The Portfolio Committee met to peruse Draft 1 of the Committee Report on the Annual Performance Plan and Strategic Plan and budget of the Department of Basic Education and its Statutory Bodies. Members went through the draft Report page by page and raised comments and queries. Most of the amendments proposed were intended to amplify meaning or correct inaccuracies. It was agreed that, on page 2, reference would be made to the Minister’s emphasis on the need for rationalisation of schools and the principle behind this policy was explained to one Member. Headings on pages 3 and 11 were changed to refer to the “draft” of the Department’s Medium Term Strategic Framework. A reference to norms and standards was inserted in page 4. Page 12, paragraph 2.2.5 references to “fiscal constraints” were corrected. On page 13, a reference to Members’ concern was changed to reflect that Members welcomed the initiatives. Subjective wording was removed, to ensure that the Report remained factual. Members agreed, after substantial discussion, that “accommodation of Grade R” would be expanded to state how this would be achieved. Similarly, the mention of a backlog or deficit on page 21 would be qualified to make it clear that this referred not to fiscal backlog, but a backlog of cases. Duplication of bullet points erroneously was removed, and technical changes were made in a few other places. Finally, the Committee agreed with the Chairperson that the conclusion must reflect the Committee’s commitment to achieve quality education and efficiency, and would note that the Department of Basic Education’s presentation showed that more had to be done to ensure improvement in the sector. Members unanimously adopted the Report, as amended.
Draft Committee report on budget for Department of Basic Education
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary read out the apologies, and noted that this meeting was held for the Committee to consider and approve the Draft Committee Report (the Report) on the budget vote for the Department of Basic Education (DBE or the Department). She asked Members to go through the report, and make comments, page by page.
Ms J Basson (ANC) referred to page 1, and questioned the fact that all the sectors involved in the report were captured, yet the Portfolio Committee names were not.
Mr Llewellyn Brown, Committee Secretary, explained that this was not necessary as the names were on the attendance register, but he could include them if the Committee so wished.
The Chairperson noted that comment but felt that it was not strictly necessary to include MPs’ names on this Report. She suggested that similar format be adopted for future reports, and the Committee agreed.
Ms A Lovemore (DA) referred to page 2, and noted the Key Focus Areas as listed in Paragraph 2.1. However, the Minister for Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga, during her address, had reiterated the need for rationalisation of schools, and had been quite emphatic on this point. Ms Lovemore felt that such comment should be specifically mentioned under the key areas.
The Chairperson agreed and confirmed that it would be included.
Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) asked the Chairperson to clarify the term “rationalisation” as he did not understand what Ms Lovemore was referring to.
The Chairperson explained that this referred to a process whereby an assessment would be done by DBE on the viability of certain schools, taking into account cost, quality of education, staff numbers and enrollment numbers. This may result in the closing down of schools, incorporating their learners into other existing, or new schools. She cited the example of a school that taught learners from Grades R to 7 with only one educator.
Mr Mpontshane asked if this was the same concept advocated by the MEC in Gauteng.
The Chairperson confirmed that it was, and said similar processes applied in Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and the Western Cape. There was a danger of this being clouded by politics, and Parliament and the DBE would have to be very careful how the matter was dealt with, although both were convinced of the rationale behind the process.
Mr A Mpontshane asked the Chairperson if this process was included in the “radical transformation of schools” advocated by the Ministry of Education.
The Chairperson confirmed that it was.
Ms Lovemore then referred to page 3 and asked if the heading of paragraph 2.2.1 should not be “Overview of the Draft of the Department’s Medium Term Strategic Framework and 2014/2015 Strategic Priorities”.
Mr Dennis Bandi, Content Advisor, agreed that the overview was indeed a draft.
The Chairperson referred the committee to paragraph 18.104.22.168 on page 4. She felt that the phrase ‘as per norms and standards’ should have been included in bullet number 3, as it was discussed during the meeting.
The Committee agreed that it be moved.
Members did not have any issues with pages 5 to 10, and Ms Lovemore and other Members praised the well-written Report.
Page 11 and 12: Ms A Lovemore had comments on pages 11 and 12, mentioning firstly that the heading of paragraph 2.2.5 should also be corrected to include the reference to “the Draft”, similar to paragraph 2.2.1. Secondly, she felt that some of the bullet points were vague, specifically the second bullet point on page 12, which currently read: “Prioritising teaching and learning, especially in terms of the fiscal constraints”. She did not understand the meaning of the penultimate and last bullet points in the same paragraph.
The Chairperson and Content Advisor and Members discussed that point, and it was agreed that the essence of the statement focused upon the issues hampering teaching and learning, of which fiscal constraints was one issue.
Ms Lovemore then suggested that only the first part of the bullet be kept in the report, reading:”Prioritising teaching and learning”.
The Chairperson agreed that restructuring of the wording of the last two bullet points would make for greater clarity, but they should be seen in context of the paragraph heading. The bullets outlined the key themes, of which the National Education Policy Act(NEPA) was one. The Department of Basic Education would focus on the efficient execution and implementation of the Act in regard to the areas mentioned in the last two bullets of paragraph 2.2.5.
Mr A Mpontshane suggested that the word “on” should be added to the sixth bullet point of paragraph 2.2.5, after the word “impact”. He also suggested that the last sentence of paragraph 2.2.5 should read “Focusing on the quality and efficiency in education rather than of education”.
The Chairperson agreed.
Ms N Mokoto (ANC) stated that she was averse to making changes to the content of a Report that had been discussed and agreed upon during a previous meeting. This meeting was being monitored, and whether or not the Committee agreed, the Report outlined the plan on which the DBE would be embarking. She cautioned against focusing too intently on individual bullet points and felt that the Committee should consider the paragraph as a whole to understand its meaning.
The Chairperson noted that advice and assured the Committee that although the wording might be rephrased, the content must stay the same.
Ms Mokoto indicated her satisfaction with this response.
Ms A Lovemore requested that the wording in the first bullet point under paragraph 22.214.171.124, on page 13, under the heading “Programme 3” should be changed from “There was concern amongst Members…” to ‘Members welcomed that there…”.
She further suggested the deletion of the word “encouragingly”, from the last sentence of paragraph 126.96.36.199, as it was subjective, and the Report should be factual.
Members discussed that point, and the Chairperson confirmed the changes as proposed by Ms Lovemore. Furthermore, the word “fast” in the last bullet point should be changed to ‘fast track’.
Mr Mpontshane asked that the words “accommodation of Grade R” in the first sentence of page 14, under the heading “Programme 4”, be clarified.
The Chairperson answered that it referred to classrooms for Grade R, Grade R enrollment in schools and appointing teachers. She asked the Committee if the sentence should be changed to include these.
Mr Mpontshane said that the statement was too general and that the focus should be on the qualifications of the teachers, since teachers of that grade were perceived as not qualified or not part of the Department of Basic Education.
The Chairperson noted that the statement referred to the structures put in place for Grade R, including the vetting of teachers.
Mr H Khosa (ANC) saw no problem with the present wording, but stated that his understanding was that Grade R had not, in the past, received special consideration and that the Departments was focusing on rectifying that in future.
The Chairperson agreed and reiterated that the wording could be more specific to make it clearer to those who had not attended the meeting, but must not depart from what was said.
Ms Mokoto then requested that the Content Advisor and Committee Secretary of the meeting should listen again to the recording of the meeting, to ensure that the Report was a true reflection of what was said at that meeting. She would be very concerned if fundamental facts were being changed. She, and other Members, did not have their notes of that meeting with them to verify and substantiate changes.
The Chairperson answered that she did not want to put an unnecessary burden on Mr Brown and Mr Bandi, but if the Committee was in disagreement on the wording, this could be done.
Mr D Mnguni (ANC) asked if other Members could give input whether they agreed, before the recording was listened to.
Ms A Lovemore said that her notes indicated that more detail was imparted during the initial meeting, and that she agreed with Ms Mokoto that an explanation of “accommodation” should be included in the final Report.
Ms Basson also agreed that the upgrading of teachers for Grade R should be added to the initial statement.
Members thus agreed to the changes.
Mr D Mnguni suggested that the word “the” be added to sentence three of paragraph 3.1.1, on page 15, to read “the previous year”.
There were no corrections suggested for page 16.
Mr D Mnguni did not understand the words “austere budget” cited in paragraph 3.2 of page 17.
The Chairperson explained that it meant a budget strictly allocated to a specific purpose.
No corrections were suggested for pages 18 to 20.
Ms Lovemore pointed out that bullet 7 of paragraph 3.2.4 on page 21 mentioned a backlog/deficit. This could be read as meaning a financial backlog/deficit but actually referred to a backlog of cases which were being deferred to South African Council for Educators (SACE) and she asked, and Members agreed, that this be clarified.
Ms Lovemore also mentioned the last two bullet points of paragraph 3.2.4 were duplicated from paragraph 3.3.4 on page 26.
Mr Bandi confirmed that this was an error and he would remove them.
There were no corrections for pages 22 to 25.
The Chairperson referred the committee to the heading: “4. Conclusion” on page 26. She stated that she would like to see included a final bullet stating the Committee’s continuous commitment to quality education and efficiency, and its willingness to work with the Department of Basic Education and other role players in achieving that. She said that the Committee was furthermore concerned that the presentation by the DBE indicated several areas where the DBE fell short on quality and efficiency. She stressed that the Committee needed to see value for money and improvement in quality and efficiency.
Ms Mokoto, Ms Lovemore and Mr Mpontshane agreed that this should be added.
Members then unanimously accepted the Report, as amended.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Brown and Mr Bandi for a job well done under pressure. She reminded Members that the budget debate would be held on Tuesday 15 July.
The meeting was adjourned.