Infrastructure and Rationalisation; Provincial Education Departments Reporting System review

Basic Education

07 March 2017
Chairperson: Ms N Gina (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) gave a presentation on the progress of the Provincial Education Department (PED) reporting systems and how the information received directly from provinces is utilised by the DBE for accounting and reporting purposes. This mandate was given to the DBE by National Treasury in May 2007 to provide a framework for managing programme performance information. The DBE therefore coordinates and collates information from the nine provinces on a quarterly basis to report and account.

DBE then briefed the Committee on infrastructure and the rationalisation of small and non-viable schools, provided through two programmes: the Provincial Programme and the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI). These programmes are implemented by the provinces and funded by the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG). The presentation focused on the last quarterly results paying special attention to KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga.

 The Committee was pleased with the work of DBE and brought 42 issues to the department’s attention.  The Committee strongly supported the rationalisation of schools. They were particularly concerned with monitoring the progress of these projects on the ground to keep the provinces accountable for the grants given. The Committee advised that the DBE works with other departments to monitor such matters as maintenance of approach roads, electrification of schools, sanitation, and maintenance of schools. The Committee reiterated that the communities surrounding schools should be involved as much as possible in the rationalisation of schools. The Committee insisted that the interests of the children are paramount to these projects and should always be kept in mind.

Meeting report

The Chairperson stated that the purpose of this meeting is to verify how truthful the information is that is coming from the provinces. How does the Committee verify this information in order to check the progress of the projects?  The Committee is focusing predominantly on the ASIDI programme and how provinces utilises the EIG for the purposes of that grant. This meeting is aimed at fighting against improper structures. It is important there are norms and standards in infrastructure for schools. The due date for finalising these was November 2016. What are the goals for norms and standards and how can DBE enforce these?

Infrastructure Programme implementation: progress report
The DBE delegation was led by Dr Granville Whittle, Deputy Director General: Social Mobilisation and Support Services.  

Mr Ramasedi Mafoko, DBE Director for Planning, reported on reporting measures to keep the provinces accountable. In terms of the regulations on norms and standards, the first target of the three-year goals was 29 November 2016. By that time, they were supposed to meet basic service needs, such as sanitation and electricity.

The Department would that progress is being made. In the last presentation given in 2016, they had not met the targets as set out. The provinces which did not meet the targets were asked to report on their failure to meet these standards. This presentation would show the shortcomings of some of the provinces and how they have planned to complete these projects by the end of the financial year.

Secondly this report will focus on the inappropriate structures. There are uncompleted projects within the ASIDI programme, but since the deadline for the ASIDI programme is next year, this should not worry the Committee. Schools that were not identified for the ASIDI programme will be factored into the province plans. Provinces are indicating how these schools will be accommodated within the programme. Treasury has indicated that the programme will be completed in the year.

The basic services need to be distinguished from the 30-year process where there are very basic services provided but without sufficient services such as toilet seats which is deemed necessary by the norms and standards, and this will be completed in the seven-year plan.

The Provincial Programme and the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) are intended to contribute to Presidential Outcome 1 which aims to improve the quality of basic education, as well as ensuring that the physical infrastructure and environment of every school inspire learners to want to learn and teachers to teach, according to Schooling 2030: Goal 24.

Mr Mafoko explained that the key areas are basic infrastructure provision, maintenance of schools, replacing inappropriate schools, provision of basic services, and extending existing schools with additional resources. He then presented the budget and figures for this endeavour (see document).

Challenges have been tracked via the reports and onsite visits to the schools in the various provinces. Insufficient budget meant that not all targets set in the Regulations Relating to Minimum Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure are met. There are delays in planning and procurement, leading to delays in getting the projects filtering to implementation. There is also slow progress in the implementation of the capacitation of infrastructure units in provinces, as well a lack of appropriate professional skills. The next presentation will deal more comprehensively with the lack of accurate data for effective planning and how DBE can combat this. Furthermore, there are issues with provincial decisions to utilise Department of Public Work as the sole implementing agent. Another challenge is that the current rate of expenditure leaves considerable room for improvement as there has been severe underspending amongst the provinces.

Rationalisation of small and non-viable schools
Rationalisation refers to the carefully planned and implemented process of discontinuing schools that have become non-viable due to enrolment decline. The merger and closure of schools is aimed at improving the quality of education. Mr Mafoko focused predominantly on the progress of three provinces: KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and the Eastern Cape.

The KZN Department of Education embarked on a programme, Transformation of the Schooling System, in November 2012. This programme seeks to address: consolidation of small and non-viable schools, eradication of non-viable satellite schools, reduction of multi-grades, renaming of schools, provisions of ECD classrooms to all public primary schools and the streamlining of typologies of the schooling system. The programme was introduced in all 12 districts, targeting schools with learner enrolment of 1-50.

The KZN Education Department has now identified a total of 664 primary schools and 201 secondary schools that have been earmarked for systematic rationalisation in 2016/17 so far. The Department has so far merged 171 non-viable and satellite schools.

Eastern Cape
The Eastern Cape PED identified 2 077 schools designated as small and unviable in 2015. The closure and merger of schools will be done in phases over a three-year period with 2016/17 being the planning phase. 1 902 of the original 2 077 small and unviable schools have been given notice informing them of the intention to close them.

In total 34 schools are to be closed, but it is expected to be implemented in phases over several financial periods. It is planned that three boarding schools will be built.

Improvement of PED Reporting Systems
The mandate of accounting and reporting received directly from the provinces was given to the DBE by the National Treasury in May 2007 to provide a framework for managing programme performance information. The DBE therefore coordinates and collates information from the nine provinces on a quarterly basis to report and account. Mr Mafoko focused on the reporting areas such as school readiness, performance monitoring of conditional grants and financial reporting of conditional grants. He highlighted the instruments used to the collect the data such as the school readiness questionnaire and the National School Learner Attainment (NSLA).

There has been a standardising of sectoral goals as well as performance measures for planning and monitoring released annually. There has also been the creation of a sectoral practice of engaging and interrogating information collected and reported to ensure integrity in reporting. There has been an overall improvement in the quality of reporting and informing strategic decision making.

Areas of Weakness and Remedial Action
There are currently gaps in plans and reports that have been identified to strengthen the quality of the reports. There is also a lack of quality assurance and verification of the reported information as well as the evidencing process.

The Chairperson thanked the DBE for their informative presentation. However, she wondered if they had glossed over the other provinces by focusing only on Mpumalanga, KZN, and the Eastern Cape in their presentation. There are a lot of problems in the small schools in Gauteng, for example, that was not included, which leaves the presentation incomplete. She noted that it is possible to turn a blind eye to Gauteng and Western Cape because there is an assumption that all is running smoothly. However some reports say otherwise.

Mr H Khosa (ANC) asked whether all schools have serious infrastructure challenges and if DBE has a list of prioritised schools. If this list existed, could it be made available to the Committee as soon as possible?

Secondly, the presentation dealt with providing transportation to learners to their merged schools. Mr Khosa asked whether the provinces get these guidelines and then would rationalise their transport and education departments. He suggested that the transport department in each province merge with the education department in order to prioritise the maintenance of the roads used by those transporting the learners.

Thirdly it must be realised that DBE is in a difficult situation but progress must be made in schools about their maintenance and monitoring that maintenance.

Mr Mafoko responded regarding the planning process of infrastructure. The department identifies a school from a project list that the schools submit. Schools are identified based on the condition assessment. Schools with Conditions 1 and 2 need to be addressed sooner. These schools need to be on the project list. The availability of the budget influences this. Since 2013 the DBE is working on a budget released over 10 years. The projects are then visited every year after completion so they can be monitored. The project list is on the DBE website but it can be made available to members

Ms N Marchesi (DA) congratulated DBE on their report. However, she discovered that 4 624 schools have yet to have toilets installed, but according to norms and standards this is not allowed, it has been deemed illegal. This has been an issue for a long time and the Committee needs to know what is stalling the installation of proper toilets.

The other issue seen in this presentation is that of planning and implementation. The budget does not include a project manager which is essential for these projects.  For planning one would ask a project manager and yet the budget does not cover those projects. If a project manager is not involved or DBE is unable to manage the projects, then they will be discarded. For the projects to be successful, they need to be fully completed; rather than DBE jumping from one uncompleted project to another.

Ms Marchesi queried the coupling of the target number of schools to be built and the budget as laid out by the norms and standards; is the budget allocated on the target schools? She pointed out that in the Eastern Cape only 11% of the budget was utilised in maintaining the schools. She asked if there was a way to make the provinces accountable that they fully utilise the money granted for schools. If no steps are taken to rectify this lack of accountability, it is possible that the community could sue DBE for a misallocation of funds.

Mr Mafoko replied that in terms of implementation, there are several factors that can delay this process. When delays occur, DBE advises that there is a repository of projects that can be activated so that the budget does not stagnate. When the delay is resolved, the previous project can be returned to.

In the Free State, DBE has assisted the province with a project management unit to help the department on delays. They have had problems with attracting appropriate workforce, but those issues are being resolved. The allocation of funds given to the schools by the provinces is closely monitored by DBE in order that they are not mismanaged.

Prof T Msimang (IFP) appreciated the report’s clearness and stated that it shows a lot of commitment from DBE. He believes that the Committee will be most effective if they focus predominantly on what happens on the ground when looking at the merging and maintenance of schools. When schools merge into mega schools, there is a reduction in posts. He struggled to see if DBE has an acceptable solution for this, as it had produced a fair amount of tension in the merged schools. He noted that there has not been effective communication between DBE and the stakeholders. A fair number of communities are unhappy as they believe their school should be kept, despite its non-viable status. There are also long distances to be considered. Some of the roads are so bad that no one can be transported. In summary, the merger of schools is a good concept but there are some logistical problems.

On maintenance, Prof Msimang said many of the schools are switching to Section 21 status. Thus, it is uncertain if the government body has the necessary financial capacity to budget for the school’s needs. Usually if they do not, the maintenance of the school is the first thing to suffer. Although priority is given to the fencing of schools, there are still several small schools where even this is not maintained due to financial needs. There is the worrying factor of billing of electricity which is out of the budget that the school could afford. He appreciated the number of schools that have been electrified; DBE has exceeded its target in this. Yet he wondered if it was fact or merely his perception that urban schools were given preference to rural ones in terms of electrification. It was his feeling that many rural schools are neglected; however Prof Msimang would be happy if this was simply his perception.

Water supply to schools continues to be a problem. Some better supplied schools in KZN have even reported that they sometimes must close schools because of a lack of water. Prof Msimang would like to know more about departmental plans for dealing with shortage of water.

Mr Mafoko responded to Prof Msimang stating that DBE does not abdicate its responsibility to maintain schools. They have what they call day to day maintenance which is provided by the Department. But they also have preventative maintenance that is from the province.

The Department does not preference urban schools over rural schools. This is a perception. Solar panels are often stolen in rural areas, and they do not have a theft proof way of establishing this. That is what creates the perception that no effort has been made to electrify rural areas. DBE has worked with Eskom to put in a line to a village, because they were not electrified and this resulted in the whole village having electricity.

The drought does play a role in the shortage of water. The Department is trying to institute bore holes. As well as rain harvesting tanks; in the absence of rain they have to rely on the municipalities to transport water. But the municipalities are not very reliable. But this will be addressed further.

Regarding billing for electricity, it is a finance matter. There are currently discussions on this but the information is not readily available.

Ms S Boshoff (DA) noted that the information received from the provinces is not the correct information. Personal oversight has indicated that 358 schools in Mpumalanga do not have access to adequate sanitation. According to the Premier’s address, these schools would have adequate sanitation at the end of 2016. Three months had gone by and no progress had been made. Another problem is 100 learners from the Nkomazi area had to be moved to Mhlaba Primary School because basic sanitation has not been provided at the nearby school. These conditions are not acceptable.

A school for the deaf in Mpumalanga was promised to be built. This promise was made three years ago, and nothing happened due to it being reported that there was not enough money. Yet the budget was increased from R250 million to R350 million.  Ms Boshoff asked why it was increased if the school has not been built. She asked if there were any reports that the students from non-viable schools have been incorporated into the new schools. The Committee needs to keep in mind that they are also uprooting family structures by merging schools as some learners must go to school far away and cannot see their families on a regular basis due to inadequate schooling. A further issue of merging schools is the consolidation of teachers. She asked what happens to the teachers at home during the consolidation process and a report is required on the money spent on the teachers during the process. Also required is a report on the buildings of the non-viable schools that are left. Ms Boshoff wondered if they may be utilised in some other way.

Mr Mafoko replied that the 300 schools that do not have sanitation are included in the report as DBE did not achieve these goals. The implementation of norms and standards is not a linear process. Just because they are dealing with electricity in one province; it does not mean that the department is then neglecting the sanitation of other schools. If a goal is not achieved, it will be included in the budget for the next year

There is a boarding school for the deaf but that project was not initially in the province plan and it took money from other projects as it was not budgeted for. DBE took it to Treasury but then thought of the effect that the school has on the learner. This school although not funded by DBE, should be funded by the province

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) appreciated the presentations and the work that DBE has done. He reiterated Prof Msimang’s point of evaluating the issues on the ground and asked for a report to be done from that perspective, especially from the communities’ perspective. He found, when he was in the Eastern Cape, that although schools have merged, there was no proper consultation with the chiefs or the districts.  When the schools are merged, there is often more than one staff member for one post, which leads to turf wars and tension. On the renaming of the schools, the chiefs of particular areas will object to the change and can cause community unrest. There should be some investigation into what the community specifically objects to in the merger. Mr Mnguni objected to the allocation of ASIDI programmes as the Eastern Cape had three programmes, while the KZN had fewer. He similarly objected to the safety of the older buildings of the non-viable schools that potentially contain asbestos. He also insisted that the curriculum delivered in schools is strictly monitored as they are currently not producing adequate results.

Mr Mafoko replied that DBE is in charge of 8 100 projects; the least they can do is to sample projects to see if they are not stagnated. Now they have teams going out quarterly to see if the projects are moving. Even if a project is moving well, they need to check the quality of the school.

DBE is also intensifying its relationship with local government. The Department of Public Works is the custodian of these old schools. It is vital that these projects start at a local level to see if the municipality has any use for the non-viable school buildings. However, DBE does need to put some timelines in place to check that this is done. There are situations where this has been done, but there are delays and this needs to be monitored. Remember that when the ASIDI project was started, there were entire inappropriate structures, the second phase of ASIDI will deal with the partial inappropriate structures.

Ms N Mokoto (ANC) raised underspending as this affected the final audit and budget outcomes of DBE in future. However, there was sufficient elaboration in the presentation to show DBE intervened on this problem. The old infrastructure in the provinces may be dispensed with on their own prerogative. She questioned a discrepancy in the report as DBE mentioned that they required some people in the special skills branch, and yet these people did not appear in the report. Follow up on maintenance by government is difficult but needs to be closely monitored. It needs to reach the schools on the ground. DBE should monitor the resources allocated to provinces for maintenance.

Ms Mokoto noted there are still some schools that do not have basic sanitation. She asked if these schools are on the provincial list or if there is any plan to put them on the list, rather than simply moving on to other projects leaving them uncompleted. Is there any way to intervene on behalf of these schools? Maintenance of the schools already on the project list should be the biggest priority. The department should pay attention to the Eastern Cape, as every year a certain budget is given and the next year the money is more. Every year we budget for Eastern Cape, and the next year more budget is given, and no results are seen. The allocation of the money needs to be more thoroughly monitored.

With regard to technology and the cost of electrification of schools, Ms Mokoto asked for DBE’s progress with installing solar panels and its lack of prioritisation in poorer rural areas where the province cannot pay the bill. She further asked about DBE expenditure as it is budgeting for R100 million and yet only R60 million was spent. This underspending needs to be explained by the Department.

Mr Mafoko responded about underspending, saying that DBE monitors the performance of the provinces on a quarterly basis. This is because there are situations where the budget is not being managed well. It is vital to ensure that all the projects have contractors on site all the time so projects can be completed

There is an infrastructure implementation plan, where the capacity of the service providers is checked. What DBE has found is that there is a juniorisation of staff, where the projects are given unqualified or recently qualified architects or project managers which delays and even hinders progress.

Mr Mafoko replied that DBE intends to fill those vacancies by the end of the year. This is made difficult as they are competing with other departments for workforce. It is usually about the salaries as they cannot match what the private sector can pay. There are some instances where there simply are not any engineers applying. This is not within the Department’s control. What is in their control is the hierarchy on site, where they are ensuring that there is at least one advanced engineer on site.

On boarding schools, when DBE visited some, the operational budget came to R90 million per annum. The building itself is not the issue but the maintenance costs are a considerable amount. The learners vandalise the schools, and thus boarding schools are not a silver bullet that can solve all needs.

Mr G Davis (DA) congratulated DBE on their presentation. He wished to address the rationalisation of schools, particularly the closing of schools and how this was received by the public in the past. In 2012 the Western Cape identified 20 schools for closure. The Western Cape ANC vigorously opposed this. They put together the coalition Save our School which culminated in a court case which ruled against them and the rationalisation continued. Given this history, Mr Davis asked if there been any opposition to the closing of these schools. Who is opposing this and does DBE have a stakeholder management strategy to manage any potential opposition? He also felt it important to establish the Committee’s position on closing schools. The ANC members in the past protested closing of schools and would they do the same in the future.

The Chairperson responded to Mr Davis saying that ANC has never opposed rationalisation. It is incorrect to say that the ruling party is opposing this. Rationalisation was not and is not opposed by the ANC and she requested that Mr Davis rephrase his question.

Mr Davis did not wish to rephrase his question and stated that the Western Cape ANC has not the same view as the national body of the ANC.

The Chairperson remarked that Mr Davis should not make matters political and that the Western Cape ANC and the general ANC are one and the same. The Chairperson said that in the specific instance of the Western Cape, the stakeholders were protesting not about rationalisation but about the lack of consultation.

Mr Davis replied that there are thousands of speeches reporting that the Western Cape ANC were against school closures but now nationally the ANC are for school closures. He wishes for clarity on this matter.

Secondly Mr Davis wished to highlight the effect that the school closures have on the children as it is the children that are the Committee’s first priority. How many children in each of these provinces do not have a school when these schools are closed and what plans are put into place to ensure that no child is left behind through merging.

Mr Mafoko stated that he was not familiar with the outcome on the school closures in the Western Cape. The Western Cape Eduction Minister was present and will be able to report on the outcome. The consultation of the community is in the guidelines as well as a strategy to aid with conflict resolution.

What will happen to these learners? The aim of this programme is the interest of the children, if the province does not have money for transport, DBE must close the school. The common issues would mostly be resolved by DBE being on the ground so that it does not wholly rely on reports. It is humanly impossible to visit all the schools. But DBE could draw a sample from a few schools. It would also have to visit with HR for teacher placement. The aim would be to do as much on site management as possible to verify if the report is true.

Mr T Khoza (ANC) wished to check with DBE about the quality of the infrastructure specifically buildings and furniture and wanted to ascertain how long they would last without maintenance. Like Ms Mokoto, he is worried about the long-term spending habits of ASIDI. There is definite underspending. Addressing sanitation is also paramount. DBE needs to make steps to prioritise this. Furthermore, the budget indicates that there are large amounts of money channelled to the municipality, and yet the results do not indicate this.

The Chairperson asked if the EIG is monitored properly in terms of infrastructure. Whenever DBE talks of lack of infrastructure, they miss the point about monitoring to see if the EIG is being utilised for this purpose. She asked if it would be possible to get an EIG briefing to see what the provinces are doing with what they have been given.

Looking at the background and dynamics of the country, having a pit toilet that was decent was a privilege. It is not a privilege anymore. What does DBE have in mind for utilising the norms and standards? The definition of adequate sanitation needs to be defined by the norms and standards. She asked for clarity on some figures on slide 17 of the second presentation. She wanted a simple answer on whether the schools targeted in ASIDI were making progress and if were they going forward to their targets.

As a Committee, they need to have stakeholder meetings with the community. One reason that came through sharply was that mergers themselves will always be supported by the community. However, in the Eastern Cape, while they were not opposed to the rationalisation, they were opposed to the lack of consultation between them and the province. How is DBE managing this consultation process, and how are they involving the community in this?

Mr Mafoko responded on whether there is any timeframe for non-viable school buildings being left unused, stating that there is no timeline. The Department should enhance the guidelines to accommodate this. In one of the merged schools in Limpopo, the principal said there was psychological impact on the children in the school from being moved, DBE are also looking at support in that regard. The on-site verification will aid in both these matters as well as ascertaining whether there is transport for merged schools

On roads, it depends on the provincial executive. In KZN the transport department had to provide transport for learners. This is a provincial matter. It is agreed that the roads are not sufficient. That is an issue that the DBE needs to engage on with the Department of Transport.

The main thing that normally comes out in terms of the typologies of the names of schools is that in the end the school governing body needs to solve this, and perhaps name something else after the chief. The Department does not propose the names. The names come from the community, as it gives the community the sentimental power to rename the school. Thus, there is less resistance, because they are involved. The Department intends to involve them as much as possible. The rationalisation of schools cannot happen in isolation from other units, if they can be integrated they will be.

In summary, the DBE shall enhance the monitoring on the ground, and not rely so much on the reports. There are several problems that need to be closely monitored.

Mr Mafoko stated that DBE needed to ensure provinces prioritise needy schools. They also need to see that the schools are implemented in good time, and thus it has intensified the monitoring to check this.

He replied that in some rural areas where you do not have sewage pipes, a ventilated pit toilet is acceptable according to the guidelines. The Department can also provide a septic tank. But this requires a lot of maintenance, will probably not be checked and is thus not sustainable. There are provinces that did not meet the targets. Where there were pit toilets, they were eradicated. If they were not, they will be prioritised.

Slide 17 should be read in conjunction with slide 36. In slide 36 the current projects in ASIDI are indicated. This gives a balance of 217. And then there are 65 out of 217 schools that are closed. Slide 36 gives more explanation on those figures.

The Chairperson asked where they put in the report the private providers and where does DBE need these private providers for reporting. There are all these levels of monitoring in the Department, so what then is DBE saying about its reporting abilities?  

Mr Khoza stated that it is worrying that the DBE is possibly not receiving correct information from the provinces. Is there a way DBE can follow up and keep accountable those reporting?

Ms Mokoto would like to suggest that in the budget, it must be made certain that monitoring is strengthened. There are certain connotations that you cannot rely on the provinces for correct reporting on the projects, can DBE clarify on this?

Mr Mafoko replied that per the annual reporting plan, the data is not always made available because it is self-reported and needs to be validated. That is why the provinces’ reports are not fully reliable. This is about strategy planning, this requires data that needs to be validated. An independent party then needs to validate what the provinces are reporting on. There are indicators that show the data is incorrect without an independent service provider. The Department needs to introduce a school monitoring system. There is also an element of trust that needs to be considered. He trusts his colleagues and cannot up to a point question that. Perhaps their role as the DBE is to check this by drawing samples. School monitoring before and after closure or opening is a good idea.

The Chairperson thanked the Department of Basic Education and adjourned the meeting. 

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