing free education for all through an increased number of 'no fee schools'; implementation of the Education Laws Amendment Act; ensuring a place for every five-year-old in Grade R; and implementation of the National Foundation for Learning - this encompassed acquisition by all children of the vital reading, writing and numerical skills.

The Department had studied the feasibility of introducing information and communications technology into all schools. This would be an expensive project, but in the Department’s view the country could not afford not to implement it. The school feeding programme would be extended to poor secondary schools. The programme’s benefits were greatly enhanced when schools grew their own vegetables. The programme was extremely vulnerable to increases in the price of basic foodstuffs such as bread.

The Department gave importance to research; of key importance was the Education Management Information System. A further important instrument was the Learner Unit Record Information Tracking System whereby every learner when entering school at Grade R would be put onto the
Learner Unit Record Performance and Tracking System (LURITS) system and given a specific identity number to enable the Department to track every single learner throughout the system.

Physical education was compulsory, but it was not possible for every school to have its own specialist physical education teacher. A draft policy on school sport had won the support of the teachers’ unions.

Since visual or hearing problems caused many children to drop out of school, the Department had organised eye, ear and dental examinations.  The Department had allowed random drug testing and weapon searching on school premises.

The Department had sought to upgrade the qualifications of South Africa’s academics, too few of whom had doctoral degrees. The Department had examined the regulation of the private education sector to protect students. The Department did its utmost to provide research and academic support. The Department sought to increase access to higher education.

The Department anticipated that the Committee would wish to hear in greater detail about various aspects of the strategic plan in subsequent briefings. In response to a Member’s concern that the Department might face a problem similar to that presented by the doctors, the Department advised that it had signed an Occupation Specific Dispensation. In its response to Members’ concerns about farm and other rural schools, the Department expressed the view that it was important to consolidate such schools. Hostels should be established to accommodate learners who lived in remote areas. There was no question that hostels were beneficial since learners received board and lodging and properly supervised preparation (‘homework’) periods. School zoning should be considered to reduce the logistical problems of school transport.

The Department noted that many Members' questions invited full presentations and, since they reflected provincial issues, he hoped that the Committee would invite some of the heads of provincial education departments to a future meeting.

Meeting report

The Chairperson reminded Members that time was short, since they would be attending the Education Budget Vote 13 debate the next day, 1 July 2009, in the National Council of Provinces chamber.

Department of Education presentation
Mr Duncan Hindle, Director-General: Department of Education, was accompanied by Dr Molapo Qhobela, Acting Director-General of the new Department of Higher Education and Training which was in the process of being formed. He was previously Deputy Director-General for Higher Education.

The Department's 2009-2010 operational plan had already been circulated to Members.

 The Department of Education, in the process of being split into the Departments of Basic Education and Higher Education and Training, but still one Department at present, had human development as its overarching priority. The Department contributed to South African human development through:
▪ strengthening the general education system for all;
▪ improving access to opportunities for acquiring a high level of skills, and providing cognitively demanding curricula in schools and colleges that stretched learners' minds and encouraged them to develop their thought processes to their full potential; and
▪ ensuring participation in relevant higher education programmes.

The Department was guided by the Minister’s continuing vision to impact more urgently and directly on poverty, unemployment and social cohesion, by providing quality education for all.

Departmental goals for 2009-2010 were firstly to implement free education for all through increased number of 'no fee schools'; implementation of the Education Laws Amendment Act; the expansion of access to early childhood development and ensuring for every five-year-old  a place in grade R; implementation of the National Foundation for Learning - this encompassed acquisition by all children of the vital skills of reading, writing, and numeracy; developing access to bursary schemes, such as the Funza Lushaka for teacher education; the Further Education and Training (FET) Bursary; and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme; continuing a focus on the teaching and learning of maths, science and technology, including the implementation of e-learning in schools; development of a national plan for the FET sector including norms and standards for FET colleges; extending the National School Nutrition Programme to poor secondary schools; implementing the Kha Ri Gude Mass Literacy Campaign; and the review of Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) programmes.

The Department had conducted a feasibility study of the introduction of ICT into all schools. This would be an expensive project, but Mr Hindle believed that the country could not afford not to implement it.

The school feeding programme would be extended to poor secondary schools. The maths literacy programme would be developed. The Department would be reporting to the Committee on some of these developments in the future.

A large part of the Department's work was to ensure that existing policies were working properly. It was aware of the danger of 'policy fatigue'. A good example was the curriculum. The Department was not changing the curriculum but ensuring that it was implemented. National assessments were a means to that end.

The Department sought to secure the support of business.

As a national department, the Department of Education was required to strengthen monitoring and evaluation.

The Department used research to assist in understanding teacher development. Of key importance to this was EMIS, the Education Management Information System.

A further important instrument was the Learner Unit Record Information Tracking System (LURITS). Every learner when entering school at Grade R would be put onto the LURITS system and given a specific identity number. Then the Department would be able to track every single learner through the system. If they dropped out, a warning would be apparent. A warning would also appear if they were not progressing. The Department had been discussing with the Department of Home Affairs the possibility of getting children onto the system at birth. The Department looked forward to discussing the system with the Committee in detail in the future.

Mr Hindle noted that whilst there was an SA Schools Act, there was no districts act.

He explained the organisational structure of the Department into six branches.

Mr Hindle then explained the budget process. He hastened to add that the Department had no say in the Eastern Cape's provincial education budget. A recent parliamentary question on that subject would have to be referred to the Eastern Cape provincial legislature for an answer.

The Department sought to expand the school nutrition programme which already existed in 18 000 primary schools - a ‘massive exercise' - to poor secondary schools. Mr Hindle said that a school vegetable garden was the key to a nutritional school feeding programme. 6 000 schools had vegetable gardens.

Since visual or hearing problems caused many children to drop out of school, the Department had organised eye, ear and dental examinations for school children.  

The Department had the previous year allowed random drug testing and weapon searching on school premises.

Mr Hindle drew attention to the importance of school sports.  Physical education was compulsory, although it was not possible for every school to have a physical education teacher. However, even 'jumping up and down' was exercise. The Department had a draft policy on school sport, and this had gained the support of the teacher unions.

Dr Qhobela said that the Ministry provided regulatory support.  There were three areas of especial interest. Earlier in 2009 the National Qualifications Framework Act had been enacted. Secondly, the Department had examined the regulation of the private education sector. At the heart of the regulatory instrument was its aim to protect learners while ensuring that the regulation was enabling.

The Department did its utmost to provide research and academic support. He said that the Department sought to upgrade the qualifications of South Africa’s academics. Only 32% of academics had doctorates - this was an insufficient number.

With regard to financial management and planning, if an institution did not plan, it would face problems.

The Department had a primary focus in three continents and three countries of the south – India, Brazil and South Africa. The Department had a South Africa-Japanese university forum, an initiative of South Africa's ambassador to Japan. 

Dr Qhobela said that the Department’s raison d'être was providing assistance in planning to institutions. Each university was set performance and research productivity targets. In turn the Department would provide support. There was no point in providing improved access unless the institutions were successful

He said that the Department sought to promote an increase in the number of professionals such as teachers and health workers, and other scarce personnel. 

Dr Qhobela said that agriculture was, together with animal and plant health, very important to the economy. So the Department supported institutions with infrastructure such as laboratories, libraries and lecture theatres and in providing residential facilities. The Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape had just opened a new public health facility.

Dr Qhobela said that the student financial aid scheme was not sufficient.

The Minister was to speak on 30 June 2009 in Parliament. Their aim was that every child should be able to have access to higher education.

The Chairperson said that she expected Members' questions to reflect their provincial responsibilities.

A Member asked why the Department did not employ librarians to staff school libraries and to help in the teaching of reading and writing. She suggested that they could be employed on contracts which would be subject to review after four or five years.

Mr Hindle explained the system whereby schools were given a 'post basket’ of positions; they were expected to make the best use of their ‘post baskets’ according to their needs as locally decided. Schools had to make the best decisions that they could in accordance with their own priorities within the ambit of their ‘post baskets’. If there was no library in a school, one could not expect the school to appoint a librarian. It was the responsibility of schools to make the best decision that they could in the appointment of staff to their 'post basket' of positions.

Ms B Mncube (ANC; Gauteng) asked about the mechanism for recovering learners who dropped out of school. She said that many grade 12 learners dropped out because they were not allowed to repeat in case of failing the year; they were, she said, 'chased away'.

Ms Mncube also asked if the Department had a mechanism to enhance the impact of the programme for ‘second chance' learners, and about the funding for the programme, in particular national vis-a-vis provincial funding.

Mr Hindle replied that the Department was not necessarily seeking to bring such students back to school; it sought to bring such students back into education or training. He said that it was 'embarrassing' to share with the Committee the information that some of the 'second chance' students had a higher pass rate, on the basis of newspaper and television support, than some groups of regular school students. Thus these students who were out of school actually did better than some groups of learners in school. ‘It was an indictment on our system, no doubt.’ Funding for the 'second chance' programme was national.

Ms Mncube asked if there was a mechanism for mainstreaming school sports and training teachers to a professional level in sports. Such was observed to be lacking in schools in Soweto. She also asked about the preconditions for appointments to the position of principal.

Mr Hindle replied that school sport would remain an extra-curricular activity. His view was that the best school sports programmes were those that were offered by professional teachers. He was less enthusiastic about the role of professional sportsmen and sportswomen in conducting school sports. He recalled his own experience as a soccer coach, not because he had been an expert at soccer, but because ‘that’s what teachers do’. The teachers’ unions had agreed to commit their members to volunteering to offer two afternoons each week to sports.

Mr Hindle replied that for most schools a specialist physical education teacher was 'a luxury'.

A Member asked about over-expenditure. He also asked how to empower school governing bodies to ensure that they functioned well; he asked further about the security of schools.

In a response to the question on overspending, Mr Hindle replied that each provincial department of education accounted separately. However, he felt that the provinces had been bound to overspend, since National Treasury had not fully compensated the provinces for a salary agreement. What happened was that within that year over-expenditure had become inevitable.

Mr Hindle replied that the election of school governing bodies was an important exercise in democracy. The elections for such governing bodies were second in importance only to national, provincial and local elections. The term of office for school governing body members was three years. It was to be hoped that in the course of time, one would build up a cohort of experienced governing body members. The problem was especially difficult in the rural areas. In the urban areas, there were usually professionals such as lawyers who could make themselves available to serve on school governing bodies. He said that, under the South African Schools Act, one governing body could take responsibility for a second school. There was nothing to stop a successful school governing body from acting on behalf of a second school. Precious human resources could therefore be consolidated by one governing body acting on behalf of as many as four or five schools. He thought that this was a solution that had been insufficiently exploited.

Mr Hindle replied, on the matter of school security, that, whenever possible, the Department sought the appointment of security guards; however, the best way to ensure school security was to cultivate the support of the local community so that the community came to consider that it 'owned' the school' as a community asset. If some chairs were stolen, one could depend on the community to recover those chairs within 24 hours. Security of schools was in less caring communities a major problem. He gave the example of some solar panels that had been installed at a number of rural schools to ensure that they had electricity; by the next day the panels had been stolen. The situation was quite different when schools were valued by the local communities that they served and there communities felt that they 'owned' the schools.  He appealed to the political support of the Committee.

A Member asked about ‘production schools’.

Mr Hindle replied that the aim with regard to 'production schools' was to recapitalise technical high schools to a high standard. 

A Member congratulated the Department on the 'finger print issue'. She said that thieves used young pupils to steal equipment.

Mr Hindle replied that the Department could not itself take the finger prints of learners when they registered for school and put them into a database; this was a matter of safety and security. However, he hoped that the Department could collaborate with the Department of Home Affairs in using its databases as they were developed, so that school learners could be tracked from grade R to grade 12, using base information, compiled by Home Affairs, dating from when the learner's birth was registered. The LURITS system was being implemented in the provinces. This system had a paper based backup system

Mr S Plaatjie (North West; COPE) asked if the Department could develop a system to improve the 'no fee' schools. He asked about some Section 21 schools that lacked any management capacity. He was concerned about the lack of employees with IT skills. He also asked about teacher development, the results of which seemed to be disappointing. For many years, he had seen teachers who had forgotten everything that they had learned and whose professional development was limited to taking afternoon courses when they were tired. He asked if this really constituted professional development.

The Director-General replied that there were ongoing programmes for existing teachers; there was an advanced certificate in school leadership, for example; the Department would certainly take into account such views, but would not wish to exclude from consideration anyone who had followed a satisfactory career path upward through the posts of head of department and deputy principal and ‘had learned the ropes’.

Ms R Rasmeni (North West; ANC) asked the Department if it was taking proactive measures to avoid the same kind of problem as was happening with doctors. 

Mr Hindle replied that the Department had signed an Occupation Specific Dispensation.

Ms Rasmeni also expressed great concern about the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS; in some areas 90% of children were either HIV positive or ill from HIV; many of them had lost their parents to HIV/AIDS and were heading their homes. This was 'a pathetic situation'. She asked how many schools in the country were in that kind of situation.

A Member said that urban areas had far more resources than the rural areas. The Department should give more focus to the ‘black’ universities. The budgets of such institutions were inadequate. She also asked about the problems of parents who found themselves obliged to pay school fees that they could not afford. There was no clear policy on fees.

The Chairperson said that every learner must have adequate access to education. She asked about transport for learners, and said that government was not serious about the safety of children. It was alarming to see buses with as many as 180 children on board.

Mr Hindle replied that most provinces did not have a sufficient budget for education departments to provide their own school transport, and children were often transported on bus services together with adults. The Department’s view was that it should move to taking a greater role in transporting children to school. Gauteng had informed the Department that it spent more than R100 million a year on transport for schoolchildren. Perhaps more thought should be given to school zoning in order to effect economies in transport. The safety aspect of school transport was a related issue. The Department issued guidelines to schools for using transport services with instructions to make sure that vehicles were properly licensed and roadworthy. However, it was not schools’ core business.

The Chairperson also said that the needs of persons with disabilities were absent from the strategic plan. She asked if they were still not being treated as equals in schools.

Mr Hindle replied that the Department’s view was that children with severe disabilities should be in special schools. The Department was endeavouring to increase funding for such schools. The Department had issued a white paper on education for special needs.

The Chairperson also asked about farm schools, which, in her view, were neglected.

Mr Hindle spoke about the National Electronic Infrastructure Management System. The Department had sent teams to every school in the country to capture visual and textual data about every school in the country. Many schools were poorly located; many had insufficient pupils to be educationally efficient. Small schools, especially high schools, were not efficient. In the Free State and North West consolidation of such schools was in progress. The provision of hostels for learners was highly efficient in order to concentrate more children in one school. In this regard the involvement of local communities was important. This was even more the case at the primary level where one found many schools with twenty or thirty pupils. It was important to consolidate such schools, especially farm schools and rural schools. Where distance was a problem, then hostels should be established to accommodate learners whose homes were far from the school. There was no question that hostels were beneficial since learners received three meals a day, properly supervised preparation (‘homework’) periods, and blankets for sleeping at night. At a community level, the Department needed advice on which schools should be consolidated. Mr Hindle said that he was attracted by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ notion of ‘agri-villages, whereby one removed the farm workers from the farm itself and settled them on the boundary of the farm in a village, which would have a clinic and a school. Too many farm schools were situated in the middle of the farm.

The Chairperson asked, with reference to page 15 of the presentation, the reason for withholding the KwaZulu-Natal HIV and AIDS conditional grant transfer. 

Mr Hindle replied that the answer was simple. The province had not spent its previous conditional grant transfer.

Mr Hindle also said that schools built with local help progressed more quickly. In regard to the management of schools, he said that sometimes the authorities concerned did not trust schools enough. He also explained the quintile system. This was based on data from StatsSA relating to the provinces. If one school moved up, another moved down. Schools competed with one another to become poorer, it seemed. There was however an appeal process.

Mr Hindle, responding generally, said humorously that he was meeting with a Committee composed of Members who collectively had a great many years experience in education. Many of the questions required more detailed answers than could be provided in the present briefing; also many questions reflected essentially provincial issues to which responses could best be given by the provincial education department heads concerned. Mr Hindle said that the Department, in common with any other department, was never completely happy with the amount of funds allocated to it. However, he was satisfied that Education received a 'significant share of the budget'.

The meeting was adjourned.


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