Quality of and access to Education: Deliberation on public submissions

Basic Education

04 August 2010
Chairperson: Ms F Chohan (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee continued to debate the submissions received during the public hearings on quality of and access to education. It was noted that all submissions dealing with language, including some late submissions, would be dealt with together at a later stage. Members discussed what should be done about submissions that were essentially setting out specific complaints rather than raising issues for substantive discussion around education. Members agreed that this was not a forum for complaints, but noted that all submissions would be answered, that letters would be addressed to the Minister, from where they would be referred to the relevant provinces, and that the Committee would follow up. It was noted that several submissions covered similar topics or raised similar issues, and these were being grouped into “themes” so that there was not a need to deal in depth with topics discussed in previous meetings. The Committee would continue to receive written submissions until the Committee Report was finalised.

The Committee discussed the submission received from Central Primary, which raised significant issues. This submission firstly complained that there were no clear guidelines on curriculum content, but it was noted that the Department was engaging with this issue, and would be implementing the new National Curriculum statements in a phased approach. The submission made a request to bring back Colleges of Education, and Members noted that this issue still required thorough investigation, decisions on the jurisdiction of the departments, and consideration of the relevant statistics, including how many teachers were leaving the profession. The Committee felt that if the colleges were re-introduced, they would need to be in a changed format, responsive to needs, and with emphasis on lifelong training of teachers. The Committee Researcher was asked to assist in finding data on numbers of graduates entering the teaching profession, linked to affordability of university education. The submission had proposed a reduction in class sizes, but Members cautioned that class size was not the only determinant to whether quality education was provided. Members agreed that there should be attempts to reduce class sizes to at least the national norms, and emphasising quality time with each individual learner. Other problems isolated included the fact that bulletins advertising vacancies were not received by all schools, and the Department started appointing teachers only after learner registration. The Department would be asked to clarify allocation of teachers, and appointment processes.

Several submissions had made recommendations to bring back trade schools, and a Committee Member was asked to draw a comparison between the trade schools, the former National Certificates, school classes and the Further Education and Training (FET) levels, and how these related to credits in terms of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). There were concerns that some students were mistakenly choosing to attend FET colleges, and that the colleges were not functioning as originally envisaged. An interface between trade schools and FETs should be established, for lifelong learning. This would form a focus of the Committee Report. Another area in the report would cover learner support, and this submission’s call to appoint school counsellors would be included in that. The call for the need to accommodate learners with special educational needs was also noted.

Meeting report

Quality of and access to education: Submissions during public hearings: further deliberations
Mr L Brown, Committtee Secretary, informed Members that the submission from the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), which had been received in May in response to the call for submissions prior to the public hearings, had been included as “BAS.EDU 49 (B)” in the booklets that had been compiled. He also noted that other late submissions had been received, which would also be incorporated into the bound versions.

The Chairperson said that although the cut-off date for submissions had been the end of February 2010, the Committee would continue to accept written submissions until its report had been finalised. However, no oral inputs could be made on these late submissions. She requested that Mr Brown double-check that all submissions received in the past months had been included.

The Chairperson called on Mr D Bundi, Committee Content Advisor/Researcher, to introduce the next submission. She noted that the document numbered BAS.EDU 6 dealt with language, and the document numbered BAS.EDU 7 dealt with language barriers. She proposed that they both be held over for later consideration, since there were two other substantive submissions on language, which still had to be incorporated. It would be preferable to deal with the language issues together.

Mr D Bundi noted that the document entitled “BAS.EDU 8dealt with the lack of values in education. It recommended the teaching of Christian values and enforcing the wearing of school uniforms to encourage discipline and a sense of belonging.

Members agreed that the issues of values and religion had been addressed the previous day.

Mr Bundi then introduced the document “BAS.EDU 9”. This submission, made by a school secretary, dealt with administrative capacity, and drew attention to the inefficiency of administrative personnel from the Department of Basic Education (DBE or the Department), who had lost documentation of teachers, resulting in a delay in paying salaries, which in turn affected staff morale. The submission asked that Parliament rectify the problem

The Chairperson remarked that the matter was more of a complaint, and that it should have been attended to already. She asked that Mr Brown deal with the matter and send a response.

Mr J Lorimer (DA) stated that important issues had been raised, which needed a response. He furthermore requested that a copy of the letter be made available to the Committee. 

The Chairperson acceded to this. However, she noted that there was confusion in the minds of the public that the public hearings would deal with complaints. She was uneasy about dealing with submissions that laid allegations against named people directly (and sometimes unfairly) in this process.

Mr Lorimer wanted to know from which province the submission had been sent, and if a date could be set for finalising the matter.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) stated that specific complaints should be taken seriously and the relative departments should be held accountable.

The Chairperson agreed fully, and said specific administrative problems were to be taken up directly with the Department, and further enquiries would be made. She stated that problems relating to the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) had emerged in some instances and should be rectified.

Mr Lorimer requested that a date be set for the Department's response, and suggested the end of September. He requested that the Committee be kept informed and be responsive to the issues raised.

The Chairperson stated that this matter would be dealt with through administrative communication with the Department and the Minister's office.

Ms N Gina (ANC) wanted clarity on the lines of communication to be followed and how information was relayed.

The Chairperson responded that, following correct protocol, she communicated with the Minister's office on substantive issues, and that office in turn communicated with the relevant provinces.

The Chairperson noted that this input dealt with managerial capacity at Pambili High School, relating to excessive noise levels during Friday and Saturday nights, due to church functions held at the school. There was a recommendation that the Committee conduct an inspection at the school. The Chairperson commented that this was similar to the previous submission.
She requested copies of the letters addressing the specific problems from Mr Brown.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) commented that the matter was about the management of the school, and should be dealt with by the School Governing Body (SGB).

The Chairperson stated that the problem appeared to be related to the leasing of the school premises, and the fact that the proceeds had not been properly accounted for. She stated that this submission would be dealt with as a specific complaint, similar to BAS ED 9.

BAS. ED 11: Central Primary School
Mr Bundi introduced the inputs and recommendations made by Central Primary School. An input was made on curriculum content, which was summarised as 'no clear guidelines on what to teach'. Recommendations included the need for clear guidelines on what to teach, the need to simplify planning and that textbooks should follow syllabus planning. This had been dealt with the previous day, and the Department was repackaging the curriculum.

The submissions also noted that many youngsters could not afford to go to universities. The Chairperson had recommended that the Committee should receive information on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), together with a letter.

The submission had proposed various solutions, under the sub-themes of teacher development, class size, managerial capacity, specialisation and values in education. These recommendations included requests that the Department should bring back Colleges of Education, reduce class size, train principals on Human Resources and relevant legislation, fill posts timeously, bring back trade schools, accommodate learners with special educational needs and appoint school counsellors to help with social and school discipline.

The Chairperson said, in response to the need for clear guidelines on what to teach, that the Department was currently engaged in the repackaging of the National Curriculum Statements, to make this more accessible to teachers. Every subject in each grade would have a single, comprehensive and concise curriculum and assessment policy statement.  The content for each subject would be clearly delineated and there would be a recommended number of assessments per term.
She noted that the Department had indicated that this would be phased in, firstly with the foundation phase, then Grades R to 3 in 2011, and Grades 4 to 12 in 2012.

The Chairperson noted, in regard to the request to bring back Colleges of Education, that this fell under the broad topic of teacher development. There was a perception that the former Teachers’ Colleges gave practical training and classroom practice that was lacking in teaching qualifications obtained at universities.

Mr Makhubela said this issue still required a thorough investigation.

The Chairperson noted that Mr Makhubela was also a member of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, and enquired if there was yet any sense of the direction that that Committee would be taking. The questions of who would have jurisdiction over colleges was an issue still to be decided between the respective departments of education.

Mr Lorimer agreed that there should be more discussion, but said it had to be underpinned with updated statistics, including how many teachers were leaving the profession.

The Chairperson responded that there were many challenges and contradictions underpinning this topic. Colleges were a legacy of the past, and were partially responsible for teachers being ill-equipped to grapple with the curriculum changes. The resuscitation of colleges in their old form would not be the solution. Colleges of the future must be transformed, and should creatively reflect changes, to break the “silo” mentality of the past. It was important to train teachers for the future, and thus ensure a secure supply of good teachers.

The Chairperson also commented that different experiences emerged from the public hearings on this issue, and on teacher development. It would be necessary to ask the Department what it expected should be happening in the classroom. Emphasis should be placed on the lifelong development and training of teachers, to prevent them stagnating after obtaining their qualifications. She noted that teacher development was a priority area for further investigation.

Mr Makhubele stated that clarity was needed on the number of teachers produced by the system over the past five years, how many teachers had departed the field, and whether there were the necessary numbers to replace these losses. He stated that not much research was being done and reliance was made from Teachers Union statistics. He wanted to know what the department was doing and whether there would be enough teachers in the future.

The Chairperson asked Mr Mahada, Parliamentary Researcher, to assist with obtaining the empirical data, as well as information relating to the closure of Teachers’ Colleges, and the number of graduates from universities who had gone into the teaching profession.

The Chairperson said that the issue of affordability and accessibility of university education was linked to this topic, as it ultimately impacted on the quantity of graduates. She highlighted the high attrition in student numbers, which was a feature of the educational system from Foundation phase to tertiary level. Only one third of students who entered Grade 1 made it through to Grade 12, a significant achievement on their part. The 2009 matric exam statistics had shown that 60% of students who wrote the matric exams had passed, yet less than half had achieved a university entrance pass (now known as a Bachelor's pass) and only 20% of those could be accommodated at university. Given these figures, it was not feasible that teachers could only be trained at universities.

The Chairperson then turned to the call for reduction in the size of classes. This had been a recurrent recommendation in most submissions, and was directly linked to resources, budgets and salaries. After discussion, Members established that the national norm for teacher to pupil ratios was currently 1:40 for primary schools and 1:35 for high schools. Fluctuations occurred when student enrolments increased, since principals could not readily refuse to enrol students living in their catchment area. There were departmental delays in the appointment of teachers, as the information from schools on pupil enrollment was only available after registration of pupils. There was  a debate on whether the norms were guidelines, or whether individual provinces could adopt their own. Given socio-economic inequities in the system, disparities still existed, and the national norm could be seen as a realistic goal, which some provinces had achieved and others had yet to achieve. Smaller class sizes were seen to be ideal, but there was still debate on whether this was the single determining factor in delivering a quality education. High schools experienced more problems due to subject specialisation. The Chairperson proposed that the Department be invited to meet with the committee to clarify the process of the allocation of teachers to schools.

Mr Lorimer said that during his visit to primary schools in the Eastern Cape, he had encountered teacher to pupil ratios far higher than the national norms, even up to 1: 74. There were teacher shortages, due to failure to issue the provincial bulletins for 18 months. He requested that the Committee’s Report should state that provinces should issue bulletins regularly. 

Mr Makhubele stated that the overall registration of pupils determined the number of teachers allocated, irrespective of the number of students in a specific grade or subject specialisation.

Ms Gina stated that principals could not turn away pupils, and that the process of teachers being reallocated was carefully considered. KwaZulu Natal was compliant with the norms.

Ms Mushwana was in favour of students being offered the right to choose the subjects that suited them, even if it meant smaller classes.

The Chairperson noted that budgetary and other restrictions had to be factored into designing an educational system that worked equitably for all. She said that a particular rural school, which had few resources, and whose students came from severely deprived backgrounds, was offering multiple grades in one class. However, this school’s teacher: pupil ratio was low, and it was producing outstanding results, because students were receiving individual attention and the teachers were dedicated. She posed the question whether, in principle, quality time spent on each individual learner was the one thing that could bring about the desired turnaround in the educational system.

Ms Mushwana felt very strongly that the reduction of class sizes was necessary. She was concerned about ongoing imbalances in township schools. The national norms were outdated when compared to world standards, and higher pass rates confirmed the advantages of smaller and more manageable class size.

Mr Makhubele felt that while the national norms were not ideal, at least they represented a commitment from government. It was necessary to adopt a pragmatic approach, given the realities on the ground. Compliance should be monitored at schools, and they should aim to achieve the norms.

The Chairperson agreed that this was a valid point, and a systematic reduction in class size should be the objective. She referred to the input from SADTU, which proposed that the department should rethink the financing of schools. Westerford High, a former Model C High School, received the same allocation as a township school in Khayelitsha.

Mr Lorimer referred to research by the World Bank and other organisations, that suggested that teacher: pupil ratios were not the only measure of successful teaching practice. He advocated making the present system work before engaging in impractical solutions.

Ms Gina agreed that 'Time on Task' was important, but that not only one factor should be isolated. Other factors included the individual teacher's confidence, knowledge of the subject matter, working conditions, salary, transport and security. She felt that all stakeholders should debate problem areas.

Ms Mushwana felt that the submission from Central Primary had reasonable proposals. She also stated that not many quintiles had been wrongly allocated.

The Chairperson acknowledged the strong feelings the issues had evoked in members and agreed that more time and research was needed. She said that the Department should be asked to give clarity on various issues, including the national norms and the allocation of teachers.

The Chairperson then asked Members to discuss the proposals around the training of principals in human resources and legislation. This related to specific managerial issues. The availability of principals to assist staff with HR issues was impeded if they were responsible for teaching classes. A recommendation was made for the appointment of a Head of Department (HOD) both at Foundation and Intermediate Phases.

Ms Mushwana clarified that one HOD post was allocated for every six teachers. If there were 12 teachers, an additional HOD post was allocated.

The Chairperson noted that this submission complained that bulletins advertising vacancies were not received by the school, that vacancy lists were only available on the internet, and there were delays in the appointment of teachers.

Mr Makhubele said that previously there had been a moratorium on appointments. He queried why teachers were not being appointed, and wanted to know how long it took to appoint a teacher. The fact that pupils had no teacher was unacceptable, as it was detrimental to learning, disrupted the school learning environment and encouraged misbehaviour and a lack of discipline.

The Chairperson proposed that there should be a comprehensive strategy that looked at HR processes, and established how long it took to fill vacancies and the details around advertising of posts. The Department would be asked to issue a list of vacancies in all provinces, and a session could be held on HR issues.

The Chairperson noted the recommendation to bring back trade schools. During the discussions there were attempts to distinguish Trade Schools from other variants such as the former “Ambag” skills-based schools, and Schools of Skills in the Western Cape. Trade Schools provided practical skilling in specific trades, such as bricklaying or plumbing, where hands-on practice in a workshop was given priority. However, there was no theoretical component which required formal examination, so there was no academic threshold, and entry levels were at an intermediate level lower than required by the Further Education and Training (FET) colleges.

The Chairperson noted that the former National Certificates (N1 to N6) no longer existed, and there was reference to FET Colleges and Technical High Schools. She said that she had compiled a document on this that provided further information.

Mrs Mushwana raised problems relating to the former National Certificates, saying that N3 was equivalent to matric, yet was not recognised as a matric certificate. Holders of an N6, which was equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, were discriminated against in the job market, as they were still asked to produce their matric certificate.

The Chairperson said that the FET Colleges had superceded the National Certification process, and provided an equivalent to the matric. She asked Mr Mahada to clarify how FET levels equated with high school grades.

Mr Mahada stated that FET Level 2 was the equivalent to Grade 10, Level 3 was equivalent to Grade 11 and Level 4 was equivalent to Grade 12.

The Chairperson requested that Mr Mahada draw a written comparison between FET levels, the National Certificates (N1-N6) and matric, and also include how these related to credits in terms of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

The Chairperson stated that research on student enrollment at FET Colleges by the HSRC indicated that most of the students had matriculated already, and were thus getting a lateral qualification and not undergoing an upward progression. Students were looking for an alternative to university and were mistakenly choosing FET colleges. It was necessary to ask whether anyone was using the FET route for progressing from Grade 9, as they were initially conceptualised. The document, which was very revealing, exposed the need for another layer of education to accommodate post matric students. The first two levels of FET were largely academic, because they were equivalent to matric. However, students at FET colleges generally did not flourish academically and the dropout rate was high. Although FET was envisaged as an alternative to the academic stream, it was not functioning as such.

The Chairperson said that synergies were important, and an interface between trade schools and FETs should be established, for lifelong learning.

The Chairperson proposed that the Department should also be requested to clarify the issues raised, and that Trade Schools, which were a recurrent theme across several submissions, be flagged for further attention and should form a focus of the Committee Report.

The Chairperson noted that the need to accommodate learners with special educational needs had been dealt with the previous day.

The Chairperson said that the call, in this submission, to appoint school counsellors to help with social and school discipline, was a topic under Learner Support. It involved social, psychological and emotional factors which impacted on learning. It had similarly been handled the previous day and would be a focus area in the Report.

The meeting was adjourned.


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