The Department of Basic Education (the Department) briefed the Committee on its “Action Plan to 2014” which formed part of its longer-range vision of the “Schooling 2025” plans. The Department noted that the Action Plan built on existing policies, to provide a cohesive strategy and would be revised until the Minister was satisfied that there had been sufficient consultation with all stakeholders and experts. The Action Plan to 2014 was part of a longer range vision known as ‘Schooling 2025’. This Plan builds on existing policies to provide a cohesive strategy. This Plan will be further revised until the Minister is satisfied that there has been sufficient consultation with stakeholders and experts. The Plan focused on outcomes and provided a series of baseline figures in order to map out five year goals. It aimed to increase the numbers of learners who passed, and those who excelled. The goals would be measured by Annual National Assessments of Grade 3, 6, 9 and 12 learners, by way of external examinations, which would not be used to rank schools but to indicate where problems needed to be addressed. Internal examinations, which would be subject to external moderation, would be held in the other grades. The targets were ambitious, but the Department thought they could be achieved. The Department was hoping that all children would remain enrolled at school from ages 7 to 15, that there was improved access to Early Childhood Development (ECD), that the numbers of those repeating grades would decrease and that there was improved access to Further Education and Training (FET) facilities. The new system highlighted the role of the National Department in supporting and holding the provincial departments accountable, with district officials providing direct support to teachers, whilst it also emphasised the essential role played by parents in the support structure.
Members asked about the strategies for dealing with ECD, which was very important, and questioned why ECD, training of teachers and pupil wellness were largely implemented by non-governmental organisations instead of government. They stressed that now that there was clarity on the Plan, the Department must implement and enforce with vigour and commitment. They asked how the Department was addressing the issue of children who did not remain at school, many of whom were living on farms, wondered if the district standardisation would be effective, noted that support to school governance was vital and that all stakeholders, including parents, must be committed to and educated on the Action Plan. They also asked how the Plan and its outcomes would be communicated to the Provinces. They were concerned about the monitoring of teacher development, wondered if human resources could be shared, and raised concerns about infrastructure spending, particularly given the lack of provincial capacity and accountability, and questioned what plans the Department had to address the discrepancy in responsibility for schools, which was split between the Departments of Basic Education and Public Works. Members noted that annual national testing could not be held across the board. Members were generally appreciative that this was the first long-term Plan, but asked whether it would be immune to political interference, how it would be communicated, how successful partnerships with all stakeholders would be formed and whether it departed radically from the Outcomes Based Education systems, and what models were used. They asked if mother-tongue education was addressed in the Plan, what age restrictions were noted, how many times a learner could repeat and when the Plan would be implemented. Members also enquired about schools that focused on technical skills, how the Department addressed dyslexia, and where teacher development was located. Members checked when the workbooks would be ready and how they would be distributed, and asked to be provided with a copy of the guidelines for District Officials.
A formal proposal was made that a non-partisan debate should be held on teacher quality, and how it could be improved in South Africa.
Election of Acting Chairperson, and opening remarks
The Committee noted that Ms F Chohan (ANC), the former Chairperson of the Committee, had been promoted to be the new Deputy Minister of Home Affairs. Ms N Gina (ANC) was elected as Acting Chairperson for this meeting.
The Acting Chairperson said that the Committee’s congratulations would be extended to Ms Chohan.
The Acting Chairperson said that in the previous week a summit had been hosted by the Department of Basic Education, but not all the Committee was able to attend. The Department of Basic Education (DBE or the Department) would thus brief the Committee on the ‘Action Plan to 2014’, which had been discussed at that summit.
Action Plan to 2014: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2025: Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefing
Mr Bobby Soobrayan, Director-General, Department of Basic Education, presented the “Action Plan to 2014” (the Plan) to the Committee. The “Action Plan to 2014” was part of a longer range vision known as ‘Schooling 2025’. The Plan was based on a series of outcomes in education for children, which should occur by 2014. The output goals of the Plan intended to highlight the importance of tacking poor learning outcomes. The Plan had a two-pronged focus, which would not only improve the overall percentage of learners who achieved the minimum required, but would also focus on improving the performance of every learner and encourage him or her to excel. The goals also focused on increasing the percentage of learners who achieved the minimum requirements. These would be measured by Annual National Assessments of Grade 3, 6, 9 and 12 learners. The assessments would not be used to rank schools, but would provide indications to the Department of where aid was needed, or where teaching had improved. Although the targets were ambitious, the Department believed that they were achievable. Some other developing countries had seen improvements of this size.
Mr Soobrayan then indicated what was included in the output goals that focused on encouraging learners to excel. They would ensure that all children remain enrolled at school between the ages of 7 and 15. There would be improved access to Early Childhood Development (ECD), attempts to decrease the number of repeaters of grades, and improve grade promotion, and, at the higher levels, improve the access to Further Education and Training (FET) facilities. The new schooling system highlighted the role of the National Department in supporting and holding the provincial departments accountable. Provinces would be divided into districts, and district officials would provide the most direct support for teachers and schools. This framework also emphasised the essential role played by parents in the support structure, to assist both the learners and the teachers.
Ms F Mushwana (ANC) asked if the Department had a strategy for dealing with ECD. At the moment, early childhood education was largely in the hands of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), particularly in the rural areas, despite its importance. She noted that this importance was emphasised on page 15 of the Action Plan, with an emphasis on formal, rather than informal ECD training. The Department should clarify what type of early childhood education was received prior to Grade R, to assist in the learning process.
Mr Soobrayan replied that Grade R was not currently compulsory. The Department of Education needed to work with the Departments of Social Development and Health in regard to children up to the age of five years old. Government did not currently have the capacity to run pre-Grade R classes and these were mostly run by NGOs.
Ms Mushwana stated that because education was so dynamic, training was very important. Although government encouraged and required continuous training, it was currently also in the hands of NGOs. She enquired if the Department intended to take over the additional training of teachers.
Mr Soobrayan replied that Department had been working closely with institutes of Higher Education (HE) to improve the programmes they offered and to increase the number of curriculum advisors within the Department.
Ms Mushwana also referred to Mr Soobrayan’s comment on the importance of learner well-being, and said that once again, although the Department knew what had to be done, the NGOs were implementing this. She asked when the Department itself would start assuming these duties.
Mr Soobrayan replied that a new issue within the system was that high numbers of HIV-positive learners were, with antiretroviral drug therapy, now succeeding in schools. This had an impact on the system.
Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) stated that it would take time for these plans at national level to realise the full impact. Now that the plans were clear, the Department had to implement and enforce them.
Mr Makhubele asked about the Annual National Assessments (ANA), and asked whether the testing would occur in Grade 3 of the Foundation Phase, then Grade 6, followed by tests in Grade 9.
Mr Soobrayan replied that Grades 3, 6 and 9 would sit national external examinations. Exams would also be held in Grades 1 to 6, which would be set internally but moderated externally.
Mr Makhubele stated that the Action Plan had noted that about 3% of children enrolled at school did not remain there until they turned 15. He asked what the Department was doing to address this.
Mr Soobrayan stated that the 3% of learners were mainly situated on farms and it was a major concern. The Department was encouraging schools to be set up on farms, the provision of learner transport to schools, and for school hostels to be built, to address this issue.
Mr Makhubele commented that this Action Plan did not go into detail on FET. He asked what happened to children who had not previously paid fees for school due to their economic status, but who now wanted to attend FET institutions, and whether any financial assistance was given to them by the Department.
Mr Soobrayan replied that FET Colleges were not a function of the Basic Education Department.
Mr Makhubele stated that according to the Action Plan, education was to be standardised within districts rather than provincially. This would be a different structure altogether. He questioned whether it would be effective. He also asked what functions and duties these District officials would have.
Mr Soobrayan replied that Department of Public Service and Administration was currently doing an assessment. He also stated that districts needed to be standardised and that the focus should not just be on spreading resources, but on assessing how these resources are used.
Ms A Mashishi (ANC) asked why Maths Literacy was not included in the statistics for Maths used in the presentation.
Mr Soobrayan replied that Maths Literacy was not part of the indicators.
Ms Mashishi commented that school governance was very important and that often it does not get enough support. She also asked for clarity about the skills development mentioned in the presentation.
Mr Soobrayan replied that schools governance requires more information to function correctly. Skills development was a broad function of teacher development.
A Member commended the Department on its Action Plan and stated that it would be a substantial achievement if it could be implemented correctly. He asked if the stakeholders had accepted the Plan, and were ready to honour it. In particular, parents would play a major role but needed to be educated on the information contained within the Action Plan.
Mr Soobrayan agreed that empowering parents was key to this Plan.
A Member asked how the Plan and its outcomes would be communicated to the Provinces.
Mr Soobrayan replied that there was a delivery agreement signed with the MECs, which would be delivered, with the Plan, by the President. There were regular meetings on budget issues held between the nine heads of provincial education, the Director-General of Basic Education, the Director-General of the National Treasury and the nine heads of treasury in the provinces.
A Member also asked about the monitoring of teaching development. He also thought that there needed to be a sharing of human resources, as some schools did not have functioning educators.
Mr Soobrayan replied that a system was being developed to accredit teachers with points, according to what courses they attended. This system would also monitor the quality and content of training courses.
Mr W James (DA) asked about the R40 billion to be spent on infrastructure. He stated that there were concerns that the provinces were not spending money properly, such as shown recently in the Eastern Cape. He commented that there was a lack of provincial capacity and accountability.
Mr Soobrayan corrected Mr James, noting that the Department needed R40 billion for infrastructure, but did not have those funds already. He agreed with Mr James that there was a lack of provincial capacity to spend funds. For this reason, part of the infrastructure plan was to create substantial capacity in the National Department to monitor, design, support infrastructure norms, and to ensure efficiency. He also stated that in some areas schools were built by the Department, but in other areas schools were built by the Department of Public Works, although problems were generally ascribed to his Department.
Mr James stated that it was not good enough to have regular national testing on the basics of mathematics, writing and reading. It would be preferable to have tests every year or at least every second year, on a national basis, to ascertain how successful the national strategy was.
Mr Soobrayan replied that no countries who had a similar economic level to South Africa undertook yearly national testing. It was currently occurring in only a very small percentage of urban areas of Brazil. He also stated that yearly national testing would impose a huge burden on the Department.
Mr James commented that since 1994, there have been many policy discussions and documents produced around education, but these lacked long-term planning. This Plan was a wonderful example of long-term planning. However, he wondered if it would be immune to political interference, by which he meant not the regular political cycle of changes in ministers and staff, but disruptions caused by other organisations such as teachers’ unions.
Mr Soobrayan replied that this issue occurred in any democracy, including the current administrations in the United States of America and France. If the Department empowered parents to learn the outcomes, then the system would not rely on the dominant political players. He admitted that the Action Plan was politically determined, but stated that there was continuity between past plans and the current plan. These plans were based on continuous improvements, and focused on results.
Mr D Smiles (DA) asked how far the Department had gone on its consultations with individuals, to get their buy-in to achieving the outcomes specified in the Action Plan, and what was planned so that teachers could understand that Action Plan. He pointed out that the success of the Plan was heavily reliant on a partnership between the learners, parents and teachers, with learners being the priority.
Mr Soobrayan replied that there had been a lot of consultations and consolidations, but that certain events such as industrial action had affected this consolidation. The process was managed, to ensure that the mandate given to the Department was met, and to ensure that after the strike there could be a positive relationship with all stakeholders. He also stated that teacher development focused on competence and orientation, to recognise that teachers must put learners first.
Mr Smiles asked if the Department planned to reintroduce the Higher Grade and Standard Grade distinctions in Mathematics.
Mr Soobrayan replied that this was still under discussion. There should be progress by early 2011.
Ms A Mda (COPE) believed that this policy offered hope for education, but stressed that the Department must be fully committed to it. The new plan of working towards achieving stability in education by 2025 was derived from an Outcomes Based Education (OBE) curriculum that did not work, and that, to a greater extent, created more problems than it solved. She asked if the new Plan was focused on quality or on curriculum.
Mr Soobrayan replied that there had been a paradigm shift. The OBE, and any other curriculum of the Department, had always directed at improving quality. OBE was still being used to inform FET, higher education and improving methodologies. The Department had, however, removed the elements that had created problems in the curriculum.
Ms Mda asked if the Action Plan captured the issue of mother tongue education. If not, then she asked for the stance of the Department on this issue.
Mr Soobrayan replied that the issue of mother tongue education was on the agenda of the Action Plan. Teacher development, the workbooks and first additional language all focused on the use of mother tongue. The Department had been continuing its research on the impact of mother tongue education. The two continuing challenges facing mother tongue education were teacher capacity and appropriate reference materials.
Ms Mda asked about age restrictions for admission into school. She suggested either that the Department should restrict the maximum age for admission, or that the Department should take into account the possibility of repeating years when determining age limits for finishing school.
Mr Soobrayan replied that the current age restriction was that learners must be turning seven in the year in which they were admitted to Grade 1. Learners could repeat one year per foundation phase, which could add up to four years on their school education. He stated that age grade norms needed to be enforced.
Mr Smiles asked Mr Soobrayan to clarify when the Department would start implementing the baseline year of the Plan. He also asked what model was used for the figures.
Mr Soobrayan stated that this Action Plan was based on outcomes, and not input. It focused on ensuring that, within the provisions set out, the outcomes would be met. The model used for the figures factored in growth in learner numbers, changes in budgets, and what demographers had said about population growth.
Mr Makhubele asked whether there were schools of skills under the Department, which were FET-related although they did not fall under higher education and training.
Mr Soobrayan explained that there were technical skills schools, which offered the school curriculum up to FET level. Schools of Skills departed from the official curriculum, and offered four year training programmes. Learners could join these schools at any level, and did not end up at FET level.
Ms Mushwana asked whether the annual targets of the Department would be related to the Action Plan of 2014.
Mr Soobrayan confirmed that the annual targets would be related to the Action Plan. However, five year plans tended to focus on long-term goals rather than annual targets, which would ensure that sufficient gains had been made annually.
The Acting Chairperson asked where the Department located teacher development within the Basic Education framework.
Mr Soobrayan explained that the South African Council of Educators (SACE) was to develop the system for training, but would not actually provide this training. Instead, the training providers would be the Department, unions, and HEIs (Higher Education Institutes). It was important that this training occurred within a consistent framework.
The Acting Chairperson asked why some provinces had their education infrastructure managed by the Department of Education, while others were managed by the Department of Public Works. He wondered if the National Department should not issue a directive as to who should manage the education infrastructure.
Mr Soobrayan explained that the DBE had engaged with Department of Public Works (DPW) over many years, but the matter was still not entirely resolved. The DBE had recently received a request DPW that all school infrastructure be given to them. This was a Constitutional issue, under the authority of the executive.
The Acting Chairperson asked about the status of the workbooks, and questioned if they would be ready on time.
Mr Soobrayan replied that the workbooks had been completed and were now being evaluated.
Mr James asked for the exact date of the delivery of the workbooks.
Mr Soobrayan replied that they would be delivered to schools by the start of the term, where the school had the capacity to store the books securely, or by the third week of term where it could not store them. The Department firstly needed to get the exact requirements in order to deliver the correct amount of workbooks.
Ms Mushwana asked whether the Department would address dyslexia. She also suggested that it might be useful for the Department to pay a visit to Denmark, which had production schools for learning technical skills.
Mr Soobrayan replied that dyslexia was an issue that the Department had to address in its skills development programmes.
The Acting Chairperson asked that Mr Soobrayan provide the Committee with a copy of the guidelines for the District Officials.
The Secretary reminded the Committee of the video conferencing held every Thursday from 1.30 pm, noted the site visit in this week, and noted that the Committee had been invited to the launch of the Ray Alexander Simmons Centre in Gugulethu on 6 November.
Mr James made a formal proposal that the Democratic Alliance should be permitted to make a presentation on teacher quality, and how it could be improved in South Africa. This would focus on the basic Constitutional rights of access to good teaching, well-run schools and good curriculum and infrastructure. It would be useful to hold a non-partisan debate within the next few months, , not only because the Constitutional Court was seized with an educational matter at present, but also to help the Committee determine the basic requirements for good schooling.
Mr Makhubele proposed that a formal farewell be held for Ms Chohan.
The meeting was adjourned.
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