Revised Limpopo Catch-up Plan: briefing by Department of Basic Education

Basic Education

13 August 2012
Chairperson: Ms H Malgas (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education briefed the Committee on the revised catch-up plan for Limpopo.  The Committee had requested a more detailed plan that included timeframes during the meeting held on 8 August 2012. The catch-up plan had to be submitted to the North Gauteng High Court in terms of a Court order. The Department apologised for the failure of representatives from the Department to respond fully to questions from Members of the Committee during the previous meeting.

The briefing included the background and context to the catch-up plan; data on the number of textbooks and packs ordered and delivered for grades 1 to 3, 10, 11 and 12 in the province; the impact of the late delivery of textbooks for 2012 on teaching and learning; the steps taken to prepare teachers for the implementation of the Curriculum and Assessment policy Statements; the progress report submitted to the Clerk of the Court; the engagement of the Minister of Basic Education with school principals and other stakeholders in Limpopo; the contributions made by the principals; the ten-point catch-up plan for Limpopo and the support and monitoring role of the Department of Basic Education.

The Minister would determine if extra tuition would be necessary once her engagement with the principals, teachers and other stakeholders in the province was concluded.  The Department had identified grade 10 as the most critical but followed a comprehensive approach to addressing all the challenges with education in the province. The Department undertook to provide regular progress reports on the implementation of the plan to the Committee.

Members asked questions about the dumping and shredding of textbooks; the action taken against officials implicated in wrongdoing; when the implementation of the catch-up plan would be finalised; what assessment and monitoring would take place; the difference between the number of textbooks ordered and delivered; whether extra tuition would be provided; if there had been early warning signals of the problems in Limpopo; the connection of the founder and another official of Edu Solutions with the Department; the textbooks provided by the Shuttleworth Foundation; funding for the textbooks being provided and the high cost and availability of textbooks in indigenous languages.  Members agreed with the Department that some teaching and learning had taken place but disagreed that the non-delivery of textbooks did not have a negative impact on learners.

The Committee suggested that the Department develop policies and procedures for the identification and destruction of obsolete teaching material and for the retrieval of textbooks from learners for re-use.

The Committee accepted the catch-up plan for Limpopo presented by the Department.  The plan was not accepted by the Democratic Alliance.  The scheduled briefings by the Department on monitoring and accountability and the progress report on the Education for All goals were postponed to the following week.

Meeting report

The Chairperson advised that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) had briefed the Committee on the catch-up plan for Limpopo on 8 August 2012. The plan was rejected by one Member of the Committee but the other Members had felt that the plan that was submitted was too broad. The Committee had asked the Department to submit a more detailed plan that included timeframes for implementation. The apologies of the Minister and Deputy Minister of Basic Education were noted.

Briefing by the Department of Basic Education on the Catch-up Plan for Limpopo
Mr Bobby Soobrayan, Director-General, DBE, offered an unconditional apology for the reluctance of the delegates from the Department to respond in detail to the questions asked by Members during the previous meeting. He explained that the delegates were wary to provide detailed responses because of the intense media interest in the issue. He assured the Committee that the failure to respond in full to Members’ questions would not occur again. He thanked the Chairperson for clarifying in her introduction that the Committee had not rejected the catch-up plan, as was erroneously reported in the media.

The DBE had presented a ten-point plan, which was intended as a comprehensive strategy to deal with the education challenges in Limpopo.  Teachers in the province felt that more support and assistance was required, particularly for teaching grade 10 learners. The Department had found that it was necessary to consider the supporting structures in the province and what the role was of all the relevant stakeholders. Although grade 10 was considered to be critical, the other grades could not be ignored.  In addition, the overall functionality of individual schools needed to be taken in consideration when devising the catch-up plan.  Grade 10 was the foundation year for further education and experience had shown that was where the greatest challenges regarding learner performance and teaching efficiency occurred. The current situation in Limpopo was symptomatic of a problematic system unfolding over several years. The need for a comprehensive approach to resolving the challenges faced by the Limpopo Provincial Department of Education was stressed.

The North Gauteng High Court had ordered the Department to submit a catch-up plan for Limpopo. The public perception was that the Department’s response to the Court order had not been satisfactory. The catch-up plan was a dynamic process and the Department was fully aware that time was of the essence. Interventions that would make a real difference were required, rather than ‘rhetorical posturing’. The interventions had to be based on an assessment of what stage of learning the learners were at. It was not correct to assume that no teaching or learning had taken place.

Curriculum experts had investigated the differences between the National Curriculum Statements (NCS) and Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) and the content of the new and old text books.  The Minister had undertaken her own assessment and had met with all school principals in the province to solicit feedback on the impact of the late delivery of textbooks. The catch-up plan could not be merely interpreted on the basis of the impact of the late delivery of textbooks. Cognisance had to be given to the other realities concerning education in the province as well.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Soobrayan for the overview and was gratified to hear that some teaching and learning had taken place.

Mr M Mweli, Acting Deputy Director-General, DBE presented the briefing on the Limpopo Catch-Up Plan to the Committee (see attached document).

The briefing included an overview of the background and context to the situation in Limpopo, the process for the procurement and delivery to textbooks to schools and the number of textbooks ordered and delivered to date for grades 1 to 3, 10, 11 and 12.  The data excluded textbooks in Sepedi, which were significantly overpriced.  The target date for the delivery of learning and teaching support material (LTSM) for the 2013 school year was 30 November 2012.  The Department would monitor printers and publishers to ensure that the deadlines were met.

The impact of the late delivery of textbooks for the 2012 school year on teaching and learning was examined. Curriculum planners and advisors and teachers underwent an orientation programme to implement CAPS. Training manuals and classroom documents were issued. The DBE had not received any complaints from teachers concerning the implementation of CAPS and was of the opinion that teachers were fully prepared and able to teach effectively.  Data on the number of workbooks and mathematics and science textbooks delivered in each district in Limpopo was provided.  An analysis of the comparison between the old textbooks based on NCS and the new textbooks based on CAPS was included. The Department regarded the assumption that the late delivery of CAPS-aligned textbooks had an adverse impact on teaching and learning as erroneous to some extent.

Details of the progress report submitted to the Clerk of the Court were provided. A list of the subject guides that had been developed was included. In addition to the subject guides, the DBE had developed a series of study guides entitled “Mind the Gap”, which were aimed at addressing the teaching backlog. The study guides for grade 12 would be distributed during September 2012.

The briefing covered the current engagement of the Minister with stakeholders and school principals in Limpopo and an overview of the contribution made by the principals during meetings with the Minister. The Minister would assess whether or not extra tuition would be required once the meetings with the principals were concluded. The principals had requested additional support from the DBE to ensure basic functionality in schools in the province. The Department had constituted a Limpopo Catch-up Task Team. The “Ten-point Catch-up Plan for Provincial Enrichment in Limpopo” was developed in consultation with the task team. The ongoing support and monitoring role of the DBE was summarised. The Department would provide regular progress reports on the implementation of the catch-up plan to the Committee.

Discussion
Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) noted the apology from the Director-General for the lack of detailed responses to Members’ questions during the previous meeting. He referred to a recent report of the dumping of textbooks in Limpopo. It would appear that these textbooks were not the property of the DBE and it would seem that publishers were not dealing with the Department when stock was destroyed for whatever reason. It would appear that certain officials benefited from the dumping of textbooks. Parliament had to be kept informed and more clarity on the destruction of textbooks was required. The DBE had stated that some teaching and learning had taken place but this was not corroborated by the information provided to Members who had visited the Limpopo province. Certain principals had been interviewed by the media and had given the impression that the non-delivery of textbooks had had a serious adverse impact on teaching and learning in the province. He asked for confirmation that the subject guides developed by the Department had been delivered. He asked if an impact assessment had been done and when the catch-up plan would be fully implemented.

Mr N Kganyago (UDM) asked for an explanation of the variance between the number of textbooks ordered and the number delivered. He asked what the reasons were for not supplying the teaching material that was ordered.  He asked what the difference was between the vocation enrichment classes for grade 12 and the winter break classes to prepare learners for the year-end examinations. He understood that attendance of the winter schools was not compulsory and wanted to know who was responsible for ensuring that learners attended the extra classes.  He felt that attendance of the extra classes should be compulsory as these formed part of the catch-up plan.  He asked for an explanation for the shredding of books, in particular containers of new books that had never been used.  He asked why redundant books were ordered from publishers, only to be destroyed later.

The Chairperson explained that Members of the Committee were requested to personally investigate reported incidents of textbook dumping. In certain cases, exercise books that were still usable were destroyed.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) was concerned about the Department’s inability to deliver textbooks for the 2012 school year. He asked what the early warning signs were that should have alerted the Department and what the role of the Provincial DBE was. He wanted more clarity on the role of the founder of Edu Solutions (the company implicated in the textbook scandal) and the involvement of a certain Mr Themba Ndlovu, who was previously employed by the KwaZulu Natal DBE. He asked why the DBE did not realise earlier that the cost of Sepedi textbooks was exorbitant and what was done to reduce the cost of textbooks. He noted that the DBE promised that each learner would have core textbooks, that target dates were sent and that the provincial Departments and other stakeholders would be monitored but wanted to know what had gone wrong before. Lastly, he asked how effective the orientation programmes for teachers were and what monitoring would take place to ensure that the interventions were effective.

Ms A Lovemore (DA) appreciated the apology from the DBE but regretted that it had not been unqualified. The critical nature of grade 10 was recognised but the focus of the provincial Departments was on the non-delivery of LTSM for grade 12 and the focus of the Minister was on engagement with the principals and stakeholders. The DBE claimed that teachers were fully prepared and able to teach effectively and that there were no major problems but her observations and experience differed from this point of view.  She thought that the principals were afraid of making career-limiting statements to the DBE and were more open in expressing opinions to Members of Parliament. Principals had informed her that they were forced to photocopy promotional material for teaching purposes because the textbooks were not delivered.  Clarity on the textbooks provided by the Shuttleworth Foundation was required. She had asked a question in Parliament concerning these textbooks and the Minister had responded that the Shuttleworth Foundation books were a supplementary resource and not the primary textbooks. Confusion over the ordering of mathematics and science textbooks remained.

Ms Lovemore said that it was premature to assume that the lack of textbooks did not have a negative impact on learning and teaching. The DBE had stated that the subject guides were delivered during July but the Court was informed that delivery of the guides would only be done by the end of August. The Committee was informed in the briefing that the Minister would only determine if any extra tuition would be necessary once the meetings with principals and other stakeholders were concluded.  She asked which grades were targeted for the extra classes planned for the spring vacation.  She wanted to know if the Department was making use of external service providers to deliver the extra classes because the unions were uncooperative and demanding extra pay and overtime pay for teachers to teach during the vacation period. She found the plan submitted this day to be still too vague and to contain many contradictions. She was not sure that the detail provided had any substance.

Mr K Dikobo (AZAPO) asked for more information on the 18 month cycle applicable to the procurement of textbooks.  He asked who covered the cost of the textbooks and guides provided for in the catch-up plan if the Limpopo Provincial DBE did not have sufficient funds in its 2012/13 budget. He had found during oversight visits that certain schools had not received any textbooks since 2006. The books were prescribed and ordered by the schools but were not delivered. It was left up to the school to make its own arrangements and he would like to know if similar problems were experienced in other provinces. He agreed that some teaching and learning had taken place and was aware that the old textbooks were used where possible but was most concerned that the DBE claimed that the non-delivery of textbooks had no adverse impact on the learners.  If this was the case, it would not have been necessary for the Department to be taken to Court.  It was frightening that the Department still did not know if extra tuition would be necessary.  The catch-up plan made no reference to the assistance that would be provided to learners and was based on the assumption that no extra tuition would be required as the learners had not been prejudiced.

The Chairperson asked if the progress reports to the Committee would be given verbally or in writing.

Ms A Mashishi (ANC) asked when the Limpopo schools would receive textbooks in the indigenous languages spoken in the province.

Mr J Skhosana (ANC) said that it was crucial to correctly identify and interpret the challenges.  The situation in Limpopo was currently at the fore but he was aware of similar problems in the Eastern Cape Province.  He felt that the challenges with education would not be resolved without a political solution being found.  The DBE had to admit that there was a problem and ensure that the learners did not suffer the consequences of its failure to deliver quality education.  The briefing made reference to textbooks in the three commonly-spoken languages in Limpopo.  He asked if textbooks in the other eight official languages were also affected.  He was concerned that the problems experienced in 2012 would have a knock-on effect in subsequent years.  He noted that the Department’s strategic goal was to provide every learner with core textbooks by 2014 and wondered why action was only being taken now to achieve this goal.

Ms N Gina (ANC) felt more assured that the challenges were being addressed and thanked the DBE for its efforts.  She said that it was important to separate facts from fears.  She agreed that it was not correct to assume that no teaching or learning had taken place and was convinced that the Departments interventions would result in Limpopo performing better than other provinces in future.  She was confident that the subject and study guides would address the learning and teaching gaps and that the grade 10 learners would eventually catch up.  She found the educational packs for grades 1 to 3 to be good and would make a difference at the foundation phase of learning.  She asked if the packs would be distributed to all the provinces.  She asked what plans were in place to address the problem of overpriced textbooks.  The main challenge was to ensure that textbooks were delivered without fail in future.

Mr W Madisha (COPE) was disappointed in the briefing, which he felt did not deliver what the Committee had requested during the previous briefing.  He referred to the catch-up plan as ‘nonsense’.  He asked if the Department had data available on the total number of learners in the country and in each of the provinces (Limpopo in particular).  The Department had informed the Committee weeks earlier that the books had been delivered but this had been found to be untrue. He was aware that schools in Phalaborwa had not received any books and that books had not been delivered to many schools in remote rural areas.  The issue with the delivery of textbooks had to be resolved or the country would not make any progress towards achieving the national goals. Eight months of the year had already been lost and little time remained before the year-end examinations. The catch-up plan did not explain if examinations would be delayed or cancelled.  He was not convinced that the catch-up plan was feasible and that it was possible to catch up in one month on the eight months of the year already lost. It was not clear when the catch-up plan would be fully implemented. Certain degree courses had already been extended from three years to four because of the low standard of matriculates.

The Chairperson asked Mr Madisha to retract his reference to the catch-up plan as ‘nonsense’.  Mr Madisha explained that he meant that the plan made no sense.  He withdrew his comment and said that he did not agree with the plan.

The Chairperson asked if the logistical challenges with the delivery of textbooks to schools had been resolved. She asked if there was buy-in from teachers for the catch-up plan. She asked if early warning systems were in place and what disciplinary action was taken against the responsible official if there had been cases of wrongdoing. She asked what the policy was for the disposal of obsolete material, if due process was followed for the disposal of material and what had been done about the dumping of textbooks.

Mr Soobrayan responded to the questions concerning the dumping of textbooks. The problem was prevalent in Limpopo but had also occurred in the Free State Province. The latest incident reported involved excess books stored by the publisher in a warehouse before being dumped. One official had been investigated by the Department when it was found that he had misused an official vehicle on the pretext of delivering books. The books were loaded into the vehicle and then dumped. He gave the assurance that the DBE was dealing with the problems and was addressing the underlying causes of the symptoms. Whether or not a principal would be more open when speaking to a Member of Parliament than to an official from the DBE was a matter of speculation. The Minister encouraged open engagement as she wanted to establish what the problems were.  It was not in anyone’s interest to be less than honest and open. The concerns voiced by Members of the Committee over the need for extra tuition was justified. The Minister was reluctant to impose a “one size fits all” solution and would base her decision on the feedback received from principals and teachers. The Minister wished to ensure that each school had an effective, tailor-made catch-up plan. The degree of teaching and learning that had taken place varied from almost nothing to adequate. He agreed that time was of the essence.

Mr Soobrayan said that the DBE had found that grade 10 was most affected and that the problems would have an impact in subsequent years if not resolved. All the provincial DBE’s would benefit from the lessons learned and the interventions put in place in Limpopo. The Limpopo DBE was dysfunctional and was placed under administration in terms of Section 100. The national DBE was not aware that there was a problem with textbook delivery and was surprised when the issue came to light. The shredding of textbooks was a symptom of an underlying problem. No credible disposal policies were in place and the Department deplored the manner in which learning material was disposed of. The dumping of textbooks was not authorised. The DBE was addressing the issue of implementing proper procedures for declaring textbooks obsolete and the disposal of obsolete material.

Mr Soobrayan said that early warning systems were in place. The DBE and the National Treasury monitored provincial DBE expenditure on a quarterly basis and at what stage the textbook procurement process was. The DBE realised early in the year that there was a problem in Limpopo. Budgeting was the responsibility of the provincial DBE and Treasury. A substantial over-expenditure was projected and the financial management of the provincial Department was in disarray. The DBE initiated interventions immediately and the Limpopo DBE was placed under administration when the interventions failed. He assured the Committee that the funding and budgetary issues were being addressed. The Administrators found the contract with Edu Solutions in place but a number of issues needed to be addressed. The National Treasury was of the opinion that the contract should be cancelled. The matter went to Court and was in the public domain. He deplored the errors and ‘gratuitous statements’ made in media reports. The founder of Edu Solutions was employed by the DBE on a contract basis but at no time did the Department have a contract with Edu Solutions. He was not aware of the involvement of Mr Themba Ndlovu and could not comment.

Mr Soobrayan conceded that Members’ concerns about the late involvement of the DBE were valid. He pointed out that the DBE had held previous discussions with the Committee on the issue of the printing of textbooks. Concerns were raised over the cost of the LTSM material and he agreed that the cost of textbooks was too high. A significant saving in the procurement of workbooks was projected, which the National Treasury agreed that the DBE could retain to spend on acquiring more books. Experts agreed that the textbooks provided by the Shuttleworth Foundation were superior texts on mathematics and science but the catalogue had already been printed and orders could not be cancelled without disappointing expectations.

Mr Soobrayan said that the apology from the DBE was unconditional and was not qualified.  The Department acknowledged that the situation in Limpopo was problematic and was not in denial about the problems. The Minister was currently engaging with principals, teachers, the unions and other stakeholders. The DBE would use the assessment of learner progress to determine where there was a backlog. The Minister was clear that attendance at vacation schools would not be compulsory. It became apparent that the delivery mechanisms for the 2012 textbooks were not robust or credible. There was limited departmental capacity and the delivery of the textbooks was handed over to a service provider. The DBE had done a thorough risk assessment exercise and had overhauled the entire delivery system. One of the major stumbling blocks in Limpopo was a lack of credible data. The Department was using statistics for the prior year to estimate the number of books required for the following year. The accuracy of the data on home language of learners was questionable. The issue of funding for the LTSM material was addressed by the inter-ministerial committee and a guarantee was given that sufficient funds would be available to cover the cost of providing the textbooks.

Mr Soobrayan said that there was broad agreement that some teaching had taken place but it was not clear exactly how much took place in every location. The Minister was currently engaged in determining exactly what the extent of learning had been. The Department looked at the bigger picture and focused on all the problem areas. He felt that the State was being ‘ripped off’ by publishers charging exorbitant prices for textbooks in indigenous languages. The cost of the LTSM material had been an issue for several years.  The DBE was committed to the promotion of indigenous languages and planned that all school leavers would have knowledge of at least one African language. Likewise, the DBE was committed to providing each learner with at least one core textbook. The Department worked closely with and held regular meetings with unions, civil society and non-governmental organisations.

Mr Mweli advised that there were 12,428,000 learners in schools in South Africa. He provided the statistics for Limpopo. He explained that the data for enrolment numbers, repetition of classes and the drop-out rates were indicators of the effectiveness of teaching. The DBE had done assessments of curriculum coverage, time and task, teacher accountability and what support systems were in place. The indication was that more than 80% of the curriculum had been covered, which was a positive sign that learning had taken place. The enrichment programme was included in the catch-up plan and included winter and spring vacation and weekend classes. The deadline for delivery of textbooks for the 2013 school year was 30 August 2012. This target was applicable to all the provinces. He explained that the variance between the number of books ordered and delivered was the result of schools using outdated data when placing orders. The Department allowed for 5% to 10% extra and used the surplus to top up short deliveries. The publishers did not have sufficient Xitsonga or Venda textbooks in stock to fill the orders received. The mathematics and science textbooks provided by the Shuttleworth Foundation at the beginning of the year were welcomed.  These books lasted longer but it would be necessary to provide additional stock to schools.  He agreed that it was necessary to strengthen the procedure for the retrieval of textbooks, which was not currently working as well as it should.

Mr Dikobo was not satisfied with the explanation provided for the variance between the number of books ordered and the number delivered.  In his opinion, the statistics for the prior year was not relevant.

Ms Lovemore noted that the Director-General had stated that the DBE was committed to extra tuition classes, based on what teachers and principals wanted. The Department would be assessing learner progress to determine if the extra classes were effective. She asked for clarity on what assessments would be undertaken. It remained unclear what types of catch-up plans would be available if each school would have its own tailor-made solution. Most of her concerns had not been addressed and she was perturbed to hear that textbooks in some indigenous languages were still in the process of being delivered.  She was given the assurance that all the books had been delivered when she paid a visit to a school in Monkey Valley.

Mr C Moni (ANC) suggested that the DBE submit regular written reports to the Committee so that the progress made on implementing the catch-up plan could be monitored.

Ms Gina observed that the catch-up plan was a work-in-progress. It was clear that the implementation of the plan had commenced and she was confident of its successful conclusion. She suggested that the Committee remained supportive of the DBE and looked forward to receiving the report from the Minister on her interaction with the stakeholders in Limpopo.

Mr Soobrayan said that teaching and assessing were inter-linked. Assessment was a teaching technique and would be done by the teachers. The Department conducted annual assessments. He explained that certain basic principles of the catch-up plan would be applicable to all schools. It was necessary to determine what heeded to be done for each individual school and how much time needed to be devoted to the plan. The Department accepted that the committee would be monitoring the progress made in the implementation of the plan.

In response to Mr Dikobo’s question, Mr Mweli explained that the difference between the number of books ordered and the number delivered was the surplus books held in stock. Five schools did not receive books because they were omitted from the original list in error. He was unable to provide a definitive response to Ms Lovemore’s question concerning the delivery of books to the school in monkey valley without checking the records.

The Chairperson thought the information was included in the report on the workshop attended by the Committee.  She said that it was important that clear policies and systems were in place that could be applied on a national as well as a provincial basis. In particular, a policy for the retrieval of textbooks issued to learners had to be developed. A risk management policy and plan had to be in place. The procedure for the disposal of obsolete teaching material (which was a State asset) needed to be tightened. The Committee wanted to see that the cost of the 2013 LTSM material was included in the provincial DBE appropriation.  She asked that a copy of the report submitted to the Court was provided to the Committee and that the Committee was informed on which dates the reports were due. She was pleased to hear that the DBE was reviewing the language policy for schools. The Committee supported the latest version of the catch-up plan for Limpopo, which would be submitted to the Court. Some questions remained but the Committee would like to finalise the matter and allow the DBE space to proceed with the plan.

Ms Lovemore advised that the Democratic Alliance did not support the catch-up plan submitted by the DBE. The party did not believe that the plan would work.

The Chairperson noted the position of the Democratic Alliance but stated that the interests of learners were the most important consideration.

Mr Mpontshane asked for a report from the task team that had been set up for Limpopo.

The Chairperson advised that copies of all the reports received by the Committee would be circulated to Members. She advised that the scheduled briefings by the DBE on Monitoring and Accountability and the progress report on the Education for All goals were postponed to the following week. She thanked the Department for the briefing.

The meeting was adjourned.

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