Minister and Department of Basic Education: Briefing on Annual Report 2010/11

Basic Education

10 October 2011
Chairperson: Ms Malgas (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Minister and Department of Basic Education (the Department) presented the Department’s Annual Report for 2010/11 to the Portfolio Committee, updating the Committee on various aspects of the Department’s performance throughout the financial year, and highlighting achievements and challenges. However, it was stressed, particularly in answer to some of the queries of Members, that this was not intended to be a detailed report on specific items, and that the figures were summaries, rather than detailed statistics. It was noted that the Department had achieved an unqualified audit report, although there were matters of emphasis, particularly around performance information. The challenges in education included the numbers of repeat and drop out students, especially among Grade 9 to 11 learners, the number of multi-grade schools, the number of children in the system who required special care as they were orphans or the beneficiaries of social grants, and the problems arising at the lower grades, which then manifested themselves at matric level, resulting in a need still to tackle the high failure rate. Other challenges included the large class sizes, teenage pregnancies and the fact that more learners had to use less facilities. However, the achievements included the initiatives based on the Department’s commitment to Teachers, Texts and Time, the provision of workbooks in-house, which had resulted in considerable financial savings, improvements in the training of teachers and principals, and addressing the infrastructure backlog. The “Action Plan to 2014” set out clear, measurable and time-bound targets for the sector. The Rapid Assessment and Remediation Intervention had been instituted in underperforming schools, templates for School Governing Bodies had been prepared and the mass literacy campaigns for adult learners were still running.

Discussion centred around areas that had been covered by previous Departmental Reports and sometimes it was noted that the questions did not relate directly to the Annual Report presentation, so that further details would be provided separately. Issues raised included the question of class sizes, teacher training, the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS), and the effect of the Annual National Assessments on the Department’s planning. Members asked if the correct system of education was now operating, cited the lack of teachers as a continuing problem, and suggested that the compulsory school-going age should be raised to try to prevent drop-outs. Several Members raised questions on the Integrated Quality Management System, noting that learner performance should perhaps be linked to teacher evaluations, and they also questioned the benefit to South Africa of international transfer schemes, the promotion of sign language, and the negative perceptions that still persisted around education in South Africa. They commended the school health schemes, asked if training institutions were in place to train Foundation Phase teachers, where the emphasis was being placed, and provision of teachers to rural areas. Other questions related to teaching assistants, the differences in marking between teachers and external examiners, the commitment of unions to the plans, the possible accreditation of skills schools, and the irregular expenditure.

Meeting report

Department of Basic Education: Annual Report 2010/11
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson noted that the mandate of the Department of Basic Education (the Department or DBE) was to provide quality education, and said that the Department seemed to be performing well on that front. The Committee had been kept updated on a number of pertinent issues throughout the year. She welcomed the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga. She noted that this was the first annual report of the DBE, after the former Department of Education was split.

Minister of Basic Education briefing
The Minister commented that the financial year 2010/11 was a difficult and challenging year, highlighting in particular the needs around the World Cup, a prolonged teacher strike, the school feeding schemes, the increase in the number of learners attending pre-school programmes and the increase in access to free education. The Minister also noted the publication of a single vision in the basic education sector, Action Plan to 2014. In February 2011 there had been testing of 6 million learners in Grades1 to 6, and Grade 9, in approximately 19 000 schools.

There were still challenges in education. These included the numbers of repeat and drop out students, especially among learners in Grades 9 to 11. There were too many multi-grade schools. There were also approximately 2 million orphans in the system who required daily care. Infrastructure backlogs in schools were being tackled in the current financial year. Finally, the Annual National Assessments (ANA) had confirmed that quality challenges manifested themselves in matric, but actually began in earlier grades. While the Department had made good progress on providing access, there was a need to create greater efficiencies in the system to bring down the failure rate, which was high even when compared to other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.

She then reported on initiatives based on the Department’s commitment to Teachers, Texts and Time. These included:

A finalisation of the  revised Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements;
Delivery of high quality workbooks to schools;
Implementation and refinements to guide literacy and numeracy interventions;
Continued work with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to improve teacher training;
Implementing an effective accountability system through the National Education and Evaluation Unit;
Improved planning to urgently address and implement the infrastructure backlog.

The Minister thanked everyone who was involved in supporting the Department’s efforts to deliver a quality educational system.

Department of Basic Education briefing
Mr Bobby Soobrayan, Director General, Department of Basic Education, outlined the Department’s statutory role which was to formulate policy, norms and standards as well as monitor and evaluate policy implementation and impact. He said that it was clear that the DBE needed to perform a more active steering role on the ground and in conjunction with provinces. This had resulted in the introduction of the “Action Plan to 2014”. The Planning and Delivery Oversight Unit had been introduced to help the implementation of these plans. “Action Plan to 2014” set out clear, measurable and time-bound targets for the whole sector, to be achieved by 2014. Major factors affecting education were the language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT) and high class sizes, sometimes of over 40 learners per class. One of the major changes was that from Grade 1 learners were being taught in the relevant LoLT as a first additional language.

Other challenges were cited as teenage pregnancy, orphans, the fact that 3 million learners were beneficiaries of social grants, and school fees. Policy mechanisms were continuously being refined to address the shifting priorities in education.

Mr Soobrayan noted that there was an inverse relationship between learner pass rates and the number of students taking the National Senior Certificate examinations. More learners were using fewer facilities, resulting in a lower success rate. This pattern was seen in matric results, and was also the result of various past policy changes and admission standards, which were working their way through the system.

Mr Soobrayan then listed the main achievements of the Department. These included the publication of the Action Plan to 2014, the holding of Annual National Assessments, the production of Literacy and Numeracy Workbooks for all languages for grades 1 to 6, and development of both the Curriculum Assessment Policy Standards (CAPS) and the National Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development. He noted the
Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative, which continued in this financial year. He said that there had been Rapid Assessment and Remediation Intervention in underperforming schools, and there were increased pass rates in the National Senior Certificate Exams. The Department had introduced the School Governing Body Support Tool and Annual Academic Performance Reporting Template. It had continued with the Kha Ri Gude mass literacy campaign for adult learners, had implemented HR Connect to help efficiently allocate teachers and skills where needed, and had adapted the Integrated Quality Management so that scores were now more realistic and were based on credible evidence. 1 488 school principals were enrolled in the Advanced Certificate in Education. The National Education Evaluation and Development Unit was drafted. He also said that interest in teaching as a profession had improved significantly, as reflected in the number of applications for the Funza Lushaka bursary. Other highlights included ECD resource kits, the National School Nutrition Plan, drafting a policy on HIV/Aids amongst others.

Financial performance
Mr Soobrayan outlined the financial performance of the DBE. He said that there were periods of financial stress, given the economic circumstances, and it was laudable that spending continued throughout this time, although there had been some underspending. Reasons for deviation were provided. He highlighted that there had been extensive savings on workbooks.

Although the Department received an unqualified audit opinion, there were some matters of emphasis raised by the Auditor General. These included inadequate programme performance information, the continued use of Department of Education processes and procedures, and the under-resourcing of the internal auditing unit.
Discussion
The Chairperson noted that there were some questions that dealt with aspects of previous presentations.

Mr W James (DA) congratulated the Department for maximising access as well as for obtaining an unqualified audit.

Mr James wanted further information on the Department’s statistics, asking if some of the figures, particularly in respect of orphans and teenage pregnancies, had been rounded up or down.

Minister
Motshekga answered that these statistics were not collected by the DBE, but the DBE’s own statistics would be reflected as accurately as possible.

Mr Soobrayan added that because these statistics were not intended to provide an in-depth overview, they may not be complete, and he pointed out also that the statistics related to the financial, and not the school year. Future presentations would focus on some of the points raised in this Committee and would be more relevant to specific issues.

Mr James asked how the Annual National Assessment interventions had been done in the provinces.

The Minister noted that there was a response being developed at a provincial level.

Mr James commented that quality of education should not be purely measured by pass rates, because this was not a good enough indicator of success.

Ms F Mushwana (ANC) commented on the huge class sizes and asked when an acceptable teacher to learner ratio would be established.

The Minister noted that the reality on the ground was that there were insufficient numbers of classrooms or infrastructure in many rural and urban schools which affected these statistics, so the question was difficult to address specifically.

Mr Soobrayan noted that currently there was poor utilisation of teachers in South Africa, but this was being prioritised.

Ms Mushwana asked how well the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS) was being managed.

Mr Soobrayan agreed that not all expected outcomes on the IQMS had been achieved. The DBE was looking into how best to address the situation.

Ms Mushwana requested clarity on the conditional grant of provinces mentioned in the Department’s presentation.

Mr Soobrayan noted that this grant did not only affect the provinces named, but confirmed that there were problems in the applications received from Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Ms Mushwana wanted to know whether there was a correlation between the Department’s unqualified audit status and a possible increase in national pass rates.

Ms Mushwana wanted further information on the Department’s information and policy on teenage pregnancies and abortion, asking if Non Government Organisations and teachers were being used to assist in addressing the issues.

Mr D Smiles (DA) asked whether the Department could assure taxpayers that the Department of Basic Education was giving value for their money, and that the “correct basket” was being used for the education of South Africa’s learners.

Mr Smiles appreciated the reasons given by the Department for under-spending, but said that this raised the question whether something else could not have been achieved with the amount underspent.

The Minister answered that there was good saving in this financial year, because each workbook was done in-house and the intellectual property was owned by the Department. National Treasury had been requested to re-allocate monies. Provinces were being forced to operate differently and more efficiently. She noted that because of the savings achieved, workbooks could be provided to all learners up to grade 12 in 2012, from the same budget.

Mr Smiles asked for clarity on the ANA, saying that the more comprehensive analysis promised had not yet been given to the Committee.

Mr Smiles commented that good teachers were the key to curriculum delivery, and presented the opportunity to improve, but there were fewer teachers than required in South African classrooms.

Mr Soobrayan replied that transfers of funds and recurrent expenditures needed to be put into perspective, as opposed to merely using opportunity cost. Libraries needed to be procured, built and staffed. These were also long term projects. Costs in education were often recurrent expenditure as opposed to once off costs. There were often lengthy procedures to follow to ensure that taxpayers’ money was well spent.

Mr K Dikobo (AZAPO) commented that there needed to be a compulsory school-going age, which would mean that no “dropouts” would occur before the end of schooling.

The Minister commented that there were social circumstances that were beyond the control of the Department. The Department could only work with social workers and report the problem.

Mr Dikobo noted that IQMS did not include any aspect of learner performance. There was little evaluation of the individual educator. He asked if the Minister would consider revising the evaluation of educators, based on learner performance.

Mr W Madisha (COPE) congratulated the Department on its achievements. However, he agreed that IQMS was a problem. He asked about the status of the revised teacher appraisal system for all posts. He also wanted to know whether budgets had been implemented for these programmes. Mr Madisha also commented that he felt that there was too little detail in the report on the Funza Lushaka bursary scheme. He thought that the Department’s figures should include previous year’s figures to show the trends in the Department. He asked about learner wellbeing, and how much was being spent in each province on school nutrition and feeding schemes, and how many learners and schools were involved.

Mr Soobrayan noted that many of Mr Madisha’s questions related to detail that had previously been presented to the Committee. This was a more general presentation, and it was impossible now to go into such detail at all levels. However, the DBE would be willing to provide further details to the Committee.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) requested information on the international transfer schemes and examinations, and asked if South Africa benefited from these programmes.

The Minister noted that by participating in these schemes, South Africa exposed itself to the rest of the world and helped with benchmarking. The Minister noted that even developed countries such as Australia and France were also undergoing curriculum reviews, as they also had problems in education. It was important to establish a dialogue with these countries and learn how these countries performed.

Mr Makhubele commented that the Department had incurred legal costs, and asked if there were mechanisms in place to reduce them.

Mr Soobrayan noted that frequently the DBE would be cited incorrectly cited as a respondent in legal cases, and this had to be remedied. Mr Soobrayan emphasised that the function of the Department was not negatively affected by this, and said that the expenditure on legal costs was not of particular concern for the DBE, as it did not account for a significant part of the budget.

Mr Makhubele commented that sign language was still not recognised in South Africa as an official language and asked if it could be promoted.

Mr Soobrayan agreed that sign language should be further promoted. Material used was, as far as possible, entirely inclusive. This included other matters such as Braille, and special facilities for learners who were hard of hearing.

Mr Makhubele was worried about the negative perceptions of education in South Africa, and thought that the Department needed to drive the debate and react to negative perceptions where possible.

Mr Soobrayan reiterated again that because this was an Annual Report presentation, not every detail of the Department’s work could be addressed. However, detailed figures and plans could be provided for IQMS and new projects, where this had not already been done. Mr Soobrayan noted that the South African Council of Educators (SACE) had not received funds because it had not produced a credible plan in time, although this was now rectified. Umalusi had received funds on time.

Ms N Gina (ANC) raised the issue of school health schemes, saying that good impacts were made by screening of learners and it was hoped this would continue.

The Minister agreed that this was a good programme. The Department of Health was being asked to attach a health worker to each school. This also included the provision of spectacles to help learner eyesight. The Minister also noted that HIV/AIDS awareness was still dangerously low and was being focussed on, in conjunction with the Department of Health, to try to create an “AIDS-free” generation.

Ms Gina noted that Funza Lushaka bursaries were more often given for teachers at the Further Education and Training phase, but that Foundation Phase teacher training was now being prioritised, and she asked if there were institutions to train these teachers.

Mr Soobrayan noted that the issue of training institutions had been raised with the Department of Higher Education and Training. The DBE was aware of the ageing population in the teaching profession and various interventions had been initiated to address this.

Ms Gina requested details on the Department’s preparations for 2012 and its implementation of CAPS.

Mr Soobrayan noted that all provinces had been implementing their policies on an ongoing basis. For the Foundation phase, the Department was providing a full Learner/Teacher Support Material (LTSM) set for the Foundation Phase. In addition, all learners from Grade 10 were being provided with textbooks for maths and science in 2012. All teachers were also being provided with copies of the documents.

Ms Gina wanted information on the place of the School Governing Bodies.

Mr Soobrayan noted that litigation would result if the power of Governing Bodies was reduced, so the Department was treading carefully around this issue.

Ms Gina noted that rural areas were still understaffed, and asked if financial incentives were being implemented.

Mr Soobrayan commented that these incentives were not working as they should, for various reasons. The overall trend of urbanisation was a challenge that was constantly being addressed.

Ms Gina asked about the state of preparedness of South African schools, for the upcoming exams.

Mr Soobrayan replied that all provinces had done the best that they could, including implementing the Winter Schools and extra work wherever possible. In future, there would be priority given to Foundation Phase.

The Minister noted that this was being done to try to establish a better grounding so that learners were not, by grade 12, still trying to resolve problems that should have been addressed much earlier. Provinces have been requested to tell the Department of any specific problems.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) asked whether the new CAPS policies had changed the daily lives of teachers, and whether these had resulted in less paperwork and more teaching time.

Ms Dudley asked whether the Department was moving funds to the areas where funding was most needed at the moment.

Ms Dudley asked how a class size of 40 learners could be named as “a norm”.

The Minister noted that class size was the driving factor in funding. Some countries, like Singapore, had a ‘norm’ size of 50, but ICT and intense teacher training were used to help educate children and compensate for the lack of one-on-one contact time. Korea had used the private sector extensively to enrich the classroom experience. The Department was looking at providing workbooks and textbooks for learners, especially older learners, to enable them to work better on their own.

Ms Dudley wanted to know whether the issue of teaching assistants had been discussed further.

Ms A Mashishi (ANC) congratulated the Department on its achievements. She asked whether there were plans to extend the adult learner programmes.

The Minister responded that this was under review, but that the Department wanted to promote adult literacy.

Ms Mashishi requested information on how principals would be monitored when attending their training courses.

Mr Soobrayan responded that training of principals was being offered not only in the formal sphere but also in the non-formal sector, and said that an excellent programme was running in Kwazulu-Natal.

Mr D Kganyago (UDM) requested more information on the achievements of non-negotiables in South Africa’s schools.

Mr Soobrayan noted that there had been excellent progress in meeting non-negotiable targets, and there were good examples where this was working in schools in South Africa. There were other examples of schools, however, where there had been regression. It was important for management to engage in the community. The National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) accord would hopefully help the DBE in implementing the non-negotiables.

Mr Kganyago asked whether the Rapid Assessment and Remediation programmes were being applied to all schools, not just underperforming schools.

Mr Soobrayan responded that at present the focus was on under-performing schools.

Mr Kganyago noted that there were differences in marking standards between teachers and external markers, and asked if this was being investigated.

The Minister noted that marking, as a specific teacher skill, was often neglected, although it should be consciously taught to teachers. The Department was looking at the issue.

Mr Soobrayan added that there must be a mix of internal and external marking. The established system of moderation was being strengthened, especially at grade 12 level. The DBE would not be moving away from using external moderating.

The Chairperson wanted information on the commitment from all unions, not just South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU).

Mr Soobrayan replied that all unions were involved, but that SADTU, being the largest, was the one that received the most attention. The QLTC was going from strength to strength.

The Chairperson asked whether the vacancies affected the Department’s delivery of services.

Mr Soobrayan responded that vacancies did affect service delivery. However the Department was fully functional, and vacancies were being filled. Mr Soobrayan also made the distinction between funded and unfunded vacancies, which forced the DBE to prioritise and ensure optimum capacity.

The Chairperson wanted to know whether the Department was thinking of accrediting ‘skills schools’ that taught skills such as bead-work and electrical skills.

Mr Soobrayan responded that the Department was working on this issue, but one of the pressing matters involved the provision of certification to learners, when they left the skills schools.

The Chairperson wanted clarification on what an ‘entity’ was, as mentioned in the Department’s report.

Mr Soobrayan responded that this related to the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and that this dealt with the transfers of Funza Lushaka bursary funds, and worked with the DHET.

The Chairperson wanted to know whether there was a plan to address the irregular expenditure of approximately R81 million.

Mr Soobrayan noted that there were turnaround strategies in place. The irregular expenditure had come as something of a surprise to the DBE. The matter was not mentioned in previous years and the audit committee was unhappy with the way the Auditor General dealt with the issue for the first time in 2010/2011. The matter was being dealt with, together with National Treasury.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee was satisfied with the Department’s achievements.

The meeting was adjourned.


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