TIMSS Maths/Science Report; Schools 2017 Reopening; Vuwani progress report

Basic Education

21 February 2017
Chairperson: Ms N Mokoto (ANC, Acting)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met with the Department of Basic Education to discuss the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) Report, the status report on schools reopening for 2017, as well as report on progress made in Vuwani, where schooling had been disrupted by community protest actions.

The TIMMS presentation described an international study that gave countries such as South Africa accurate information about how its education system was progressing. The design of TIMSS was to monitor trends over time, and South Africa had participated in five cycles in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2011 and 2015. The study looked at the achievements in the context of what the learners were exposed to at school and in the home environment, taking into consideration the interaction between the home, the school and the achievement of learners.

The key findings of the study included:

  • The mathematics and science achievement scores had improved from ‘very low’ to a ‘low’ national average;
  • Achievement continued to remain highly unequal.
  • Learners’ home and school environments differed, contributing to intergenerational inequality.
  • Lastly, what parents did with their children influenced achievement. Socio-economic factors and early educational environments influenced later achievement.

Some of the issues that were raised by the Committee included the involvement of the DBE in combating bullying in schools, which was said to have a negative impact on learner performance. Another issue that was raised the number of unqualified maths and science teachers in primary schools, as this would affect the performance of learners and hinder their success, as well as the goal of reaching the desired international benchmark score of the TIMMS study. The Committee asked what the Department’s interventions would be.

In terms of school readiness for 2017, the fundamental issue for the beginning of the year was that all admissions had been completed. The prioritised areas included admissions and registration, teacher provisioning, learning and teaching support materials, and basic infrastructure. This year the approach was to monitor two districts per province and two circuits in each of the provinces. The Western Cape was still dealing with unplaced learners and some provinces were still experiencing challenges with placing learners. The challenges that remained related largely to late applications. The provinces and districts that were still finalising admissions were in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng.

Regarding basic infrastructure, the focus was primarily on the cleanliness of school environments and classrooms; safe and clean ablution facilities; sufficient classroom accommodation; school furniture for learners and teachers; and scholar transport where required. All provinces had shown relative improvement in this area compared to previous years.There was significantly more and better furniture for both learners and educators.

The protests in Vuwani and their aftermath had affected a lot of schools mostly in Vhuronga 1, Vhuronga 2, Malamulele West, Hlanganani South and the Hlanganani North circuits. Catch-up programmes had been organised in order to mitigate the impact of the protests, such as camps for Grade 12 learners and special “chunking” programmes for grade 1-11 learners, to ensure that the work was covered over the available period after the total shut down period. Learners and teachers in Vuwani had received counselling and support from the Pastors’ Forum and the Departments of Health and Social Development.

A Departmental team comprising curriculum advisors, governance officials and circuit managers had also provided support in identified schools and communities. Donations received included textbooks, stationery, photocopiers, data projectors and laptops, sanitary towels, toiletries, eating utensils, brooms and mops, science kits and desks, and these were all being put to good use.

All schools in Vuwani had received stationery, although there were still shortages and non-delivery in certain subjects. Delivery was continuing. Promotional posts had been filled, Substitute teacher posts were being filled as they arose. Nzhelele West, Sekgosese North, Soutpansberg North and Hlanganani North had had disruptions when the schools opened. To try and ensure the situation did not get out of control, the province had decided not to give extraordinary attention to Vuwani at the expense of the rest of the province.

Members complained that there was not enough time to discuss issues that were of great concern, as time had been spent reading out presentations that the Committee had received days before the meeting. The DBE delegation committed to giving a written response to issues that had not been fully addressed. 

Meeting report

Election of Acting Chairperson 

The Chairperson greeted everyone present and said that as she had a toothache, she wished to be excused from the meeting as she wanted to get medical assistance. She proceeded to apologise and requested to leave immediately after an Acting Chairperson had been appointed. The Members appointed Ms N Mokoto (ANC) as the Acting Chairperson.

Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS): DBE presentation

Mr Paddy Padayachee, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Planning, Information and Assessment, Department of Basic Education (DBE) said the TIMSS was an international study that gave countries such as South Africa accurate information on how it was moving as a system. The design of TIMSS was to monitor trends over time, and South Africa had participated in five cycles of TIMSS -- in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2011 and 2015. The presentation was on the outcomes of the study which was done in 2015.

The study covered 11 000 learners in Grade 5 and 12 500 learners in Grade 9, with an involvement of about 350 mathematics and science teachers at Grade 9 and 297 maths teachers at Grade 5.  The study looked at the achievements in the context of what the learners were exposed to at school and in the home environment. It looked at the interaction between the home, the school and the achievement of learners. The study had also been administered by independent service providers such as the Human Sciences Research Council (HRSC), which had conducted it in South Africa and had presented the results in November 2015.

In the Grade 9 maths and science, South Africa had achieved 352 points for maths and 358 points for science, which was below the target of 400 points. South Africa was reported to be the biggest improvers in terms of trends over time, with 87 points in maths and 90 points in science. Independent schools were still performing better than public schools and no-fee schools, and there was a need to close the gap between no-fee schools and paying schools. By province, the top performing schools were found in Gauteng, with just over 400 points in both maths and science. The biggest improver in terms of trends over time was Limpopo, which also had a decrease in provincial inequalities.

The improvements could be attributed to several contextual conditions, such as what went on in the schooling communities, access to running tap water, the household education of parents and access to flush toilets.  Learners who did not experience bullying scored higher in assessments than those who did, especially in mathematics, with a difference of 68 points. Researchers also suggested that there was a very strong correlation between learners speaking the language of the test,

In Grade 5 maths and science, South Africa scored above 300 for maths and science. It was the first time that TIMSS had included the Grade 5 learners in the research. However, no trends data had been recorded for the class, but a baseline for future research. Many of the learners had achieved below the 400 benchmark score, and this needed to be improved. The Western Cape was the highest performing province, which scored above the 400 benchmark, followed by Gauteng. The study showed that the more years of schooling that the learners were exposed to prior to Grade 1, the more positive the influence. There was a positive relationship between the number of years in pre-primary education and maths achievement. The study showed that boy learners were exposed to bullying and sexual practices that influenced achievement.

A summary of the key findings were:

  • Mathematics and Science achievement scores improved from ‘very low’ to a ‘low’ national average. 
  • Achievement continued to remain highly unequal. Learners’ home and school environments differed, contributing to inter-generational inequality.
  • What parents did with their children influenced achievement: Socio-economic factors and early educational environments influenced later achievement.
    Good quality pre-school settings should offer a boost for learners. Learners in independent and fee-paying schools benefited the most, but learners in no-fee schools did not seem to benefit.
  • Teaching and learning interventions must focus sharply on what happens inside schools and classrooms. Classroom teaching must emphasise a strong knowledge base;
  • Both the tangible assets (books, calculators, labs) and non-tangible assets (attitudes, expectations, safety, caring) mattered;
  • Girls outperformed boys in mathematics and science.  Boys experienced higher levels of bullying and were not enthusiastic about school. Boys were a vulnerable group.
  • The more “good” elements that a learner experienced within both the home and the school contexts, the better. The effects were additive.

The DBE had a number of expectations from the study that they hoped to achieve for Grade 9 learners by 2019. With appropriate national and provincial strategic interventions, there would be a set target of an improvement by 35 points, to reach average scores of 400, with 45% of learners scoring above 400 points.

The findings must inform classroom practice and help raise standards in mathematics and science. A round table discussion on the diagnostic analysis would take place in the first quarter of 2017. Inputs would be used in provincial training workshops on the utilisation of TIMSS diagnostic information. The TIMSS-released items would be packaged for release to schools, together with a supply of national diagnostic assessment tools to further support School-Based Assessment (SBA).The data would further inform initiatives to establish a common textbook in mathematics, which outlined the same methodology on concepts for all learners. The data would also be used to further inform South Africa’s existing partnership training programmes with Japan, Korea and Cuba, to improve technical expertise in mathematics.

Discussion

A Member congratulated the Department on being able to ensure that there had been delivery of all stationery to 3 818 schools by 31 January 2017. The Committee should be provided with detailed information on the 48 countries that had participated in the TIMSS, as this was not clear from the presentation.

Mr G Davis (DA) said he was concerned by some of the language used in the report, as it as if the Department was content with what had been achieved thus far. The focus should rather be on what could be done to improve the system and to get the ranking up, because as much as it could be reported that South Africa was a “top dog”, the country had come last in science and second last in maths. It was unclear as to why South Africa did not have data for the performance of Grade 5 learners while the rest of the world had data for Grade 4, including in the TIMSS research. It would be important to know how the sample of the research was being determined and whether the sampling method was the same for all previous studies conducted.

Mr Davis suggested that more time should be spent on improving the system so that there was no complacency. He asked the DBE what they thought was the number one problem that was holding the country back in terms of achieving the set goals. He thought it could be the lack of qualified maths and science teachers, and made reference to a school that the Committee had visited last year in KwaZulu-Natal, where not a single learner had passed mathematics, and only 9% had passed maths literacy. It would be useful to hear the Department on the standard and quality of teachers that were teaching maths and science in the country.

A Member congratulated the delegation on the achievements made, as this was showing major improvements in a number of areas. It was also equally true that there were a number of areas that still required improvements, as pointed out by the previous speakers. The country should now reach a stage where the overall performance of learners should be compared on the international or regional level in order to observe if the country was making any meaningful improvement in the quality of its education. The Committee should also be provided with information on the countries that participated in the TIMSS. It was concerning to see that there were very few African countries that were participating in the TIMSS.

It was  good to see that the Department had made a comparison between the quality of education in South Africa and other international countries, but it was also critically important to make those comparisons with other African countries like Botswana. The analysis by the Department showed that those learners who were learning in their home language performed much better, and this was something that needed to be taken into consideration. The analysis also showed that those schools with flushing toilets performed better than those with no toilets. The Committee should also be provided with information in regard to the 48 countries that participated in the TIMSS, and how South Africa’s quality of education compared to them. What was the contribution of the Department in improving performance in maths and science in the country? 

Another Member commended the Department on the improvements achieved, regardless of the work that still needed to be done. It was concerning to see that the Department seemed to prioritise the policy of condoning learners to the next grade, as this implied that the Department was willing to reward non-performance. What had been done to improve maths and science in non-performing provinces? It would be important to know what contributed to the decline in the matric pass rate in the Western Cape Province. It was concerning to see that there was no data provided on the performance of Cuba in the TIMSS, as South Africa received a lot of assistance from Cuba and it would be nice to see how the country performed.

Ms H Boshoff (DA) said that all her questions had been raised by other Members, and mentioned that a specific district in Mpumalanga kept complaining about teachers who had absolutely no qualifications to teach either maths or science, and asked where and when the studies were done. She further asked what interventions there would be for pre-primary exposure, as there was also a problem of unqualified teachers. Wwhat was the Department doing about learners being subjected to bullying? Was the Department certain that all the codes of conduct for learners were in place, and were both victim and perpetrator counselled regarding the codes of conduct?  She asked how the underperformance was justified, and how the Department ensured that teachers passed the necessary knowledge on to learners when training the teachers.

Mr Padayachee said that the country would need to start investing on the teachers in order to improve the overall quality of education in the country. He confirmed that the sampling method remained the same -- it became a representative sample of the population of students, as it was not possible for the DBE to create its own sample. The Department had to comply with the sampling criteria, just like any other country participating in the study. The DBE needed to strengthen the current interventions in order to achieve good results and improve the fundamental skills and knowledge of learners by training teachers to focus on those fundamental skills. The Department could build on the existent interventions.

Mr Davis thanked the delegation for the clarity on the sampling issue, and said that it seemed to be a fairly small sample. The smaller the sample got, the higher the margin of error. He asked what the margin of error would be from the data provided. What measures were in place to ensure the security of the research questions to avoid giving respondents the next year an opportunity to improve the marks, since the questions remained the same every year?

Mr Padayachee replied that the questions were usually set within a certain age group, and the DBE then looked at which age group was most appropriate, which meant countries could choose which age group to administer. It was not a standard rule to choose the grades chosen by other countries, or that grades should be the same internationally.

Schools Readiness: DBE Briefing

Ms Palesa Tyobeka, DDG: Planning and Delivery Oversight Unit, DBE, said the main fundamental issue for the beginning of the year was that all admissions had been completed. The prioritised areas included admissions and registration, teacher provisioning, learning and teaching support materials, and basic infrastructure. This year the approach was to monitor two districts per province and two circuits in each of the provinces.

There had been an improvement in admissions and registrations in 2017. The issue of late registration had been handled much better in most of the predictable hotspots (primarily districts in metros and big cities), as all provinces had set up systems to manage unplaced learners. The main provinces that had a large number of applications were Gauteng, with over 30 000 online applications in 2016 for Grade 1 up to Grade 8, and the Western Cape. The Western Cape was still dealing with unplaced learners and some provinces were still experiencing challenges with placing learners. The challenges that remained were related largely to late applications, and the provinces and districts that were still finalising admissions were in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the Eastern Cape and Gauteng.

Over 95% of schools visited were ready for the start of the academic year. Both educators and learners had been at school on time and ready for learning and teaching. In-school registration of learners had been limited and was largely in schools that had performed well in the 2016 end-of-year exams.

It was reported that school post establishments had been declared in all provinces ahead of the new year. The majority of schools visited (99.2%) had received their post establishments, and provision had been made to have a teacher in front of every class for all subjects and all grades. Substantive posts had been filled in most instances. A few of the schools visited in Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and KZN had reported vacancies.

A sector plan for the procurement and delivery of Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM) had been communicated to all provinces by October 2015 for the procurement and delivery of LTSM in 2016 for the 2017 schools year. Provinces aligned their LTSM management plans to those of the DBE. According to the sector plan, delivery of materials to the district/provincial/schools should be between September and October prior to the start of the new school year.

In the Eastern Cape, for top-up textbooks, the percentage of delivery to date was 42%, because the new Head of Department (HOD) had decided to take a step back and had requested a quick assessment of the available textbooks because of delivery issues. The DBE hoped to have completed delivery by 28 February 2017. To date, 85% of books had been delivered to schools in the Free State. The figure excluded section 21 schools which procured their own stationery and textbooks. No textbooks had been delivered to schools prior to opening due to the fact that the Department had to shift and reprioritise funds to cater for the procurement of textbooks, since the budget for 2015/16 had been used to pay for 2014/15 accruals. There had been a successful delivery of textbooks in Limpopo for secondary schools (100%), with 94% delivery of textbooks in primary schools. Orders had been received from 1 919 schools. Textbook orders had been placed for only these schools, as the remaining schools had not ordered top-ups. On 6 February 2017 there had been a strike in Vhuwani in Limpopo, and the area had been inaccessible. Also in Limpopo, some roads had been inaccessible on 6 February due to rains in Vhembe.

All provinces had prioritised the procurement of Grade 12 Further Education and Training (FET) literature for the 2017 school year. The DBE had issued guidelines on how to procure the FET literature. 95% of literature had been delivered in the Free State, and 97% in the Eastern Cape. The status of delivery of Grade 12 literature to other provinces was 100%.

The DBE had faced the following challenges:

  • Limpopo: Given that there was no transversal tender in place for the province, National Treasury had prepared to advertise a tender only in September.  The province, however, had decided to have its own tender process which could be concluded only on 12 December 2017 after assistance from the DBE (Directorate LTSM). The DBE had further assisted in compressing the delivery timelines to within three weeks, which had resulted in all stationery being delivered to 3 818 schools by 31 January 2017.
  • Eastern Cape: The province placed textbook orders late due to the directive from the HOD to first ascertain the level of retrieval and availability of stock in schools. Publishers had been contacted to expedite deliveries.
  • Free State: The province had experienced budgetary challenges, hence the late placement of orders. Additional resources had been brought in to expedite deliveries.

Factors that continued to have an impact on the procurement and delivery of LTSM were:

  • Migration (internal and external) of learners.
  • Influx of learners into economically thriving provinces.
  • Late registrations.
  • Low retention and retrieval of textbooks.
  • Reluctance of the section 21 schools to join in a centralised procurement process.
  • Non-availability of LTSM reports from Section 21( c) schools.
  • The extent of shortages could be determined only by the rate of retrieval, as well as the influx of learners at the start of the new school year.
  • The mitigating strategies could be realised only if school principals reported their shortages timeously and were held accountable for not reporting of such shortages.
  • Publishers required timeframes for delivery of 6-8 weeks upon placement of orders.
  • Supplementary orders to address shortages could be placed only if budgets were available. If budget was not available, orders would be placed only when the new financial year’s budget was available.
  • The only means of addressing shortages immediately was if government set up a warehouse to be stocked with textbooks for such a purpose. This requirement had huge budget implications and would result in an audit query.

In terms of basic infrastructure, the focus was primarily on the cleanliness of school environments and classrooms; safe and clean ablution facilities; sufficient classroom accommodation; school furniture for learners and teachers; and scholar transport where required. All provinces showed relative improvement in this area compared to previous years - in all the areas above.There was significantly more and better furniture for both learners and educators.

The Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga had more schools that needed their ablution facilities improved, as well as schools that required more decent furniture.

On-site monitoring indicated specific issues in the provinces.

Eastern Cape:

  • Learner admissions largely proceeded in line with provincial guidance. Altogether 78 schools had reported pressures of capacity to accommodate learners and had long waiting lists as at 20January. These had since been addressed.
  • Teacher provisioning had been smoother than in past years. Highlights in this area had been the appointment of Grade R teachers and Remedial Educators for schools.  There were, however, 34 vacant HoD posts and 83 PL1 educators in the schools visited.
  • LTSM: Although significant progress had been made recently, the delivery of textbooks remained a serious challenge. Textbook delivery had commenced on 11 January and these were expected to be concluded on 30 April 2017. 

Free State:

  • Learner admissions: Some late applications were still being processed when schools opened. Schools that performed well in the 2016 NSC were particularly under pressure to admit more learners.
  • Teacher provisioning: All schools had received their approved staff establishments in 2016. However, some vacancies had been identified and were being addressed.
  • LTSM: Workbooks and stationery had been received. Shortages had been reported in schools with unexpected high enrolments and these were being addressed.
  • Basic infrastructure: While the state of schools had improved, there were still worrying shortages of space and furniture for both learners and teachers – and water.

Gauteng:

  • Admissions and registrations: The province had received a total of 312 088 applications for Grade 1 and 8 in 2017. All of these had now been placed. An additional 19 537 applications had been received when schools opened and of these, 284 were currently unplaced. An update on their placement was still awaited.
  • Nine new ordinary schools had been opened. One special school would also be opened in 2017.
  • LTSM was largely in place. Challenges identified had been addressed as soon as they were picked up.
  • Teacher provisioning was well under control, including growth posts and library assistants.
  • Furniture needs had been quantified in 2016 and provisioning was continuing during reopening.

Kwa-Zulu Natal:

  • Day one of 2017 saw good learner and educator attendance in 95% of the schools. The exceptions were schools with children that belonged to the Nazareth Baptist Church that holds its Pilgrimage in January. Quintile 1 – 3 schools and some Quintile 4 schools provided meals. The one unfortunate incident was the death of six learners from schools in the Pinetown District.
  • Admissions and registrations: A significant number of schools had not finalised admissions in the Harry Gwala and King Cetshwayo districts.
  • Teacher provisioning: All substantive posts had been filled and most schools visited had qualified teachers.
  • LTSM: Some shortages had been identified due to limited norms and standards funding. The province attending to these.
  • School furniture was proving to be a challenge in schools with increased learner numbers.

Limpopo:

  • Learner admissions and registrations had been hampered by late applications. Particular pressure was also felt by schools in Polokwane.
  • LTSM: Top-up textbooks had been delivered, although there were challenges in some subjects where books had not been delivered. A number of schools in Mopani, Waterberg, Tshipise-Sagole and Vhembe were also experiencing serious shortages of stationery. The province had reported that they had addressed all the identified challenges.
  • Community protests had affected school openings at two schools in Sekhukhune, where the community was demanding new school buildings, and 42 schools in Vhembe, where the community was demanding a tarred road.
  • Basic infrastructure: Toilets remained a challenge at a number of schools visited, with the worst affected being schools in Mopani.

Mpumalanga:

  • Learner admissions: The first day had gone well, with a few admission cases still being finalised, mainly in Mbombela, White River and Emalahleni.
  • LTSM: Stationery deliveries had been completed in 2016 and textbooks for new schools and new grades also completed in 2016. The delivery of workbooks was complete.
  • Scholar transport had been identified as a problem in the Daggaskraal and Wakkerstroom areas.
  • New schools: Three schools had been opened in 2017 -- two in Nkangala and one in Bohlabela.

Northern Cape:

  • Admissions and registration had been largely well managed. Frances Baard and John Taolo  Gaetsewe (JTG) were still dealing with unplaced learners in schools in towns.
  • Teacher provisioning: Namakwa District was struggling to attract suitably qualified teachers in nine small and rural schools, while JTG had a problem of high enrolments and therefore, needed additional teachers. There were some vacancies in Frances Baard. Funza Lushaka graduates were being considered to address the problem.
  • Basic Infrastructure: JTG had experienced a challenge of accommodation due to high enrolments. Mobile classrooms had been considered to provide relief.

North West:

  • Admissions and registrations had not been finalised in accordance with provincial guidelines. Many schools particularly in the Bojanala district were still busy with registrations.
  • LTSM: A number of schools were experiencing shortages. The matter was being addressed.
  • Teacher provisioning: Contracts for temporary teachers had not been renewed at the end of 2016. The province had since renewed all that had been identified. It had also looked at the redeployment of excess teachers. Further updates were awaited from the province.
  • Sanitation and learner furniture both needed immediate attention.

Western Cape:

  • Learner admissions: All schools had started well, even though there were still late applications being handled. The province had had approximately 9 030 unplaced learners. These currently stood at 2 966.
  • Post-provisioning: Post establishments had been issued to all schools in 2016.  Of the approximately 28 000 posts filled, approximately 1 300 were contract educators.
  • LTSM: Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) textbooks and Grade 12 literature books had been at 80% delivery when schools reopened. Outstanding deliveries were due to be completed by the end of January.
  • School furniture had been delivered, but challenges with teacher furniture and library tables were being experienced. The province was looking into this.

The Portfolio Committee (PC) on Basic Education, together with the Select Committee, had visited Port Elizabeth. Issues raised by both officials and members of the community, which were being addressed urgently by the Province included vacancies in both schools and the district, overcrowding in schools, shortages of maths, science and accounting teachers, slow movement of teachers additional to the establishment, and a continuing shortage of LTSM and poor quality stationery.

The PC and the Select Committee had also visited Ilembe and the King Cetshwayo districts. An early issue that had arisen was an allegation by district officials that they got victimized/ purged when they raised issues. The key issues raised included:

  • Understaffing in districts, including a critical shortage of subject advisors.
  • A province that always sided with teacher unions against district officials;
  • Delays in finalising Policy and Procedure on Incapacity Leave and Ill-Health Retirement (PILIR) cases;
  • Uncoordinated programmes for progressed learners.

KZN had indicated that they had provided the PC with a report on all the issues raised.

The Parliamentarians had visited Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Local Municipality. Their findings had centred on:

  • Overall unsatisfactory district support .The province seemed to be playing the support function more than districts.
  • Schools struggled with turnaround strategies, seemingly with little or no district support.
  • A worrying lack of transformation in former model C schools, with fees being used to bar learners of colour while neighbouring African schools continued to be overcrowded.
  • A concern of the Parliamentarians was the apparent support by senior officials -- including district directors -- who seemed to advocate and support this.
  • Low enrolments in maths and science.
  • Lack of visibility of the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign (QLTC), given the extent of psycho-social, socio-economic and community challenges affecting schools in PixleykaSeme.

Province had taken the findings of the PC seriously, and was attending to them.

Second Chance Matric Programme

In 2017, the project would focus on support for all three phases.  These were learners that qualified to write the supplementary examinations, including those upgrading (examinations written in February/March); Progressed learners sitting for the modularised writing option for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) as well as candidates sitting for the extended Senior Certificate (examinations written in June); and any individual that that failed to meet the NSC requirements, or upgrading the NSC and were enrolled as part-time candidates (examinations written in November).

At this stage, a Member of the Committee interrupted the speaker and argued that it was almost midday, and there was still another presentation to be done on the status of Vuwani, and he did not see the Committee hearing that presentation since they were moving at a slow pace. He asked for the Chairperson’s intervention, as it was critical for the Portfolio Committee to get an opportunity to have discussions and an engagement with the Department. He contended that it was a waste of time and quite patronising to sit at the meeting for hours and to have a presentation that they had already seen, read out to them. He argued that the real value of the meeting was engagement, but were instead packing the meeting with being read to by the Department. He asked if they could rather have an engagement with the Department, as there was only 40 minutes left before the meeting ended.

The DBE continued that it was having a digital on-line course where all content, including video lessons offered by Stellenbosch University and Free State University, as well as radio broadcasts, were available online, with access from various platforms. All printed material was also available as online resources. Learners preparing for all phases may access this content throughout the year. The resources were compatible on all devices. Learners could request feedback and support via the Facebook page, and Second Chance Matric Programme subject advisors would provide the necessary feedback. The internet access venues included:

  • Mzanzi Online Libraries Project, which offered free wifi and internet;
  • National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) internet cafés in all nine provinces offered free internet;
  • 74 Vodacom centres nationally;
  • It could be accessed on personal computers/ devices;
  • Thusong centres;
  • Community centres;
  • Municipal wifi hotspots

The DBE had some print resources that were available at district offices and the DBE. The resources included: ‘Mind the Gap’, in eight of the 11 subjects which was available; past question papers (2015 and 16) available for June and November examinations; Study tips available for June and November examinations; maths and science textbooks available for June and November examinations; diagnostic reports (currently being finalised) available in June and November; learner revision books (currently being developed).

Vuwani situation: Briefing

The Chairperson suggested that the presentation for the status of Vuwani should be a quick update, as time was limited.

The protests in Vuwani and their aftermath had affected a lot of schools, mostly in Vhuronga 1, Vhuronga 2, Malamulele West, Hlanganani South and Hlanganani North circuits. In order to mitigate the impact of the protests, catch-up programmes had been organized. For Grades 1 to 11 learners, the special programme developed included the “chunking” of the content to ensure that the work was covered over the available period after the period of total shut down. For Grade 12 learners, camps had been organised in three institutions -- the Mastec, Tivumbeni and Makhado CPT centres.

Learners and teachers in Vuwani had received counselling and support from the Pastors’ Forum and the Departments of Health and Social Development. A Departmental team, comprising curriculum advisors, governance officials and circuit managers had also provided support in identified schools and communities. Donations received had included textbooks, stationery, photocopiers, data projectors and laptops, sanitary towels, toiletries, eating utensils, brooms and mops, science kits and desks, and these were all being put to good use. All these collectively came from the following donors: Game, Massmart, Mvula Trust, StatsSA, Letaba Estate, Leda, KLM and the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT).

The NSC results for 2016 revealed that schools in Vhuronga 1 had performed significantly better than schools in Vhuronga 2. Vhuronga 1 was the best performing circuit in both the district and province. The majority of schools that were damaged were in Vhuronga 2. The same patterns could be observed in Grades 1-11, which suggested that the impact on learner performance was significant across all grades. At the beginning of the year, Nzhelele West, Sekgosese North; Soutpansberg North and Hlanganani North circuits had experienced disturbances due to community protests.

All schools in Vuwani had received stationery, although there were still shortages and non-delivery in certain subjects. Delivery was continuing. Promotional posts had been filled. Substitute teacher posts were being filled as they arose. Nzhelele West, Sekgosese North, Soutpansberg North and Hlanganani North had had disruptions when schools opened. To try and ensure the situation did not get out of control, the Province had decided not to give extraordinary attention to Vuwani at the expense of the rest of the province.

The story of Vuwani remained a sore point, and had left the system with invaluable lessons, such as:

  • Protection of the right to a basic education. The protests in Vuwani were community protests but they impacted massively on education. There was clearly a need to educate communities about the importance of protecting and upholding the right to a basic education.
  • Stakeholders: Stakeholders such as parents, civic leaders, religious leaders, School Governing Bodies (SGBs) and others were often not drawn into the protection of the right to a basic education for all children when there were no challenges. These relations needed to be strengthened and kept alive throughout. When these came together in Vuwani, it became possible to make decisions jointly to benefit learners.
  • Interdepartmental partnerships: In a similar manner as with general stakeholder partnerships, interdepartmental partnerships did not exist outside a crisis. This was an area that needed to be strengthened. The different government departments had to work as a collective to provide relief in Vuwani.
  • Strengthening legislation: The Criminal Procedure Act needed to be extended to include loss, damage or the tampering with essential infrastructure that provided basic services such as health and education.

The Vuwani experience had also left lessons for the entire system with respect to the management of crisis points. Since 2015, Vhembe -- the district where Vuwani was located -- had had two major upheavals, Malamulele in 2015 and Vuwani in 2016. In 2015, the Vhembe District had been encouraged to provide extraordinary support to Malamulele to mitigate the impact of the community protests on learning outcomes. The Malamulele Circuit had topped the provincial circuit performance;

In 2016, with the Vuwani upheavals, Vhembe was again encouraged to provide extraordinary support to Vuwani. Vuwani had topped the province in circuit NSC performance. In both instances, the performance of the Vhembe District had declined (Vuwani represented approximately 2 000 Grade 12 candidates in 2016, compared to Vhembe’s total enrolment of just under 26 000 candidates). What happened in both instances was that all the district and provincial resources had been redirected to Vuwani. New strategies needed to be explored.

Discussion

A Member thanked the delegation for the presentation, but went on to mention that there were about 800 schools in the Eastern Cape that had been built inappropriately.

Ms Boshoff said it was clear from the presentations that the schools monitored were not from the extreme rural areas, because if one went to those areas it was clear that learners were suffering, and this issue needed to be addressed. Regarding the majority of unplaced learners in Gauteng and Western Cape, she suggested the Department should look into the situation, because the little schools were not being attended to.  She added that the reports given on post provisions could not be true, because if one went into the extreme rural areas one found one teacher standing in front of a class of about 60 or 80 learners, and those learners could not all pass. She had heard that some schools were complaining about the poor quality of pens and pencils received. Some schools had learners sharing toilets with their teacher, and this showed that the Department did not deliver.

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) said that there needed to be a proper investigation at schools that were reported to be doing well but were in actual fact performing poorly. He suggested that parents, learners and members of the community be questioned about the quality of education and state of the schools so that there could be a full understanding, because the people on the ground knew the truth.

Mr Davis agreed with Mr Mnguni with the idea of there being a different picture on the ground compared to the given statistics, which did not represent the reality on the ground. He said that the reliability of the statistics needed to be interrogated. When the Committee had visited schools in the Eastern Cape, they had been addressed by the MEC who had frankly informed them that textbooks had not been delivered, and it was the first time it had happened in three years. When the Portfolio Committee went to the schools, they had been told that the lack of textbook delivery was not an unusual phenomenon, since the books were never delivered. He said it was absolutely unacceptable that in South Africa one could be a month and a half into the school year, and hear that textbooks had not been delivered in some schools, and 42% of textbooks had not been delivered in the Eastern Cape.  He asked how the Department could not know the exact number of unplaced learners, the exact number of vacant teacher posts and of repeat offenders.

The delegation was requested to address all the questions that they had not responded to, in writing to the Committee.

Mr Davis said that the Committee meetings were important, as were the presentations, and trying to tackle them in one day would not be fruitful. It was a waste of time to have the Department read to the Committee a pre-prepared presentation and have the delegation fail to answer questions that the Portfolio Committee raised. He asked whether the problem was with the Committee or with the way the meeting was planned, because it seemed as if they had wasted their time.

The Chairperson said that she could not change the programme of Parliament and suggested the Members should sit together and discuss the issue of time and address the issues that were of concern. She thanked Members and the delegation for their efforts and time.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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