Department of Education Annual Report 2008/2009

Basic Education

02 November 2009
Chairperson: Ms F Chohan (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Acting Director-General of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and Director-General of the Department of Education (DOE), and the Deputy Minister of Education, presented and answered questions on the Department's Annual Report for the 2008/09 financial year. The Department commenced its presentation by setting out the five main priorities of government and noted that the Department was dealing with poverty by addressing the cost of education and the declaration of “no fee “schools, and a National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP). To promote skills development, the Department was focusing, on recapitalisation of Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges, teacher development, improving teaching of mathematics and science, the mass literacy campaign, and on universities and universities of technology and human resources development. The remainder of the priorities were not described, as the Committee felt that they had gleaned a great deal already from the Annual Report and wished to move on to ask a number of questions.

The Director General was asked to clarify his own position, and he confirmed that the media reports announcing his resignation were incorrect. Several members raised probing questions about the efficacy of the Department's poverty alleviation initiatives, particularly the National School Nutrition Programmes, how these were run, whether the standards were monitored, and raised questions about impropriety noted in some areas regarding nutrition contracts, in which it was alleged that school principals were creating front companies for provision of nutrition services to their own schools. The problems in Eastern Cape, and the solutions that were being used in KwaZulu Natal, were highlighted.

Members also discussed at some length the recapitalisation of the Further Education and Training Colleges, seeking to understand the relevance of the FET college system of education and its impact in terms of skills development. Members questioned whether these were primarily intended for skills and technical training, and whether they were not increasing the perception of “second class” education systems. Although the Director General and Deputy Minister gave quite detailed answers, they indicated that they would ask that certain issues be raised again by the Department of Higher Education on the following day. Members also raised questions about the second chance given to matrics who had failed, and how the teaching materials had assisted them, as also whether they were available to all learners in all areas.

Members also queried the deployment of funds for teacher development to the labour unions for distribution to teachers, questioning the wisdom of this approach as they feared that it might lead to uneven distribution of these funds on the basis of political considerations. They further questioned, at some length, the provisions for Occupation Specific Dispensation, how and when this would be implemented and what it implied for the teachers. The Department undertook to compile a report giving comparisons on how it would affect teacher salaries over the next few years.

Meeting report

Department of Education (as it was then named) Annual Report 2008/09
Mr Duncan Hindle, Acting Director-General of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and current Director-General of the Department of Education (DOE), presented the Department's Annual Report for the 2008/09 financial year. At this stage the Department had not yet been divided into the two departments of Basic and Higher Education.

The report was divided into two sections, the first consisting of a report on the Department's performance, and the second concerned with the Department's annual financial statements.

Mr Hindle's presentation on the Annual Report was confined to the Minister's five broad priorities, beginning with the department's initiatives for dealing with poverty, which focused on the cost of education and the declaration of “no-fee” schools, the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) and numerous projects initiated to improve the quality of teaching and learning in disadvantaged communities. The second priority of skills development was being addressed by the Department’s particular focus on the recapitalisation of FET colleges, teacher development, improving the teaching of mathematics and science, a mass literacy campaign and formal adult education training programme, universities of technology and a human resources strategy for South Africa.

This part of the presentation was cut short by the Chairperson to allow the Committee to address certain burning issues. She noted that Members had already been in possession of the Annual Report for sufficient time to allow them to read and understand it, prior to the presentation.

Discussion
Mr G Boinamo (DA) questioned Mr Hindle about reports in the media that suggested that he had resigned from his position as Director-General of the Department of Education.

Mr Hindle refuted these reports, which he dismissed as inaccurate, and confirmed that he was still the Director-General of the Department of Education, and Acting Director-General of the Department of Basic Education.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) wanted to know about the rationale behind the distribution of reading books in Eastern Cape and the Free State provinces by the Department of Education.

Ms Marie-Louise Samuels, Acting Chief Director: Curriculum, Department of Basic Education, clarified the “drop all and read” programme that had been operative for a number of years. In the 2007-2008 financial year schools had been chosen from the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Free State. However the target had actually been the different nodal districts. Approximately seventy schools were chosen each year, depending on the budget. In the 2008/09 financial year the Department had targeted two districts, one in Eastern Cape and one in Free State. For the current financial year, the district of Obenjeni in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) had been targeted. Each learner received a school bag, and the grade R learners received a story book, whilst the grade 1 learners received reading books. Depending on the budget, the Department was working through as many nodal districts as possible.

Ms Mushwana asked about support for institution infrastructure, such as kitchens, since she had noted that sometimes food was being cooked outdoors.

Mr Enver Surty, Deputy Minister, Basic Education, noted that the schools were not restricted from having kitchens, and where schools did distribute meals, women were being drawn from the communities and then trained on health standards in preparation of food, in accordance with the nutrition needs for students. There were more than six thousand food gardens throughout the country.

Ms Gugu Ndebele, Deputy Director General: Social and School Enrichment, DOE, added that there had been a team set up by the Premier's office in Eastern Cape, comprising DOE and the Auditor-General's Office. There had been a report showing a significant expenditure in that province. When the task team had started its work there had also been a problem of uncooked meals, since schools were only providing bread to learners. There was now an increase in cooked meals, although there was a need for constant monitoring of the process, as there were districts that were struggling. KZN was one of the Department's best performing provinces. This used two systems; firstly it would transfer money to schools, and secondly the Department had trained 432 local women co-operatives, who provided a variety of menus, which resulted in a better system of school nutrition. The provinces were aware of the challenges. She also said that the Department was keen to establish food gardens in all the schools, but at times the soil was not good enough at the school, although other food gardens were being established by private organisations like “Trees for Life”.

Ms A Mashishi (ANC) asked where the numerous projects were being put in place to assist disadvantaged communities to improve the quality of teaching, as Members would like to track these. She also asked if the 6 226 vegetable gardens were spread across all provinces.

Mr Edward Mosuwa, Acting Director-General: FET and Chief Director: FET Schools, DOE, responded that there were some problems in supporting the implementation of the curriculum. The Department made sure that it provided key basic resource packages to schools, to improve on literacy and numeracy, as the Department was aware that there was under-performance, and this was the priority for “kids up” programmes. In addition, the Department had been providing assistance to school management teams, via the principals, so that they could be champions and increase their own scores by implementing technical achievements. That was the second element of “kids up”. The third element concerned the monitoring of learner achievement, since the Department, in providing assistance, had also to ensure that there was benefit derived from the resources provided to the schools. These had been the three major strengths of the programme.

Mr Boinamo wanted to know to what extent the recapitalisation of FET colleges had been a success, what plans there were to try to improve the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP),and if there were tenders being offered to people who could be trusted. Finally he enquired whether the government would pay service providers on time, noting that this had been a challenge in the past.

The Deputy Minister responded that the Department had spent R1 billion over three years, and this had been driven nationally and had resulted in a huge improvement in the resources provided by government to FET colleges. The only challenge was that FET colleges, in the context of higher education and training, had different lengths of programmes and skills development, and it would have to be assessed what they did to provide alternative education and training.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) questioned  the status of the “no-fee” schools policy. He noted that in past years, the money had been allocated to schools very late, and there was no top-up from the Department to compensate schools for money used in implementing the policy. He also enquired as to the criteria for declaring schools in different quintiles.

The Deputy Minister clarified the way the quintiles were assessed. Previously, the physical location of the school had been considered before giving the schools their quintile rankings. The real conditions of the communities and population were not taken into account. Now, however, all factors were being taken into account. The provinces had to provide a list of all schools to the Minister, who would then place the schools in different quintiles. Funding did not always match due to the migration of students.

Mr Hindle also responded on the issue of “no-fee” schools He stated that if the Department was to have any system that affirmed and assisted the poorest schools, then there had to be a ranking system. This was a starting point, that would determine which were the poorer, and which were the richer schools. Often the implications of the quintiles were not fully understood. If one school were to be moved, for example, from quintile 4 to quintile 3, then another school had to move up from quintile 3 to quintile 4 to take its place. It was ironical that now schools were effectively competing to prove themselves poorer than the next school, as quintile 3 schools received an allocation. If all schools were classed in quintile 3, however, the amount to each would have to drop. This was not desirable. Broadly speaking, the criteria that any school would have to use to apply was whether the allocation it could receive from the State exceeded the amount it could reasonably be expected to collect from school fees. If the State allocation was the larger of the two, then the school was classed as a “no fee” school. In some cases schools managed to get sufficient support from parents and the community so that they did not need to be declared a “no-fee” school, and this was essentially their choice. The fact was that 60% of South Africa's schools at present were “no-fee” schools, meaning that effectively they were in one category. The national standards for school funding, including the issue of quintiles, was currently under consideration and was in the final stages, and the Department would shortly begin with the consultation process around this, which might bring to light some new approaches.

The Chairperson asked the Department to give a full explanation of how the system worked with all of these changes, factoring in the MEC's new powers and new features, linked to the issue of the budgets. She asked, since the Department was able to make a declaration of certain schools as “no fee schools”, where the budget for this would come from, and what would be the understanding and protocols if the same power was to be accorded to the MEC.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) wanted to know if the funding would match the quality of education offered by those schools that were declared “no-fee” schools.

Mr Mpontshane asked if the classification of schools into Section 20 and 21 was connected in any way with the quintile system, or if it was a different system altogether.

Mr Hindle responded that there was no legal correlation, and that a Section 20 or 21 school might or might not be a “no-fee” school.

Mr Mpontshane commented that there had been instances of tension between school principals and service providers because it was sometimes alleged that principals had formed front companies to provide nutrition services. He asked if the Department had done any investigation into such allegations.

Ms Ndebele responded that she knew that this had been done in the Eastern Cape. She stated that in the Eastern Cape that investigation had been part of the broader investigation by the Premier's office. The Department collaborated with the province to investigate the matter.

Mr Hindle asked if Mr Mpontshane had in fact reported these incidents to the provincial department, so that they could be investigated.

The Chairperson indicated to Mr Mpontshane that if he had information on specific instances, these must be reported.

The Chairperson asked Ms Ndebele to provide the Committee with the outcome of thee investigations in the Eastern Cape and the extent of the wrongdoing that had been uncovered.

The Chairperson indicated that the discussion would now move on to the issue of skills development.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) asked about the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). He was given to understand that there had been some money that had been given to institutions of higher learning, which was intended for the  graduates for 2008. However that money had missed the target and had never been allocated to them because by the time the money arrived, they were out of the system. He wanted to know what the Department was going to be doing about that, since the institutions had failed to allocate it to the correct target group.

Mr Makhubele also commented that the supervisors and other volunteers of the programmes complained that they did not receive their stipends regularly, and he asked if the system was efficient enough and why it had not dealt with this problem.

Mr Hindle responded that the Department was not aware of any late allocations. He appealed to Members, if they were aware of any students who had been prejudiced by any institution that was not paying them their bursaries, to inform the Department. He explained that the universities paid the students the money that the universities received from NSFAS, and there was no reason for NSFAS to withhold those funds, which were paid on 1 April each year. He would ask the Director-General of Higher Education to speak a little more on NSFAS on the following day, so that the Committee could be informed how funding was administered.

Mr W James (DA) expressed his admiration and appreciation for the devotion shown by the DOE to it work, in the face of considerable challenges, not least of which was the increasing insistence on the part of those who ran government's finance divisions that greater rewards must be extracted from the investment in education.

Mr James said he wished to discuss universities of technology. It was a great concern that in many ways they were aspiring to become “universities” of technology, because this meant that they had to rest on quite a solid science base, and there was some unevenness across South Africa's institutions in that regard. He enquired whether there was a plan to insist that universities actually offered basic science courses. For example, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) did not offer biology. If an institution did not offer biology, it could not have biotechnology, which also meant it could not undertake research on issues such as the biotechnology of extracting chemical compounds from plants. He felt that a university had to have, as its basic courses, chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics and engineering. He asked if there were any plans to incentivise universities of technology to go in that direction.

Mr Hindle responded that he would also ask the Director General of Higher Education to speak to the universities of technology, since she was better placed to address these issues. They were issues that would be addressed in the next year.

Mr N Kganyago (UDM) asked a question on the inclusion of FET colleges in the higher education and training category. He did not understand the reasons for that inclusion, pointing out that the learners here had most often not progressed further than either grades 9 or 10, and had not gone beyond matric. He did not understand why such people should be promoted to “higher” education and training categories, and he did not understand why FET colleges were conducting graduation ceremonies, apparently emulating academic institutions. He feared that there was in fact reinforcement of the idea that technical education was merely an inferior category of academic education, whereas the two were, in his opinion, distinct.

Mr Kganyago also commented that he did not understand why, at this stage in South Africa's history, the historically disadvantaged universities were still often not offering studies like engineering and medicine. It seemed that progress was very slow in this regard, and he speculated whether this was because of human resource problems or budgetary constraints.

Mr Hindle responded to the issue of the FET colleges. He stated that it was important to understand that it was not a Higher Education Ministry alone: it was the Ministry of Higher Education and Training. It therefore covered the whole gambit of higher education, as well as skills development. It was possible to enter an FET college after Grade 9, but the Department was very consciously favouring learners who had completed matric before they went on to FET colleges. These learners were much more successful academically and were also more socially mature. College was a different environment altogether, where people needed to have the maturity to be self-motivated. The FET Colleges were preferring post-matric students. That was one of the reasons why the Department was now investing in the re-capitalisation of the Technical High Schools, where the Grade 9 could enroll to undertake technical skills, prior to going on with further studies at college level.

Mr Hindle noted that there had been some instability in terms of the transfer of the colleges. He thought, however, that National Treasury had made a good decision by deciding to take the money that would have been allocated directly to colleges, and sending it to the provinces, who would then “top-slice” it so that the national Department could run this as a conditional grant. The advantage of that was it 'ring fenced' that money so that it could not be used anywhere else, and basically ensured that it would reach the colleges where it had to be. At this stage, these functions remained with and were the responsibility of the provinces, funded through a conditional grant. Any change to this would require a change to legislation.

The Deputy Minister responded that he wanted to add to Mr Hindle’s already detailed explanation. He asked that Members must bear in mind the environment, from the context that the FET colleges had been recapitalised, and new legislation had been crafted to provide for flexibility. There were artisan skills and intermediate skills that were also on offer at the colleges. Students had a choice of doing a range of programmes for the different levels. There were also options to do short courses such as brick laying, fitting and turning, and so on. This provided the necessary flexibility. Another difference in the FET arena, which assisted the articulation of education and training quite significantly, was that FET colleges were not schools in the traditional sense, so staff were not employed by the government but by a governing body, which would be a council established in terms of legislation. The working and learning hours were flexible, as were the programmes, and they covered a wide range of fields. If there was a need to improve training of educators, this could be done in the FET colleges. They therefore provided a huge space for training in terms of skills development.

Ms Dudley asked about the submission that the Department would now be giving money directly to the unions for teacher development. This prompted several questions, such as who decided upon the training that would be given, where the monitoring would be, and whether there would not be some kind of discrimination if a teacher did not belong to a particular union. She wondered how well this had been thought through and what the progress was on that currently.

Ms A Mashishi (ANC) also asked how the distribution of the funds for teacher development would be done. She asked whether the distribution would be done according to membership or if there was some other criteria.

Mr Hindle responded that this was a “hot issue”, and that in fact not all the money would be sent to the unions, but only a very small slice of the money available for continuous professional development (CPD) of teachers was to be channeled through the unions. All the unions were eligible. There had to be business plans and strict reports in terms of that process. In terms of monitoring, the whole area of CPD was governed by the South African Council of Educators, which allocated professional development points to programmes, so that all of it would take place under that framework. These unions were able to determine what the needs of teachers were, and they were well able to deal with those programmes, sometimes more effectively than the Department. The Department was looking at doing much the same with school governing bodies, to find ways for them to be supported by government to provide the training that they needed, to provide for teacher development.

Mr Mpontshane also asked about the payment of money for teacher development directly to the unions. He asked if the Department had really thought this through, as he believed that some unions were more concerned with political radicalism than professionalism. For instance many teachers had boycotted the good initiative where the South African Teachers' Union (SATU) had decided to help learners to catch up with their classes. A foreign donor had given money to SATU, but, instead of helping the learners, they were using the funds for political purposes.

The Chairperson jokingly wondered where Mr Mpontshane had received all that information.

Mr Mpontshane responded in jest that he was constituency based.

Mr Hindle responded that some of the questions that referred to issues about the Department's future plans would be better discussed on the following day’s meeting.

Ms N Gina (ANC) asked whether the initiatives of improving the teaching of maths and science, such as the support materials, and study aids such as newspapers, would benefit every student, especially those in rural areas where it was difficult to obtain a copy of a newspaper. She wondered if in fact such initiatives might unwittingly result in discrimination of those who were disadvantaged by not being able to get the support.

Mr Hindle responded that the supplements had not just been produced as supplements to newspapers, but had been sent out directly to the district offices, so he hoped that all schools, wherever they were situated, would have had access to them. The TV support referred to SABC, and not Multi choice, and he hoped that SABC had sufficient footprint around the country to be able to reach everyone. The value of this could not be under-estimated. Although it was useful for those learners doing matric for the first time, it had shown that, as a second chance programme, just a little support could be very effective. The learners who had written under the “second chance” were learners who had failed matric and could not go back to school because the curriculum had changed. They had been given newspaper supplements and a some TV teaching, at TV centres that the Department had set up, and many of those students had in fact passed their matric the second time. In some areas, more had passed than those who were actually at school. This was also a very serious indictment of the schools, and the Department needed to look at that, as learners with the extra support, who might otherwise have been seen as failures, were actually able to pass.

Ms Gina also asked if the Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) could be extended from its current duration of six months to twelve months, to give sufficient time for adult learners to grasp the curriculum. She felt that the current duration was a too short if the Department wanted better results from the exercise.

Mr Makhubele asked a question on the issue of Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) for teachers. He was aware that there were issues around OSD, and he wanted to check whether there were amounts budgeted or paid during the 2008/09 financial year, or if that money would be paid during the 2009/10 financial year, as he noted that the agreement had been concluded in 2008.

Mr Hindle stated that the agreement had actually been signed in April 2009. The original OSD agreement had been fully funded, and all of those funds had been paid out. OSD for teachers was therefore being implemented and that funding was continuing. He suggested that it was possible that Mr Makhubela was referring to some of the additional items that had not formed part of the initial agreement, and the Department was now dealing with them and they formed part of the negotiations with the teachers. The references to “OSD for teachers” was in fact what the Department referred to as “OSD2”, being the second round of OSD issues for teachers, which were still under negotiation.

The Chairperson commented that there was a lot of confusing information on the OSD agreement and she requested the Department to provide the Committee with a short report to define it.

Mr Hindle responded that broadly speaking, OSD was part of government's wider initiative to try to establish separate salary dispensations for particular occupations. Instead of a common public service platform for salaries, there would now be occupation specific dispensation. The agreement that had been signed with the unions earlier in the year had been to shift teachers from the current public service salary scale into a new set of salary scales, which would be applicable only to educators. Linked to that were a whole lot of provisos in terms of how teachers moved up those scales, how quickly a teacher could do so, and there was also a performance element that had been built into it, so that someone might be able to leap frog certain scales. The provisions also included how teachers would be appointed to particular levels and how they would be remunerated at those particular levels. The agreement had been signed and implemented fully and teachers had been transferred to the new scales. There were, however, as mentioned, a couple of areas, which had not been included in the original agreement and had now become the subject of new bargaining. The Department and unions had come to an agreement on these. The Department supported what had been proposed by the unions, in principle, but had cautioned that the funding did not allow for full implementation at present. The ongoing process with the unions now was to look for implementation dates for those outstanding elements.

Mr Firoz Patel, Deputy Director General: Systems and Planning, DOE, added that teachers were moved up into new salary scales with effect from 1 January 2008. What this meant was that they received a 5.5% average increase because there was a minimum 4% on translation to the new scales. The translations then ranged between 4% to 9% . In terms of that particular agreement the 1% annual progression, for example, was done away with, under which teachers would have qualified, in 2010, for 3% increments every two years and those other favourable benefits in terms of accelerated progression. The starting salary had moved form R99 000 to R115 000.

The Chairperson asked Mr Patel to put this down in a report for the Committee. It was quite difficult for Members to absorb and analyse it in the short time allocated for the meeting. This would allow Members to look at the issue in more detail, and then, at a later stage, call the Department back to delve deeper into exactly what the package for an average teacher would be, given that there were the multi-year agreements now.

Mr Hindle responded that the Department would do as the Committee requested. He submitted that the President of the SATU had been on record as saying that teachers had had salary increases of nearly 40% over the past two years. If the general salary increase for this year of 10% was added to anything that they might get out of OSD2, then he remarked that there had certainly been an improvement in conditions of service. The SATU therefore certainly acknowledged a dramatic improvement over the last few years.

The Chairperson asked the Department, when compiling the report to the Committee, to give a projection from the past five years to where things stood currently.

Mr Mpontshane asked the Department also to comment on a report in the media that teachers in KZN were threatening to disrupt examinations because of a dispute involving OSD.

Mr Hindle responded that this again related to OSD-2. The Department had written to the unions to indicate that these payments could not be made in the month of October, because the Public Service Commission (PSC) had been busy implementing the general salary increase for all public servants, including teachers. The Department had committed that the teachers would be paid in November. These payments were all back dated to 1 July and there was no question of anyone losing out by not being paid in a particular month. The teachers were certainly out of order, and the national leadership of all the unions had accepted the date of payments.

Mr Hindle reminded the Committee that if there were any Members who were aware of a school that did not have a study-mate, the Department had a call centre, whose number was 0800 20 29 33. He urged the Members to phone the Department and they would ensure that those study mates were provided to the school concerned within 48 hours.

The meeting was adjourned
 


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