Implementation of International Agreements: Department of Basic Education briefing

Basic Education

05 September 2017
Chairperson: Ms N Mokoto (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee met with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to discuss progress on the implementation of bilateral international agreements and multilateral engagements. After the DBE had provided details of the various countries and programmes involved, Members raised a wide range of questions.

They wanted to know what kind of criteria the DBE used to establish which school qualified to offer foreign languages, and which schools to choose to collaborate with teachers from foreign countries. Would the volunteer teachers be orientated? Would the learners be able to understand the volunteer teachers’ accents? What arrangements had been made to ensure that the volunteers were in close proximity to the schools? Were the new teachers and volunteers fully aware of the South African curriculum and how to teach it to learners?

They asked why most of the teachers were being deployed to Mpumalanga -- what made the province so special? Why had no mention been made of relationships between South Africa and its neighbouring countries? How many provinces were involved in the teaching of Mandarin in schools? How were the schools supported? How was a cultural influx going to be avoided? What training went along with donated computers, since they would be distributed to schools in need? Did the Department train teachers on how to use that technology? Which country’s law applied if a volunteer teacher mistreated one the learners or broke the code of conduct?

They also questioned whether there was any monitoring and evaluation on the implementation of the international agreements, and whether there was proof of any positive impact that had been derived from the bilateral agreements so far.

Meeting report

International Agreements

Ms H Mabunda, Director: International Relations and Multilateral Affairs, Department of Basic Education (DBE) said international agreements provided for various modes of engagements, including the exchange of delegations and experts, cooperation between education institutions, exchange of information and sharing of best practices in different subject areas of interest.

The overall objective of International Relations and Multilateral Affairs in the DBE was to develop and nurture basic education related co-operation at bilateral and relevant multilateral levels. There was a directorate that was in charge of making sure that they coordinated negotiations for bilateral agreements between ministries in different countries. The directorate facilitates and supports participation of the Minister and Deputy Minister in international meetings related to promoting basic education in South Africa.

The focus areas of DBE’s current partnerships included mathematics, science and technology, curriculum development and implementation, teacher development, technical and vocational education and training (TVET), school infrastructure and foreign language promotion.

Bilateral Agreements

China 2013

South Africa and the People’s Republic of China entered into an agreement in the field of basic education. Promotion of Mandarin in South African schools was on-going. China provides for teachers and teaching materials. A full-time language advisor had been seconded to the DBE. China donated computers, textbooks and smartboards to various schools in Gauteng. The DBE was planning to pursue a strengthened collaboration in maths and science.

France 2016

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was entered into between the DBE and the Embassy of France in South Africa. There was on-going progress in the teaching of a nutrition programme in some schools and in the promotion of French language in South African schools, supported by the French Government. A fulltime language advisor would be deployed to the DBE. The Department would pursue strengthened collaboration on technical vocational education and training.

South Korea 2016

The agreement was an MOU between the National Institute for International Education of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the DBE on the dispatch of volunteer teachers to South Africa. The DBE had received six volunteer teachers who were deployed to South African schools for maths, science and computer studies from January 2017. An additional 13 volunteers would be received in 2018. The DBE would be receiving a donation of 100 computers to be distributed to schools in need.

British Council 2014

The agreement was a declaration of intent between the DBE and the British Council on cooperation in the field of English language. Over 900 subject advisors and teachers participated in English as First Additional Language capacity building workshops at the foundation, intermediate, senior and Further Education and Training (FET) phases. The British Council was assisting the DBE to establish the National Association for English Language Teachers (NAELT), and nine provincial teachers’ associations.

Northern Belgium 2014

The agreement with the Flemish Association for Development, Cooperation and Technical Assistance, was a multi-year programme for teaching improved learning outcomes in primary education in South Africa (TILOPESA). The agreement involved the establishment of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and technical assistance aimed at the improvement of teaching at the foundation phase in literacy and numeracy.  In-depth training to provincial subject specialists and officials who worked with teachers had been implemented in six provinces -- KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and Free State.

Cuba 2016

The agreement was collaboration between South Africa and Cuba on professional services in the field of basic education. 20 maths and science subject specialists were to be deployed to the DBE from 2017. Ten of them had already received their appointment letters and had accepted appointment.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) 2011

A government to government agreement had been concluded on technical cooperation and the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers Programme between SA and Japan. JICA offered periodic training for maths and science subject specialists in the DBE and provinces. It had deployed three volunteer maths specialists to the DBE to work with subject advisors, and was also assisting the Department to finalise the draft mathematics, science and technology strategy.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) 1996

There was a government to government financing agreement between the United States of America and South Africa concerning Education. The DBE had concluded the “School Capacity Innovation Programme” in 2015 and was currently implementing the teacher assessment resources for the Monitoring and Improving Instruction programme. The focus was on grade 1-3 English teachers.

Germany 2009

There was an agreement concerning the introduction of a German-South African bilingual secondary school qualification at the German schools in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria. The German language was already offered in South African schools and was supported by the German government. A German language advisor had been seconded to the DBE. The DBE intended to pursue strengthened collaboration in respect of vocational education.

There were currently negotiations with countries such as France, Germany and the UK, to broaden the focus of current partnerships to include the development of technical and vocational education and training in the basic education system. The DBE had met the visiting Education Minister of Finland in May 2017, where negotiations had been initiated towards a formal partnership, mainly in the fields of digitisation in education and teacher development. Within the African region, the BDE would continue negotiations towards bilateral agreements with Kenya, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia and Liberia.  Outside of the region, the DBE was in negotiations with Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Bangladesh, as well as with the World Bank. Agreements under negotiation covered various areas of work such as curriculum matters, maths, science and technology, teacher development and infrastructure.

Multilateral Engagements

African Union (AU)

The DBE had concluded an alignment process of various mandates and national goals, as captured in the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) 2014-2019. These included:

  • National Development Plan (NDP):Vision 2030;
  • Action Plan to 2019: Towards the realisation of schooling 2030;
  • Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA) 2016-2025;
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and
  • AU Agenda 2063.

This would help achieve seamless reporting against the regional instruments. The DBE participates at the AU Ministerial meetings and specialised technical committees on education, science and technology.

Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA).

ADEA was a forum for policy dialogue on education policies and a partnership between education and training ministries in Africa committed to sharing and learning for qualitative change in education, aimed at promoting Africa’s development. The DBE participated in triennial ministerial dialogues on education and training, a platform for sharing best practices in order to maximise the utilization of scarce resources within the region. The Deputy Minister attended the 2017 Triennial in Senegal from 14-17 March 2017. The DBE was currently participating in a review process towards the improvement of services to member states, with its main aim being to promote an improvement in the maths and science focus. The DBE was a member of the Inter-Country Quality Node on Teaching and Learning, recently established for accumulating information on innovative education experiences in Africa to inform development and the implementation of policies and strategies for effective teaching and learning in Africa.

Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ)

In June 2017, the Minister had attended the 11th session of the SACMEQ Assembly of Ministries of Education in Swaziland. SACMEQ served to expand opportunities for educational planners to gain the technical skills required to monitor and evaluate the general conditions of schooling and the quality of basic education in their respective systems. The 11th session had released the regional SACMEQ IV report, and the DBE would announce the findings of the National SACMEQ IV study.

Southern Africa Development Council (SADC)

The DBE participates in SADC activities through the protocol of education and training. South African schools take part in the annual SADC secondary schools essay competition. The DBE participates in development and implementation of regional strategies for Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL), as well as the mainstreaming of HIV and Aids issues in the education sector. It participates in the technical committee on Education Management Information Systems (EMIS), and had offered to share the South African School Administration and Management System (SAMS) software package used for EMIS, for adaptation by other member states. In June 2017, the Minister had attended a joint meeting of SADC Ministers responsible for education, training, science, technology and innovation (ET-STI). At this meeting, South Africa had taken over the Chair of the next joint meeting scheduled to take place in 2018 in South Africa, to be co-chaired by the Ministries of Basic Education, Higher Education and Training, and Science and Technology.

The DBE would continue to implement existing bilateral partnerships, and pursue new ones, that would benefit the South African basic education sector, especially in the identified priority areas. It would also increase its focus on strengthening participation in the multilateral sphere, including beyond the African region.


The Chairperson recognised two members from the Chinese Consulate who were at the meeting, and then handed over to the Committee for comments and questions.

Mr I Ollis (DA) asked what training went along with the donated computers, since they would be distributed to the schools in need. Had the Department sent someone along with the computers to train teachers on how to use that technology? What could the learners do with the computers to learn something?

Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) asked why the negotiations between South Africa and Zimbabwe were taking so long, when Zimbabwe was right next to South Africa and there were qualified Zimbabwean teachers working in restaurants and as car attendants. What exactly did the collaboration for maths and science, for instance, in bilateral agreements involve? Where were the volunteer teachers who would be coming in 2018 going to be allocated? What arrangements had been made to ensure that the volunteers were in close proximity to the schools?

Ms N Mashabela (EFF) asked if there was any monitoring and evaluation on the implementation of the international agreements.

Mr X Ngwezi (IFP) asked how the volunteer teachers and teachers from other countries were oriented when they came to South Africa. What kind of criteria did the DBE use to establish which school qualified to offer foreign languages, and which schools to collaborate with other teachers from foreign countries? Which law applied to the volunteer teachers if one of the volunteers mistreated a learner or broke the code of conduct? The DBE should guard against the promotion of foreign languages because English itself was a foreign language, and South Africa should try to identify one native South African language and promote it as much as English was promoted.

Ms J Basson (ANC) asked how many South African schools offered Mandarin. Would the volunteer teachers be orientated? Would the learners be able to understand the volunteer teachers’ accents? Were the new teachers and volunteers fully aware of the South African curriculum and how to teach it to learners? Why were most of the teachers deployed to Mpumalanga -- what mades the province so special? Which other provinces were benefiting from these agreements? Why was there no relationship between South Africa and its neighbouring countries, such as Namibia, Lesotho and Mozambique, because there was no mention of those countries in the presentation?

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) asked how many rural schools offered Mandarin as a subject. What was the impact of the bilateral agreements? Was there any proof of a positive impact that had arisen out of the agreements so far? How many provinces were involved in the teaching of Mandarin in schools? How were the schools supported in the process of teaching Mandarin? How was a cultural influx going to be avoided, because globalisation could not be avoided?

The Acting Chairperson asked how long the international agreements usually remained in force. What was happening in the field of inclusive education -- what was the DBE working towards with other countries in this sphere, as nothing had been mentioned in the presentation? She said that the introduction of foreign languages at schools was important, because the schools would be grooming learners who would be competent global citizens. How much was the DBE spending to fund these international agreements?

Department’s response

Mr Paddy Padayachee, Deputy Director General (DDG), DBE said that the DBE spends over R300 000 for this particular directorate, and some of the other costs were in the line functions. When viewing the expenditure report, there were usually membership fees outlined in the reports and just to participate in some associations required some costs.

Ms Mabinda said that the placement of the computers would most likely be in line with where the volunteers were placed so that the volunteer teachers could be able to train South African teachers on how to utilise the technology for the benefit of the learners and the teacher. There had been no final decision on the allocations, because one of the requirements was the availability of infrastructure in order to avoid having computers collecting dust in schools, and ensuring they were secure.

The maths and science collaborations were usually with countries that were skilled in maths and science. The DBE had a technical exchange with those specific countries in terms of teaching methods, strategies and curriculums. The collaboration was between experts from the two countries.

The delay in having bilateral agreements with SA’s neighbouring countries was because of the relationship within SADC, which they were able to use to share expertise without necessarily having bilateral agreements. The SADC platform allowed the DBE to work directly with any other country within the SADC region. 

The volunteers were fully funded by the South Korean government. The DBE did not pay any teachers that it received from other countries on a volunteer basis. It did have space to promote South African official languages to other countries, but that was not the priority of the Ministry, as this would require the South African government to fund the process.

ADEA was a platform for African countries, and was more or less the same as SADC but with more countries. It allowed SA to learn from through the exchange of ideas and discussions.

There were 53 schools that taught Mandarin in South Africa, in Gauteng, KZN, the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. The foreign languages were not compulsory. The schools express interest and the DBE gets the country of the language to work with the school in order to make it possible. This was one of the reasons why the languages were offered in urban schools where they express interest, and not in the rural areas.. The DBE intended to encourage schools to embrace the idea, as this opened up more opportunities for the learners abroad.

When the DBE received volunteers from other countries, they first attended an orientation programme in the DBE and in the province where they would be working, and would be monitored by a teacher at the school. The DBE ensured that the language proficiency of the volunteers was of a good standard so that South African learners did not find it difficult to understand the teachers.

The idea of guarding against a cultural influx was a debate on its own, but if one looked at the promotion of foreign languages as a way to open up more opportunities for learners in the global competitive market, that could be an advantage because the business environment required multilingualism.

The DBE was still considering where to dispatch the 13 South Korean volunteers that would be arriving next year. It would table the recommendation by the Committee to have the volunteers sent to rural schools.

Every agreement was valid for five years and would be renewable, dependent on the parties.

Regarding inclusive education, USAID had been in discussion with the DBE and were looking into developing a programme of assisting identified areas, from infrastructure to resources, such as teachers and psychologists. Implementation was likely to start in 2018.

Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi(DA) said that as it was not the first time that the DBE was giving a presentation on international agreements, it was surprising to find that there had been no mention of any achievements, feedback on the agreements, or benefits of the agreements for the DBE and its learners.

Mr Padayachee said the DBE would provide a report on the achievements and feedback on the agreements. South African law applied to the volunteers and if the DBE was not happy with any of the services, it would go back to the country involved and return the teachers.

The Chairperson thanked the DBE for the presentation. She said that the agreements must positively influence the DBE and there should be a way to monitor the progress.

Committee minutes

The Committee went on to consider draft minutes of 13, 20 and 27 June 2017. All were without any changes.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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