National Student Financial Aid Scheme Joint Committee Oversight Report, Foundation for Learning feedback, School Principals' Conference report-back, Committee Workshop report

Basic Education

17 August 2009
Chairperson: Mr M Fransman (ANC) & Ms F Chohan (ANC).
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Meeting Summary

The Committees considered and, subject to correction of some grammatical errors, adopted the draft joint report of the Portfolio Committees on Basic Education and Higher Education and Training on their oversight visit to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme on 15 July. Before adopting this Report, a Member commented that there was no mention of the University of Stellenbosch, which was apparently left off the Department’s budget documents. Another issue around the wording of the section on internal audits was raised, and the wording was corrected. Members discussed Parliament's oversight role, particularly its effectiveness in monitoring the progress of policy implementation and identifying and resolving challenges. The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training suggested that innovative ways must be developed in order to create effective recommendations in Committee reports on oversight visits, that would enable follow-through, to enhance Parliament's effectiveness in dealing with problems in government departments.

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education then proceeded to discuss remaining issues. The Chairperson provided a short briefing on the recent Conference of school principals in Durban on 7 August 2009, noting that this was attended also by the President, the Minister and Deputy Ministers of Education, the provincial MECs responsible for education, the premiers of eight provinces, and several departmental officials. This conference highlighted several problems that were shared across the provinces, and highlighted school principals’ challenges around empowerment, both in terms of their administrative decision-making and their status and authority with respect to both learner discipline and the disciplining of teachers. The Department of Education commented that the exercise had been fruitful, had highlighted the importance of the role played by principals in the education system, and empowered them to be more assertive. Members noted that education was of prime importance, and noted that the Committee would still discuss how it could identify and adopt certain schools to assist them in reaching speedier resolution of their challenges.

The Committee considered its draft report on the recent Workshop and an oversight visit to the Department of Basic Education, and made technical changes to several sections in the document, but would resume deliberations on the following day.

Meeting report

National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS): Oversight Visit: Consideration and Adoption of the Committee's Draft Joint Report
The Co-Chairperson tabled the Committee's report on the oversight visit undertaken jointly by the Portfolio Committees to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

The Co-Chairperson asked the Committee to go through the report, page by page, noting that there were not yet sufficient members to constitute the necessary quorum of eight for the Committees sitting jointly, and said that it was possible for each Committee also to pass its own separate report on a separate vote.

Members of the Committees proposed and agreed upon corrections to some of the grammar.

Mr W James (DA) raised two material issues with respect to the draft report. The first issue was that the University of Stellenbosch had been left out of the list for allocations as a Higher Education Institution (Table 2 page 4).

The Chairperson responded that the table had been taken directly from the Department's budget report. If there was an oversight, it was no fault of the Committee. It would need to be checked whether there was an item specifically for the University of Stellenbosch in the report. If it was not in the submissions, then the Committee could, to accommodate the Member's concern, possibly make enquiries and add the missing information.

Co-Chairperson Mr M Fransman (ANC) submitted that when such an omission occurred it was not necessarily part of the meeting or visit conducted by the Committee. If the information had not been presented at that meeting, then it could not simply be added in as if it was submitted during that meeting. For this reason, the omission must be highlighted and the Committee must follow up on the matter to determine the way that it could be written into the report.

Mr James also said that he had an issue to raise, arising from the report, with regard to the role of the NSFAS internal audit, mentioned on page 7 of the report. The second paragraph noted that: “ Increasingly, Internal Audit adds value to the organisation...”. He said that this was the incorrect wording. Internal audits did not add value, but were instead essential to the organization, and were not done on an ad hoc basis.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) submitted that it would be correct to state that internal audits added value to the organisation. She stated that it was therefore debatable whether internal audits were essential, or added value, or both.

Co-Chairperson Ms Chohan responded that she did not think that there was a need to debate the issue, and suggested, as a compromise that changes be made to address both views. She suggested that the statement be amended to read: “Increasingly, Internal Audits are essential and add value to the organisation”.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) suggested that the statement should read “ Increasingly, Internal Audits, which are essential, add value to the organisation.”

This suggestion was recorded by the Committee Secretary

A quorum of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training voted unanimously to adopt the draft report with the changes effected.

A quorum of the Portfolio committee on Basic Education voted unanimously to adopt the draft report with the changes effected.

After the adoption of the report, Co-Chairperson Mr Fransman suggested that there had to be better co-ordination between the two secretaries of the Committees to avoid mishaps with documentation, as had occurred in the current meeting. He commented that the visit to NSFAS had been a valuable one. He advised that the Committees should become more action-oriented in terms of the recommendations that they made at the end of their reports. There had been practical suggestions made during input by Members, as well as in the summary by the Chairpersons. This would enable the Committee to set up a way of monitoring what government was doing, as opposed to simply having generalised reports but not being able to follow up their recommendations in a practical way. An action-oriented approach would allow for monitoring mechanisms to be used.

Co-Chairperson Ms Chohan then suggested that paragraph 6 be renamed “Recommendations” as opposed to “Deliberations”, to reflect the fact that arising out the deliberations, certain recommendations had been made. However, part of the difficulty, when looking at paragraph 6.2, was that the Committee's deliberations had been incomplete because of certain missing information, which had been requested from NSFAS. The Committee was still waiting for the information and thus could not make its full recommendations as yet. When this information was received it would be distributed to Members. The Committees would revisit their report and, if need be, organise another joint meeting for further interaction on the matter. Her final suggestion was that the heading of paragraph 6 be changed to “Deliberations/Recommendations” and that this paragraph 6 serve as a follow-through on the Committees’ next deliberations on this matter.

Co-Chairperson Mr Fransman responded that he was making a more general point, and that was why he had not wanted this to be dealt with in the report. He had looked at the legacy reports and had observed that they contained general information about briefings to Parliament, but no indication of progress being made. This was the deeper issue when it came to reporting. The reports did not make it clear whether there was action and follow-through on the issues.

Mr James agreed that there was a need for a device to monitor follow-ups. However, he did not agree with what the Chairperson had suggested, because minutes reflected the proceedings of a meeting, and all that a Committee could do was to ensure that the minutes were accurate. It was not possible to change the minutes to reflect what should have occurred. The best practice at the moment was that the Chairperson of the Committee should look at the minutes and lift out the issues that required following up.

Co-Chairperson Mr Fransman made it clear that there was no talk of changing the minutes. Nothing would be added on that was done outside of the meeting. His suggestion had related to making recommendations more clear and explicit, and using the record of the proceedings to facilitate monitoring.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) recorded her support for the proposal made by Mr Fransman and proposed that a short instrument or tool be developed that would allow the Committee to check administrative capacity on oversight visits to departments and institutions, so that Members could recognise challenges and then be able to provide assistance.

Mr S Makhubela (ANC) recorded his agreement with Mr Fransman that making follow-ups and giving time frames to departments within which they should implement things would enhance Parliament's effectiveness.

Co-Chairperson Ms Chohan asked if the Committee would agree to the report, as adopted, being sent to NSFAS and to the Ministerial Committee tasked with reviewing that particular body, so that the Committee's input was recognised during that process. Members agreed to this.

The Members of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training were then excused from the meeting.

Ms F Chohan (ANC) took over as sole Chairperson of the meeting.


Chairperson's Assignment on “Foundation for Learning Campaign”: Members’ feedback
The Chairperson introduced two guests from the Pan-African Parliament. She reminded Members that she had requested the Members of the Committee to contact at least two schools in their constituency and check whether they had received all documentation on the “ Foundation for Learning Campaign”, and report back to her in writing on their findings. .

The Chairperson indicated that she had received a written report from Mr D Smiles (DA), which stated that the two schools that he had contacted in his constituency did have the handbook on the “Foundation for Learning Campaign”.

Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) responded that she was still awaiting feedback from the schools in her constituency.

Ms A Mashishi (ANC) responded that she had forgotten the booklet where she had written the assignment, and she had no idea what to do, so she would just do it on the following day.

Mr N Kganyago (UDM) responded that he came from a rural constituency where many of the schools did not have sufficient telephones. He had therefore been unable to contact the schools that he had in mind. He would have to change his strategy and would then report back to the Chairperson.

Ms N Madlala (ANC) submitted her report, noting that the two principals at schools in Springs had confirmed that they had never received the documents, as set out in Government Gazette No. 30800 of 14 March 2008, forming part of the “Foundation for Learning Campaign”.

The Chairperson gave a short briefing on the “Foundation for Learning Campaign”. This was an initiative that had been designed to respond to the great problems in the country's numeracy and literacy output in primary schools. It would stream line and guide teachers about the day-to- day learning activities for children, and their administrative duties to promote effective time management.

Durban Conference for School Principals, 7 August 2009: Chairperson’s briefing
The Chairperson gave a short briefing to the Committee about the Durban Conference, attended by 1700 school principals from all over the country, grouped into delegations from provinces. Also in attendance were President Jacob Zuma, Mr Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education, Deputy Ministers, Mr Collins Chabane, Minister in the Monitoring and Planning Unit, and premiers from all provinces except the Western Cape, Education Members of Executive Councils (MECs) from all provinces, all Chairpersons of the legislatures who chaired Committees on Education, and all provincial Director Generals of education. The Unions had also been represented, including the South Africa Teachers Union (SATU).The principals had held a meeting prior to their imbizo with the President where they had discussed challenges that they were facing with respect to their schools, and so had leaders of education in the provinces. Each province had then drafted a communiqué that had been read out at the conference. The President had raised a few important issues, particularly the issue of the status of teachers in the community. The President had also pledged his support to principals, and encouraged them to use the hotline established to link the public with the President.

The challenges raised by principals included the delay in filling vacancies, and the challenge of discipline and the authority of the principal. Principals had felt that their authority was being undermined in terms of their administration of schools, in the sense that they did not necessarily decide who could be appointed to fill vacancies. They also wanted more authority in terms of discipline, not necessarily for pupils, although this was a challenge, but with regard to disciplining of their teachers. The Chairperson had observed that there were several challenges that were shared across all provinces. These issues would  most likely give the Committee a better indication of where the problems in education were located. The Committee would be provided with the relevant record of the proceedings.

Mr Randall van Heerden, representative of the Department of Basic Education, also provided the Department's perspective, commenting that this had been a massive exercise that approached the issues in a representative manner by ensuring that there were representatives from each province. Both the teacher and the principal organisations had been consulted, so that there had been broad general consultation. In the general running of schools, principals often found themselves under siege. This exercise had highlighted the importance of the role played by principals in the education system in instilling certain standards at schools and confronting issues without fear or prejudice. The exercise had also empowered principals, so that they would be much more assertive. 

Discussion
Mr Smiles  thanked both the Chairperson and Mr van Heerden for their briefings. He commented that the message that he had obtained was that there was now empowerment given to principals. However he was concerned that teacher organisations were more concerned about the interests of teachers, without considering if these superceded the interests of learners.

The Chairperson responded that the President had stressed that there was nothing more important than education. The President had specifically said, after noting that the Premier of the Western Cape was not there, that this was a matter that did not require “politicking”.

Mr Makhubela suggested that the Committee could identify and adopt certain schools to enable speedier resolution of some of the challenges that they experienced. If Members were in closer proximity to these schools, then they should check, after a period, on the progress that the Committee was making, as opposed to waiting for formal oversight visits.

The Chairperson responded that one of the discussions that this Committee must still hold was how to put in motion what Mr Makhubela had suggested. After meeting with the Department, several Members had felt that they needed to go down to schools regional offices and attend to other more localised issues.
 
Draft Report on the Workshop of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education dated 18 August 2009: deliberations

The Committee considered the draft report, page by page, for more than one and a half hours, and made several changes of a grammatical nature. However, the substantive issues could not be continued with, as there was insufficient time left. The Committee would continue to deliberate on the Report on the following day.

The meeting was adjourned

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