Section 100(1)(b) interventions in Limpopo and Eastern Cape: Minister & Department of Basic Education progress reports

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

11 September 2013
Chairperson: Ms M Makgate (North West, ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Minister and administrators appointed by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to manage the interventions into the provincial Departments of Education in Limpopo and Eastern Cape, gave a full report on the progress made by the intervention teams in those two provinces. Overall, the interventions had produced good results. Members commented that the challenges were not, to their mind, sufficiently outlined, but the challenges were also stated quite succinctly during the question session.

The Administrator for the Eastern Cape noted that the intervention into Eastern Cape was taken as a result of a collapse in the recruitment and appointment of teachers, provisioning of transport, procurement and delivery of Learner/Teacher Support Materials (LTSM), and development and provisioning of infrastructure. In Limpopo the main reason for intervention had been problems in financial and cash-flow management which had impacted on major disruptions in provisioning of text books. In both provinces, there were problems with data and in both there were “ghost teachers” on the system, inconsistent supply of teachers, some of whom were temporary, whilst new graduates were not getting employed, problems around payment and posts, including the need to rationalise principal and Head of Department posts and ensure essential subject teachers. Each of the administrators gave a detailed exposition of the past difficulties and current status.

The Eastern Cape noted several achievements from the intervention. Although there was still a qualified audit, this was the result of historic problems as the systems had improved currently to the point where it was possible to achieve an unqualified result. It would take some years to resolve historic figure and documentation issues, but it was well on track. There was full success in distributing all LRSM in January 2013 and the system was well on track to achieve this again by January 2014. Scholar transport was back in operation, with an agreement that whilst the Provincial Department of Transport would handle the logistics, the Department of Education would confirm the demand, routes and schools. The initial power struggles that delayed the matter had been resolved and there was a good relationship between the DBE nationally, the provincial department and Treasury. The budget had been stabilised, and Eastern Cape had moved from the position where it was overspending by R2 billion to spending 98% of budget to date. The majority of the teachers whose grievances of non-payment had received wide press coverage were now being paid, with only 29 still not being paid because their cases were being investigated, but hampered by lack of documentation. Language performance had improved, there were still worries abut the maths pass rate, but overall the province was showing improvements in results.

The administrator for Limpopo reported on a better relationship at the outset between intervention team and the department in the province which had enabled it to attend to its work immediately. There had been a focus on procurement of materials and this was even achieved at negotiated lower prices, with a better database also of what was being done by the publishers and better tracking systems. The province had shared the problems of excess, temporary and ad hoc teachers, who were appointed because the freeze on posts had left this department with a cumbersome system in which it had registered fictitious posts to get payment. However, this had now been rationalised. Its greatest achievement was the substantial achievements in quality of education despite the fact that this province was mostly comprised of schools that were in quintiles 1 to 3. The top matric student was drawn from a Quintile 3 school in the province, and the independent schools had only registered 27th on the list of top students. It was noted also that the province had been seeing to establishment of proper financial systems, and was dealing with the compilation of an asset register, from scratch.

Members’ questions covered a wide range of topics, but the Minister pointed out that the Department had not prepared itself on a general overview, but rather on the specifics of the intervention and for this reason some of the answers, particularly to questions on mergers nationally, could not be answered immediately, although they would be answered later in writing. Members took issue with this, saying that the mergers had actually been raised in the reports, but accepted the Minister’s undertaking to provide full reports on mergers in other provinces too. Members asked when the interventions were likely to end, and if the DBE felt that it was ready to leave the provinces, which the Minister confirmed could be done, whether sustainable enough systems were now in place, and what challenges it had faced, or did still face, in the mandate. Several questions were asked around the teacher compensation issue, whether the problems with temporary placements had been resolved, how the issue of long leave of teachers was being handled, and when the outstanding payments would be finalised. Members wanted to know whether systems had been introduced to better match supply and demand. Other questions related to what had been done to ensure that there was no regression on LTSM supply, the position of the unions, removal and replacement of mud schools, and whether schools handed over were properly equipped with desks and other equipment. They wanted more information on the “economic activity” that Limpopo was claiming in relation to the nutrition schemes and thought that more should be done on local procurement and growing food in schools. They wanted to hear what was being done to improve the Annual National Assessment results particularly in grades 6 and 9, whether the DBE was tracing drop out numbers, if it knew where the students migrating were going, and whether there were new threats being seen to the stability of the systems. Several wanted more information on the scholar transport, and whether it was reaching all children. The Chairperson expressed her concern that the numbers in Eastern Cape may still be inflated.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s introductory remarks
The Chairperson noted her concern that the presentation documents had been received only late the previous evening, and requested that this be changed in future to give Members sufficient time to prepare themselves for the meeting.

Ms Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, apologised and said that in future the Department of Basic Education (DBE or the Department) would do so. However, she explained that there were actually two versions of the document; the first document contained the background and the second gave a progress report. She would be speaking to the second document. A hard copy would be handed to Members later.

The Chairperson said that she had been concerned when she had received the first document and seen the lack of a progress report. More information could be elicited through the discussions.

Department of Basic Education report on section 100(1)(b) intervention in the Eastern Cape.
Mr Ray Tywakad, Administrator, for the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education, noted that his presentation would be focusing on the progress in the key areas and the reasons for the section 100(1)(b) of the Constitution intervention into the Eastern Cape Department of Education. The audit report and outcome had been a problem in this provincial department since 1993. However, since the intervention, the DBE had seen huge progress and the outcome of the audit showed improvements. The DBE was focusing on the audit ratification strategy, the internal controls function and internal controls financing, and this had borne fruit.  He added that another area of concern had been the posts situation which had led to conflicts between the department, the Union and other social partners, in respect of the numbers, compensation and the process. Over the last two years there had been huge progress and the budget for posts was delivered on time, while work was ongoing for the 2014-2015 post basket.

However, he noted some issues that were still of concern to Treasury. Learner numbers had declined, on average, by 1.2% to 1.5% over the last three years. Delivery of stationery and textbooks had caused problems in terms of time, packages and delivery to the right learners at appropriate times. However there had been improvements in the delivery of Learner / Teacher Support Material (LTSM) and there was a requirement that these be delivered in future before the schools opened. Already by end August, 40% had been delivered and the Department was on track for January openings. The same mechanisms would be used in the following years. Scholar transport was another area of concern; at the time of the intervention, in 2010/11 financial years, there had been a total collapse of the service. Now the Premier, Cabinet and the DBE had resolved that the service should be managed by the Department of Transport, although DBE still had to be involved on the demand and supply side. In total, 56 000 scholars from quintiles 1-3 were benefiting from the system. Infrastructure delivery had also been a problem, with projects unable to be finished, budgets that could not be spent, and money that had to be returned to the Treasury, but, with support, this was now on track, with the budget spending at 98%. National Treasury had put in a new service delivery model for almost all infrastructure units across South Africa, but the Eastern Cape had benefited even more because it was guaranteed the requisite technical expertise in the planning and delivery of infrastructure. Currently, 90% of the critical posts for technical support functions had been filled.

Budget stabilisation had been another key pillar of the turnaround. In 2010, Eastern Cape overspent on its budget by R2 billion, which led to a huge outcry about lack of the capacity in the DBE t to manage its finances. Since the intervention team had been in place, it had tried to set up process and structures to enforce better budget control, resulting in spending, this year, of 98%. Whilst this did not mean that everything was sorted out, it was a sign that the provincial department was moving in the right direction.

Payment of teachers had also been covered by the media in 2010 and 2011, because some temporal teachers had their contracts terminated and others were not paid. About 5 195 cases were investigated, an 4 347 were submitted to Treasury by July 2013. There were about 29 still outstanding.

Academic performance of the scholars in the Eastern Cape province had improved, especially in home language and mathematics in Grade 3. However, Grade 6 was still a concern. The DBE was putting together a more simplified teaching strategy to address those concerns. Science performance has also recorded great improvement. Home language in the Eastern Cape had been an area of focus and concern, so attention was also paid to Xhosa. Maths studies were a bigger problem, and more attention had to be paid to them. English recorded improvements, sciences first showed a drop, but then stabilised around 54%, mathematical literacy passes also dropped but then stabilised around 78%, and maths showed a 5% improvement to 38%. This was below the national norm, but was improving year on year because of the mechanisms being stabilised. It was recognised that there was room for more improvement.  accordingly attention had been put on the languages of Xhosa and the home language which was not doing very badly if the statistics are put into consideration. Math studies were still a bigger problem in the Eastern Cape but if you compared 2011 and 2012 scholar groups, you would see that 2011 results were better compared to 2012 but this was still a critical area that the department was giving attention. He further looks into the key critical subjects that show that children were passing which include the English language recording an improvement of 95% from 92%, sciences although there was a slight drop they had stabilised around 53-54%, mathematical literacy had gone down by almost 1% but had stabilised around 78% and Mathematics which was the biggest academic skill of the province had shown a slight improvement from 33-38% which was a 5% improvement.  The key issue which ought to have been taken into account was that this was below the national norm but from that it was improving hence showing that the purposes of the department had been achieved because the mechanisms were stabilising and there was still room for more achievement. The DBE was now looking into institutional mechanisms that would sustain the achievements, to ensure that there was not a reversion to the problems when the intervention ceased. This was being examined at meeting with the Minister of Basic Education, the MEC for Education and the Premier in the province.

Department of Basic Education report on Intervention in Limpopo Provincial Department of Education
Mr Matthews Mzwandile, Administrator for Limpopo Department of Education, highlighted the results of the interventions in terms of section 100(1)(b) of the Constitution, in Limpopo.  The main issue that had made the national news, in 2012, was the failure in procurement and delivery of textbooks to schools. However, he wanted to contextualise this challenge. Provision of education in schools was basically based on learner numbers, and the departments of education used the EMIS database of numbers for construction of classrooms. It was a simple method, although it did have challenges of storage space. Provision of water and sanitation, the basic rights, were again based on this database. Similarly, this was used for procurement of stationery, rollout of the schools nutrition programme and teacher provisioning, which had not shown challenges, nor had the transfer to schools for per capita expenditure, based on learner numbers. However, when the same EMIS database was used for procurement of textbooks, problems arose and the DBE was trying to ascertain the reasons. Unfortunately the problems seemed to be ongoing and made the provincial Department particularly vulnerable.

The DBE, as part of its intervention, had put together a strategy for the procurement and delivery of textbooks, which was cost effective because in Limpopo the DBE would negotiate the prices even further down than as shown in the publishers’ catalogues, to meet austerity measures and address the scarcity of resources. The publishers, fortunately, were prepared to negotiate, which had enabled the DBE to procure enough textbooks for the schools within the stipulated budgets. It was busy procuring for 2014 and was confident that the coverage would be better than in previous years.

The major problems in Limpopo that caused such disruption were financial and cash flow management challenges. The intervention team had managed to stabilise the budget process and to make credible submissions and interactions. The intervention team was trying to restructure the Chief Financial Officer structure, as proposed by the Office of the Accountant-General, in line with what was needed in the province, and to ensure that the structure was not too bloated.

Mr Mzwandile pointed out that, similar to Eastern Cape, the intervention team had found a bloated structure on compensation of employees. The norm suggested for education was that 80% of budget should go to compensation of employees and 20% to goods and services. In Limpopo, there had been a 87%: 13% ratio, and in rand terms, over R18 billion of the R23 billion budget had been going to salaries. Bearing in mind that part of the remaining amount included conditional grant allocations, it meant that about R1.5 billion only remained for running the business of education.

The provincial Treasury had taken a decision, in principle, that the compensation of employees budget should be cut by 2% per annum, but the Department had challenged this, pointing out that education was human-resource intensive, and there was a need to investigate how to stabilise rather than “play the numbers”, and do a proper investigation. Nonetheless, it had managed to achieve savings of R327 million in the 2012/13 year on compensation of employees, and this amount, in the Department of Education alone, comprised about 97% of the total savings on compensation in the province. The DBE would not sit back on its laurels, but was intending to reverse the adverse trends and try to take budget back to the appropriate functions.

Mr Mzwandile noted that at the time of the intervention, transfers to schools were at 60% to 62% of the national norm. He explained that the transfers essentially revolved around procurement and delivery of LTSM, and maintenance in the schools. This had since been improved to 76% of the national norm. Central procurement of LTSM was still happening in the province. The DBE was confident that by the following year the figure would have improved further. He stressed that the figure did not mean that imperatives around other work in the schools were not being addressed, but the department had an incorrect balance. In relation to hygiene services and municipal services, the provincial Department of Education was actually picking up some of the services, as also the bill for security, so in some sense the schools were disadvantaged in comparison to other provinces, and this was a point that had not been clearly understood, and the problems had not been put in full context.

Mr Mzwandile also wanted to emphasise that the provincial learner numbers on the database had been extremely unreliable, and this was the cause of other problems. The DBE took a conscious decision that EMIS could not be relied upon without support from other information systems, and thus a serious integration and customisation of EMIS and the South African Schools  note took a conscious decision they can not have the ‘EMIS’ running on its own when their other information systems in the department that could supplement it. The department did a serious integration and customization of the ‘EMIS’ data base with the South African Schools Administration Management system (SA-SAMS ) and the Learner Unit Records Information Tracking Systems (LURITS). There was now proper reporting information. The DBE had also appointed about 134 SA-SAMS coordinators in the 134 circuits on contract, to assist in mining of information.

The structure of the provincial department had been problematic and the DBE, assisted by the Department of Public Service and Administration, had to engage in a systematic exercise, conducting an organisational functionality assessment on the service delivery model, to achiever a leaner structure. The personnel who were charged with curriculum support should be moved to the relevant and appropriate places, rather than being situated at head office, to avoid having to replicate these functions both at head office and in the districts.

The DBE also engaged in a deliberate clean-up of the PERSAL system to ensure that ‘ghost educators’ would no longer be included. This had also revealed more than 8 000 unfunded posts, which the DBE had to abolish immediately. The HR branch was currently gathering information on the known staff in Waterberg, checking whether payments had been made on unfunded posts, and follow ups would be done on transgressors. He noted that PERSAL could track who was logging in and dealing with the records, and this could help to identify any attempts at fraud. In addition, with the assistance of provincial and National Treasury, DBE had appointed Statistics SA to conduct a physical head-count on learners and educators in the province. DBE constructed a template for conditional assessment of the schools themselves. A preliminary report had just been received, and Statistics SA had proposed a The report confirmed the 2011 Census findings of an exodus of people out of the province, and dwindling school numbers. It was important for DBE then to focus its service delivery on the areas where it was actually required.

Mr Mzwandile noted that, similar to Eastern Cape, it had been found that there were more than 2 500 temporary educators occupying substantive posts, as well as “ad hoc educators” who were essentially temporary as well. The DBE had entered an agreement with the provincial Education Labour Relations Council (PELRC) that all temporary educators would be absorbed into proper posts. Initially, they had been costing the province about R750 million. The 5 500 ad hoc educators were costing the province about R250 million, and this situation had arisen through ad hoc educators temporarily filling posts during maternity leave or sick leave, but it had not been properly managed. The DBE stressed that whilst there was a need for temporary replacements to avoid disruption of learners, they should be appointed only when there was a real need. By revising the system, it had managed to achieve savings of about R327 million. The provincial department had a high vacancy rate in strategic posts, and there were many schools without permanent principals, meaning that the deputies were moved up in sequence. The intervention teams had focused on top management, and checked whether ad hoc educators in fact had the requirements to fill the posts. It had, however, confirmed appointments in critical posts, particularly teachers of physical science, maths and English. All principal posts and Heads of Department posts were filled and stabilised.

The Treasury had appointed a technical task team to deal with Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) functions, including the areas of most concern – namely, financial management, supply chain management, and asset management, all of which were highlighted by the Auditor-General (AG). The team was helping the provincial department to stabilise. Policy documents had been produced, and the task team was setting up workshops to deal specifically with the AG’s findings in the province.

Mr Mzwandile said he wanted to digress slightly to deal with the audit report. The latest opinion was still a disclaimer, but the issues that led to the disclaimer were historic rather than current and there was a finding that the system now was more stable and inputting had improved. However, the historic problems still had to be addressed. For instance, the provincial department had needed to create an asset register, from scratch, since none had existed at all. Originally it had used an Excel spreadsheet, but had now decided to move to an electronic system for asset registration. Treasury decided to introduce the LOGIS system, which could be integrated with PERSAL. Although the provincial Department of Public Works owned the assets, there was still a need to transfer assets against a credible system, and it was for that reason that the register was being created.

Mr Mzwandile noted that, similar to Eastern Cape, Limpopo had a problem with learner transport. In 2012/13 20 726 learners were benefiting, and that rose in 2013/14 to 26 540 on 290 routes. The increase had to be quantified in rand amounts, and it could be a pressure on the provincial budget, so that the provincial treasury would need to look into it if it was to support all schools. Last week The Star had reported on an intention to merge schools, but it was misinterpreted as an intention to close schools. He stressed that if a school had too few learners, it did not make any economic sense to continue with it as a separate institution. Sometimes, there were three primary schools in the same locality, each with dwindling numbers, but the community insisted that they remain as they were named after a popular chief, which was not a justifiable economic consideration. He asked Members to refer to guides on infrastructure and functionality, which indicated that if a school had under 100 learners, yet a number of educators for all grades, it did not serve the purpose. Statutory consultations would have to be held.

Limpopo had seen an improvement in the Annual National Assessments, although with the Grade 9 assessments, there was no point of comparison as yet. Mathematics in Grade 6 showed a 2% decline, but languages seemed to be on track. Grade 9 performance was worrying, but the DBE’s curriculum office had some strategies to improve, as this was the last grade before learners moved to specialise. Limpopo had consistently shown good results for science and maths. In 2009 the province had a 48.9% matric pass rate but this had improved by 2012 school to 66.9%, which improved to the target of 70% with the supplementary examinations. He noted that this was despite the media’s emphasis on challenges around delivery of textbooks, and the numbers seemed to be in contradiction to the claims that there were “no teaching and learning supplies” in the province. DBE maintained that education in the province was not as poor as portrayed, and he stressed that the province was not “officially doomed in areas of education”.

The quality of education was shown by the fact that of those who passed, 15 324 achieved passes entitling them to enter bachelors’ studies. The top performer in the country was a girl who came from a quintile 3 school in Limpopo province and some of the top performers in mathematics and sciences also came from the province. He noted that DBE did not normally make a comparison with independent schools, but in fact the top performer from the independent sector ranked 27th as against those top performers from the public sector. That immediately demystified the notion that independent schooling appeared to be doing better than the public schooling system. DBE was very optimistic that, following on the full implementation camps next year, the province would show still more improvements.

Mr Mzwandile noted that in Limpopo, the basis of planning was 3 947 schools, of which 97% of were Quintiles 1 to 3, whilst only 3% fell within quintiles 4 and 5. The schooling in Limpopo was therefore offered to the poorest of the poor, and 96% of learners were in the public schools. Not all education was free. There were 16 million learners in public schools and they were recipients also in the school nutrition programme for quintile 1 to 3 schools, which helped to create economic activity within the province. He highlighted this, as well as learner transport, as matters needing strengthening and there was likely to be an increase in demand.

Limpopo showed some differences from the intervention in the Eastern Cape, but it must also be noted that the cluster of departments put under administration in Limpopo had included the provincial treasury. He believed that if section 100(1)(b) did not enable the national executive to take control of Accounting Officer responsibilities, it would be difficult to implement proper turnarounds. This should be clearly stated, in his view, in the draft legislation pending from the Department of Public Service and Administration.

Ms Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, noted that the presentation was now deviating from the matters on the agenda. Mr Mzwandile apologised, and said he had finalised his report.

The Chairperson thanked the presenters, but noted that the presentations seemed to concentrate on the achievements without mentioning the challenges. However, this would no doubt emerge from the interaction with Members.

Ms Motshekga wanted to supplement the information given. She noted that she had recently met with the Auditor-General, who had confirmed that the Eastern Cape provincial Department would have achieved an unqualified report on its current performance, but was also still facing unresolved historic problems.  That was quite encouraging. Eastern Cape was also leading in Early Childhood Development education access. An audit had been done as to which province was delivering best on services to the poorest of the poor, and this was Limpopo, which offered the best quality education to the poorest children in its top 500 schools. An independent review into maths was conducted, at the request of the President, by independent university professors, which revealed that the best Maths programme was also in Limpopo.

The Minister asked that she and the Department be given the opportunity to brief the Committee at a future date about the education collaboration framework that the DBE had put in place, concentrating on these two provinces. The DBE had undertaken a major profiling exercise on everything from desks to windows to books, and by the time the intervention teams withdrew, there would be sustainable structures, with most problems resolved. Furthermore, there had been mobilisation of other departments that were not initially part of the intervention, to ensure a solid legacy.

Ms D Rantho (Eastern Cape, ANC) commended the presentations, although she noted that the positives in the presentations would have to be compared to realities on the ground.  

Ms Rantho asked the Eastern Cape intervention team about the LTSM, and whether it would also achieve 100% success in the 2014 year. She questioned what had been done to address failure of delivery of LTSMs in the past, and ensure that the problems would not recur.

Ms Rantho enquired into the status of the two provinces in delivering quality education and improving performance, in relation to unions. People on the ground were not only expecting service from the teachers, but from the department and she wanted to know what the provincial departments were doing to ensure good quality education.

Ms Rantho wanted to know more about removal of mud schools in Eastern Cape, and wanted a full report on how many schools had been built; she thought there were supposed to have been about 300 or 400, and how many were occupied. The Committee had visited some schools at the beginning of the year, which had been delivered but they did not have the right support infrastructure, and children were still sitting on crates instead of at desks.

Ms R Rasmeni (North West, ANC) also commended the good job the Department’s intervention teams had done in trying to solve the major challenges and hoped their experiences in these provinces would help in identifying other challenges in future. She asked, in relation to slide 14, for more information on the economic activities in the schools, where they were and what was being done.

Ms Rasmeni asked for more information on actual interventions and plans in place to address the major challenges. She asked what measures had been taken to amend infrastructure, learner numbers, resources and teachers.

Ms Rasmeni asked if the scholar transport numbers reflected all those in need of transport, or if there were other learners not getting the scholar transport.

Mr W Faber (North Cape, DA) was sorry that the full presentation document was not provided on time, as he would undoubtedly had more questions if he had had time to go through it in depth. He asked about collaboration on schools and how many schools, in each province, had been closed. Closure impacted on both parents and teachers.

Mr Faber asked how many temporary teachers were absorbed, and said he needed percentages or actual figures. When the Committee visited Limpopo at the end of 2013 it had heard conflicting reports from the provincial Department and the unions. The unions complained that the infrastructure was not being looked after, that if school classrooms were in poor repair, the children would simply be moved to another classroom, inconveniencing both classes. Although the Committee had been shown some prime facilities, he thought that this was not the reality for others.

Mr Faber noted the ratio of spending on compensation and goods and services, asked what this ratio was in Eastern Cape, and how the Department would ensure that the numbers were properly balanced.

Mr M de Villiers (Western Cape, DA) was pleased to hear the improved audit results for Eastern Cape and hoped a further improvement could be sustained for next year. He wanted more information on the issues that still caused concern to the Treasury.

Mr de Villiers wanted more information on the specific problems around the delivery of text books, the specific problems in the given areas, and which schools were affected, so the Committee could check on them during the next oversight visit.  He also enquired in which areas there was still a problem around scholar transport, saying that on a recent visit he had noted that learners were still staying very far from their schools. He also wanted information on the infrastructure, including the school destroyed by a recent tornado. He noted that there had been problems both with contractors and handing over of the schools.

Mr de Villiers wanted more information on what the problem was with the 29 teachers who were still not receiving salaries. Whilst this was not a large number, it could become a problem, and the effect on the teachers was serious.

Mr de Villiers wanted to know what interventions were in place to improve training of the teachers, and the improvement of ANA results. Noting the 38.1% maths pass rate in 2012, he asked what had been done in Eastern Cape to improve the pass rate, particularly if the DBE interventions had resulted in an improvement in Limpopo.   

Mr de Villiers noted that, for Limpopo, compensation of employees was now reflecting full funding and he asked for more details on the actual numbers. He wanted to know if the 8 000 “unfunded posts” in Limpopo were excess posts, or those occupied by “ghost teachers”. He asked how many temporary teachers were permanently absorbed by the Department.

Mr de Villiers wanted more information on the merger of schools, including which were primary and secondary, and the areas where they were.

Mr S Plaatjie (North West, COPE) said that many of his questions had already been covered. He wanted to know if the LURITS programme helped the DBE to trace drop-out numbers from primary and high schools, and how this information was used.

Mr Plaatjie noted a very serious problem, especially in Eastern Cape, with prolonged leave of teachers, and asked if perpetual absenteeism was now being addressed.

Mr Plaatjie asked about the implications of school mergers, noting litigation in other provinces on this issue.

Mr Plaatjie was appreciative of the progress in both provinces but wanted to be assured that no new tendencies had emerged to threaten the achievements.

Ms M Moshodi (Free State, ANC) echoed the Chairperson in enquiring about the major challenges.

Ms Moshodi asked what plans were in place to transport learners who were affected by the rains.

Mr T Makunyane (Limpopo, ANC) asked about the expenditure patterns and asked if the figures indicated that everything had been done that the provincial Department in Limpopo ha set out to do, and also requested clarification whether there was still more work to be done before year-end, or what the figures actually meant.

Mr Makunyane asked if the decrease of learner numbers in Limpopo was matched by increases in other provinces, such as Gauteng, and where they were migrating.

Mr Makunyane asked if a final decision had been taken to move learner transport to the Department of Transport. The demand was generated in the basic education field and he was worried about crossing of responsibilities.  

Mr Makunyane was interested to see that the independent schools, despite becoming more and more expensive, had not produced the top learners, and he asked what the main advantages of the independent schools were thus perceived to be – whether better security, less disruptions, or other matters.

Prince M Zulu (KwaZulu-Natal, IFP) also commended the presentations. He questioned what the DBE was doing to ensure that the situation did not again deteriorate, and how it would sustain the progress it had made.

He noted that in KwaZulu Natal, distance between schools was often 15 kilometres and there was a shortage of transport being provided. He spoke in Zulu at length on the need to assist learners.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee had visited the Eastern Cape and noted the inflation of leaner numbers. Some schools might have only 20 learners, but report that they had 100 learners, and she wanted to know how the provincial departments would handle and monitor this. If the numbers were indeed fewer than claimed, then surely this should also affect transport and nutrition. She noted that the provincial Department was apparently catering for 56 000 learners, but the Committee had been told during its visits that the numbers were not then verified, although it was known that there was a problem of inflation of numbers.

The Chairperson was concerned about the facilities for preparing and storing food for learners, and wondered if this had been addressed, as it was one of the problems leading to the intervention.

The Chairperson asked for an update on how many schools were built in Eastern Cape and handed over to the province.

The Chairperson wanted confirmation of the assertions by the Limpopo Premier that the province was on track and that the intervention teams could leave, asked if the DBE agreed, and when it did in fact intend to leave.

The Minister said she would first answer questions around any new trends. The DBE and provincial departments had settled down and developed very good working relationships, and the problems of which the DBE had first been complaining had been resolved. The provincial offices were now properly structured, with  Chief Financial Officer in place, and there was a good and positive interaction. She noted Mr Mzwandile’s remark that the intervention team in Limpopo had learned from some of the problems in the Eastern Cape. Initially, in Eastern Cape, much time was devoted to sorting out power struggles but in Limpopo this had not been done as the intervention team had simply settled down to work. In Eastern Cape, this had eventually been settled, and the provincial department had accepted the position and presence of the intervention team, which lessened the original hostility. Both parties accepted that they needed each other, and she was not exaggerating when she said that things were working well.

The Minister noted that some of the questions asked by Members actually moved outside the boundaries of the section 100(1)(b) intervention. However, she appreciated that they were important. On mergers, she noted that this was a provincial competence, and that they were not included as part of the intervention. She reminded Members that the DBE had originally intervened in the province to address five specific areas, as opposed to taking over the whole provincial function. These included issues on human resources, school nutrition, and scholar transport. For this reason, the DBE’s team had not prepared for responses on complete departmental reports. Schools infrastructure was one of the issues on which the presenters had not specifically prepared themselves, which was why it was not included in the presentation on the intervention, but she could assure the Committee that the DBE was working with provincial departments to iron out issues around infrastructure. The DBE could prepare further reports if needed.   

The Minister said that she thought the intervention team was ready to leave the province. The national Department’s work was not to run the provincial departments. It had been asked merely to identify where the problems were, work with the province to set up systems and get the provincial departments to the state where they were themselves running properly. She was confident that this had been achieved in both Eastern Cape and Limpopo. The intervention teams had managed to put sustainable measures in place, and she agreed with the Premier’s statements. In Limpopo, the DBE had negotiated successfully with the unions, department and stakeholders to cut 2 000 excess teacher numbers down to only 55 excess teachers, which was good progress. In Eastern Cape, the AG had confirmed that steps were taken in the right direction, even though the current report was still qualified; it was accepted that it would take a year or two to clean up all outstanding historic matters. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer was restructured, and the province had a new system that it would be able to deal with, on its own. A sustainable mechanism was in place, and this would ensure that matters did not revert to the past, but move forward.

The Minister noted that scholar transport was in the section 100(1)(b) intervention. On infrastructure, she said that the Department said that “completing”  a school meant completing not only the infrastructure, but ensuring that at the time of handover it was fully equipped, including desks, a computer centre and resourced science centres.

Mr T Martens, Spokesperson, DBE, added that there had been 36 schools completed and those not completed yet, due to termination of contracts or contractor liquidation, had been handed over to new contractors to finish the jobs. Ten were being handed over in a “one school per week” handover, with eight already handed over, and twelve should be completed soon. In addition to those, another 203 school contracts were given to contractors, and construction had started on 54.

Mr Martens gave an overview of mergers and nationalisation of schools. The Council for Education took a decision on the norms in terms of school sizes for primary and secondary schools, but DBE had some discretion. On the ground, there were primary and middle schools. In Eastern Cape there were some schools which only had Grades 1, 2 and 3, sometimes all together, and some with grades 4 to 7. Mergers took place not only for economic and financial savings reasons, but also so that the DBE was able to provide a better curriculum coverage to all learners. Various guidelines were followed, as well as prior consultations and social facilitation, for it was desirable to get buy-in from the stakeholders. The DBE had realised that it was not sufficient merely to close a school, but it had to make prior arrangements to deal with everything from infrastructure to teachers, books and transport, before asking the students to attend a new school, and this would avoid additional problems.

The Minister added that guidelines had been issued following the problems in Eastern Cape. Mergers were inevitable, whether or not they were wanted, in most provinces. It was simply not viable to continue to run a school with nine children. The law had to be strictly followed.

Mr Ray Tywakad, Eastern Cape Administrator, confirmed that reports could be given on some of the questions raised that were not actually covered by the interventions as such. On scholar transport, he noted that the demand in the Eastern Cape Province was not equivalent to the supply. When information was sought on the needs, there were 102 000 requests for transport, but only a budget to cover 6 000 learners. The need had probably not been met in previous years. The agreement between the DBE and provincial Department of Transport was made in the context that the Eastern Cape provincial government was moving towards a consolidated public transport system and strategy, with scholar transport included. The Department of Transport had requested information on the design of the service, the standards that must be adhered to, the routing, schools that had to be serviced, and what service providers were needed. The provincial Department of Education would manage information on the demand. So far, the relationship was working well. All departments concerned reported to the Premier on the nature of the service and progress. The Eastern Cape, as one of the poorest provinces, had huge demands. The guidelines were in place and stated that scholar transport must be provided for children living in a five-kilometre radius, and there was attention paid particularly to the furthest-flung areas.

Mr Tywakad answered questions on delivery of textbooks in the Eastern Cape. There had originally been a multiplicity of systems for procurement, and matters were discussed with all stakeholders. The Department decided, firstly to prioritise institutional arrangements, setting up a committee including the provincial treasury, and the AG as observer, interns from DBE and officials from the provincial department, who had to sit down with all service provider publishers and discuss progress on delivery of LTSM. The Eastern Cape procured directly from publishers, who would then deliver to schools. Reports were being given on the activity at the warehouses of the publishers, on a weekly basis, to ensure that focus was not lost. Previously, there were provincial LTSM managers, who reported to the Head of Department. The provincial Department had created a special unit and appointed a project manager under whom the LTSM fell. It was suggested that an independent audit must be run, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers was, with the help of Treasury, contracted to help with the statistics. Eastern Cape was now able to report on packages from the warehouses, dispatches to schools (with exact figures) and had asked the publishers to set up a call centre where LTSM problems could be reported. The provincial Department also had access to publisher’s databases that showed which LTSMs were delivered, and levels of stock held in the warehouses.  The provincial Department was advised to employ specialised labour to manage the system, given the technicalities.

Mr Tywakad said that there was a broad national strategy on learner attainment, which all provinces are following, including what was taught, what materials should be in schools, what should be used to answer questions, particularly at Grade 9 level. For the third and the fourth quarters, a full report would be given on the plans, and key implementation.

Mr Tywakad said the broad answer on challenges and issues of sustainability was that there were still some issues that the province must address – such as the service standards, which Limpopo had achieved, but Eastern Cape must still standardise. This standardisation had commenced with primary schools in Eastern Cape, but it was a big issue. Secondly, the province was still charged with managing the demand and supply of teachers, in view of the high turnovers and vacancy arrangements. DBE had put in place a unit to manage the cases, which was working very well with the help of Treasury. Thirdly, document management was important. In the past, it had been impossible to carry out proper audits because there were no documents, but today the audits were possible, although there were still a couple of documents needing to be traced. There had been substantial improvements, and this was best illustrated in the sorting out of the issues around employee compensation.

The few teachers who were not being paid were related to issues around documentation. However, this matter was being taken seriously by the provincial Department and measures were in place to improve. A project had been set up to deal with the issue of leave or prolonged absence of teachers, and statistics were being gathered, both physically and technically. Two major verification projects had been adopted by the province and also the Department of Public Service and Administration had appointed an HR body to help in the auditing the workers. The issue around late gratuities had also been controlled and this was a further success of the Department.

In conclusion, Mr Tywakad said that there were three substantial achievements; the DBE’s relationship with DPSA, national and provincial treasury, all of whom were focusing on specific and urgent areas. HR management had received special attention, as also financial management and expenditure, so there was a range of technical improvements. Treasury had helped with data integrity, which was a problem in the past. The Premier had committed to helping DBE with the turnaround.

Mr Mzwandile, Limpopo Administrator, said that the questions around the unions’ involvement in delivery of quality education was at the core of service delivery, and it was recognised that organised labour would always play a role. The provincial Department in Limpopo had tried its level best to normalise relationships between organised labour, communities and other stakeholders. There may be some tensions but it did not mean that the door would be closed. The Minister had set up a committee to try to demystify issues and reduce tensions.

He noted the question on slide 14 and the economic programmes. These resulted from the school’s nutrition programme, and involved procurement of the service from third parties, who were independent contractors. The preparation of the food (food handling) was done by ‘‘mamas’’ who received a salary, and that too was economic activity. There were also about 134 monitors, based according to need, and they would be found close to schools, to minimise travelling. All this meant that the school nutrition  programmes were run as properly coordinated enterprise rather than merely a system to feed children.

DBE had highlighted infrastructure as one of the areas that posed a serious challenge. There was some serious contention about availability of engineers to handle these issues once DBE exited, and Treasury had recommended that a capacitating team be put in place within the provincial Department that would focus on planning, coordination and monitoring of infrastructure. Department of Public Works was doing the actual delivery of the programmes. Mr Mzwandile noted, in regard to posts, that the public sector faced severe competition from the private sector who offered better salaries, but Treasury was trying to assist. In reality, maintenance of schools in the province was a serious matter that had been neglected in the past, to the extent that there were very severe problems with water, sanitation and inappropriate structures. In Limpopo, bad weather and severe rains could lead to whole schools damaged severely, and it was next to impossible to access emergency funding.

Because of the cost savings, non-critical posts were frozen, and this led to those in the organisation having to take on more work. This was being addressed in realignment of the organisational structure. Mr Mzwandile explained that this had created the situation where, unable to access the levels at which temporary educators might be needed; fictitious posts would be created in PERSAL so that the temporary teachers would be appointed against those. This, however, created a problem for the estimates of the financial year. The view was taken that if subjects had to be taught, teachers must be appointed, whether permanently or temporarily, in order to teach those subjects and none could be fired. The matter became exaggerated, and clearly had to be sorted out.

Mr Mzwandile said that questions were still being asked about Waterberg, where three teachers were compensated, but it was not clear whether this had been done for 7 997 others.

Mr Mzwandile noted that he did not have the merger numbers to hand, but the majority of mergers were primary schools in the most rural areas of the province. The provincial Department had to do three months consultations on merging of schools, and this was not negotiable. In most cases, these mergers were requested by the communities, and sometimes the chiefs had literally tried to force the Department to merge without consultation, saying that there was nobody else with whom it must speak.

Mr Mzwandile responded to questions on performance of independent schools, saying the statistics from the public schools were a turning point in the right direction, which the Department hoped to maintain. It was true that 26 public schools were shown to have performed better than the private schools, and serious research was under way to maintain the good grades shown by the 26 schools, and to expand it still further. The cost of improvement was not yet known, but on the whole, private schooling was much more expensive than public schooling.

The Honourable Minister said that there was a question that was not answered regarding teachers that were taking long on leaves as well as student non attendance of school.

Mr Tywakad said, in response to long leave that the Department was setting up a database to deal with statistical reports on leave, but the statistics would only come out in the following week. 

Mr Thunbe Kojani, Representative, DBE, said that health risk managers had been appointed and meetings were under way in some areas of the province to select those managers that could be taken on.

Mr de Villiers asked why exactly the 29 remaining teachers were not being paid. He asked if the ad hoc teachers were budgeted for.

The Chairperson said that according to the reports that were earlier given to the Committee, there were 110 000 learners in need of scholar transport, which could have been an inflated number, and she wondered why it still seemed to have gone up.

Mr Makunyane asked about adult literacy, whether alternatives had been found for school transport and nutrition programme – for instance, new buses, or growing of food by the schools, or local procurement. In Limpopo, those supplying the foodstuffs seemed to be the big companies, which did not promote local development.

Mr de Villiers asked about the best practices that could be adopted for the mathematics programme in the schools. Further on ad hoc teachers he wondered whether these were being budgeted for.

Ms Rasmeni requested a full report on mergers, to inform her province.

Ms B Mncube (Gauteng, ANC) requested clarification of sick leave payment schemes.

The Minister reiterated that the Department had been asked only to present on the section 100(1)(b) interventions and had not prepared itself to answer other questions. If Members wanted a report on national mergers, it could be prepared, but could not be given now.

Mr de Villiers raised a point of order. The mergers had been raised in the reports, and that was the reason why questions were being asked now. He was not satisfied with the answer from the Minister.

The Chairperson agreed with Mr de Villiers and reiterated that Members were enquiring about certain matters because they were in the reports.

The Minister replied that this was a matter which the Department had to investigate further, to get the figures. She had not intended to imply any unwillingness to reply.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister and the delegation, and said the Committee was pleased to see progress after visiting the provinces. The Members hoped that the work already done could be sustained and hoped that there would not be similar problems in other provinces. The Research Unit was researching various issues and hoped that the Department would cooperate.

The Minister assured the Committee that any questions not yet answered would be addressed.

The meeting was adjourned.



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