Education access & delivery challenges: Public hearings Day 4

Basic Education

24 May 2010
Chairperson: Ms F Chohan (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee continued with the public hearings on the delivery of quality education and access challenges for education in South Africa.

The Textbook Development Institute (TDI) presented the Committee with a report that detailed how textbooks used in the Department of Basic Education curriculum were often insufficient to address learners’ needs. Textbooks were a very important tool for students in basic education and their quality was therefore important to ensure that students received a proper education in preparation for tertiary education. Members asked questions about printing of textbooks in all official languages and the usefulness of using a full range of textbooks when studying.

SA Media presented the Committee with its mandate and areas of focus and the importance of making media available to Basic Education students, illustrating the positive results from doing so. This organisation acted in many areas of education. Members asked about the subscription costs and the media that were made available to students.

The Mental Health and Poverty Project presented the Committee with its findings on the links between poverty and mental health, the fact that many mental health problems were not detected early, and that 75% of mental health conditions in South Africa remained untreated. It stressed the importance of giving mental health high priority in order to improve education in the country for young students. Members asked if there was documented research to back up the assertions, and how it was intended to offer the training.

The Pestalozzi Trust highlighted the need for wider recognition of non-institutional educational bodies, such as home-schooling, and emphasised the need to do away with the negative stigma attached to home schooling and non formal institutions. Its role was to provide access to education where other institutions were failing to do so. Members asked how many matric students per year were home-schooled and the Trust appealed for assistance from the Committee in removing some of the negative perceptions around this form of education.

The Mind Lab gave a submission to the Committee on the importance of cognitive education as a means of improving the standard of education for students, with the use of toys, games and mental exercises being emphasised as important to assisting students in their studying endeavours.

Equal Education presented the committee with its concerns about infrastructure development, particularly the need to address library problems in schools. The organisation also noted the importance that disparities between different schools must be addressed. Members noted that whilst this presentation was useful, it must be borne in mine that the Department of Basic Education was addressing needs across nine provinces and that basic structure was at the moment receiving more attention than matters such as libraries.


Meeting report

Education access & delivery challenges: continuation of public hearings
Textbook Development Institute (TDI) submission
Mr Christiaan Visser, Director, The Textbook Development Institute, presented the concerns of the TDI relating to the textbooks utilised in basic education in South Africa. He told the Committee that the textbooks provided were often of a poor standard, and contained information which was not specific enough to aptly assist students with their studies.

He said that teachers often had to prescribe four or five textbooks, in conjunction with the standard textbooks, in order for the work that the learners studied was clear. He highlighted the Outcomes Based Education (OBE) system as one of the primary causes for the textbook quality problem, as textbook writers struggled to correlate OBE material and concise learning tools to assist learners.  

He told the Committee that it was essential that the Departments dealing with education must recognise and work in conjunction with the TDI in order to improve the quality of textbooks and the services they provided. He said that the TDI would aim to research textbook development, evaluate current textbooks in use, promote the use of textbooks, and provide a forum to deal with textbook issues.

Discussion
Mr N Kganyago (UDM) commented that he was impressed by the apt presentation made by the TDI.

Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) echoed Mr Kganyago's sentiments and said that from her experience in teaching, textbooks sometimes complemented each other in assisting learners.

The Chairperson asked why textbooks were not provided in indigenous languages.

Mr Visser said that textbooks were not produced in indigenous languages due to the problems around how many languages were officially noted and in use in South Africa. To produce textbooks in all languages would be both expensive and pose serious problems to the basic education sector.

SA Media submission
Ms Hester Van Der Berg, Operations Manager, SA Media, presented the Committee with the organisation’s basic areas of focus and services that SA Media provided to students. The organisation was founded in 1972 and was a wing of the University of Free State. SA Media provided students with access to media, which assisted them to understand the current events happening around them in the world.

The organisation focused on news media as the primary sources of information for its users and had varying prices for different users. The organisation sought to add to the education of the basic education learners through the provision of easy-to-read and easy-to-access media.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked whether the organisation looked at the suitability of some of the media stories it utilised before making them available to students.

Ms Van Der Berg said that the media sources used were extensively screened and only relevant information was provided for student's usage.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked what the subscription costs would be to gain access to SA Media resources. She asked what type of news sources the organisation provided for students’ use.

Ms Van De Berg said that prices varied per student type, as the organisation also provided services to university students. She said that it was mostly affordable for basic education students. She said that SA Media used newspapers and financial magazines as sources, but did not use tabloids under any conditions.

Mental Health and Poverty Project submission
Ms Sarah Skeen, Researcher, Mental Health and Poverty Project, presented the Committee with the project’s findings, which highlighted the importance of mental health in education. She said that 17% of young learners in the Western Cape had mental disorders and that 1 in 6 South Africans suffered from depression or substance-use disorders. Over 40% of the people living in South Africa with HIV also had mental disorders. 75% of the people suffering from these disorders did not have access to mental health care.

She said that it was important that people know that poverty and mental health were closely linked. Poor people often succumbed to disease due to their inability to afford basic services and sometimes foodstuffs that could assist them with avoiding disease. She noted that most mental disorders developed early in life and could be detected and stopped, if high priority was given to their prevention. She made the link between mental disorders and educational failure and said that it was important that support be provided for those suffering or affected by mental health, in order to improve their conditions.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked whether there was empirical data to support some of the statements made by the Mental Health and Poverty Project.

Ms Skeen said that the data was available and she would make it available to the Committee should the Members wish.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked whether training programmes to assist early detection would be made widespread or would only cover certain areas.

Ms Skeen said the training would be widespread and national.

Pestalozzi Trust Submission

Mr Leendert van Oostrum, Executive Officer, The Pestalozzi Trust, presented the Committee with the focus of the Pestalozzi Trust (the Trust) and its work. The Trust coordinated home schooling and provided those outside of formally instituted schools with education and Matric writing ability. The Trust undertook to gain more recognition for non-institutional education and ensure that more access to basic education should be made available to those who either could not or would not attend formal institutions for their education. The Trust noted that education was in crisis and this problem affected everyone.

The Trust said that its role was to provide access to education where institutions failed to do so. The Trust also sought to provide an option to institutional learning. The Trust encouraged the Committee to do more to help recognise non-institutional educational organisations and to rid the country of the negative connotations attached to non-institutional organisations.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked how many students in the country were home-schooled.

Mr Van Oostrum said that 1 000 Matric students per year came from home-schooling backgrounds.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) thanked the Trust for its presentation and said it was highly informative. She asked how the Committee could assist home-schooled individuals.

Mr Van Oostrum said that assisting in reducing the stigma around home-schooling would assist students greatly, as many people thought that institutional education was the only proper form of education in the country.

Mind Lab Submission
Ms Cheryl Charles, Director, Mind Lab, presented the Committee with the organisation’s views on basic education. This organisation highlighted the importance of cognitive education as a means of improving the standard of education for students, and the use of toys, games and mental exercises were emphasised as important to assisting students in their studying endeavours.

The organisation noted that games and similar activities could be used to enhance education as well as propagate interest in it for basic education learners.

Equal Education Submission

Ms Yoliswa Dwane and Mr Dmitri Holztman, Representatives, Equal Education, presented the Committee with their concerns about the lack of emphasis in providing schools across the country with libraries, staffed by qualified librarians. The organisation also highlighted the need for more to be done to assist schools who could not afford to staff their libraries.

Equal Education noted the differences in educational opportunities, based on the institution that students attended, as important. The Department of Basic Education needed to address this issue. Equal Education also highlighted the importance of addressing the infrastructural disparities between rural and urban schools and the difference between upper class urban and fringe urban schools and their respective access to resources. The representatives implored the Committee to make sure that the Department of Basic Education would act to correct these imbalances. 

Discussion

The Chairperson said that it was important that organisations like Equal Education be given recognition and be allowed to formally participate in the legislative process, in order to improve the Department and the service it provided. She said that although the organisation made valid points in its presentation, it was important also for the representatives to note that the Department had to cater to the needs of nine provinces and not one. Therefore, there were fundamental issues, such as infrastructure development, which needed to be addressed before moving on to other key areas such as improving libraries in schools.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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