The Department of Basic Education (DBE) met with the Committee to report on its performance in meeting its strategic objectives during the first quarter of the 2017/18 financial year. The Department provided a comprehensive breakdown of its five programmes, and details of the achievements and challenges during the period under review.
During the discussion, Members commented that they were not pleased at the lack of targets achieved. It was disturbing that there were always excuses as to why there had been delays in the building of the necessary infrastructure for schools, such as proper sanitation, water and electricity. Despite the encouragement of the Department for schools to make greater use of information communication technology (ICT), there was a lack of the required facilities, especially in the rural areas.
Other issues raised included the challenges of providing transport for children to school, such as the unroadworthy state of buses, leading to children walking of 10 km or more. Incidents of violence and sexual abuse at schools involving teachers and principals in disgusting behaviour were highlighted. Members said there was a need for more support to be given to handicapped learners, and referred specifically to the use of Braille machines and their maintenance.
The Department answered questions related to the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), the nationwide rationalisation of schools through mergers, tackling the alarming increase in schoolgirl pregnancies, improving the qualifications of teachers and principals, and providing greater access to psycho-social services.
DBE Quarterly Performance
Ms Nthabaleng Montsho, Director: Strategic Planning Unit, Department of Basic Education (DBE), took the Committee through the activities of the DBE, which had been structured into five programmes.
Programme One: Administration
The purpose of the programme was to manage the Department and provide strategic administrative support services. This involved strengthening of the internal audit unit. A total of 38 posts were advertised as vacant. 44 employees had attended development training. The Kha Ri Gude investigation had been settled and the amount involved had been reduced drastically. The internal audit unit had been progressed to other departments as a way to improve the response.
Programme Two: Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring
The purpose of programme two was to develop curriculum and assessment policies, and monitor and support their implementation. This included the monitoring and rationalisation of small schools in Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Programme Three: Teachers, Education Human Resources and Institutional Development
This programme promoted quality teaching and institutional performance through the effective supply, development and utilisation of human resources. This had entailed:
• A draft policy developed on foreign educators;
• Education management and governance development, with Eastern Cape district officials trained;
• Curriculum research and teacher development implementations, with some collaboration from Vodacom.
Programme Four: Planning, Information and Assessment
The purpose of this programme was to promote quality and effective service delivery in the basic education system through planning, implementation and assessment. This included:
• Release of the South African Quality Measuring Commission (SAQMEC) report;
• Grant management – undertaking of conditional grant evaluation visits to the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape, in compliance with the Division of Revenue Act (DORA) requirements;
• 99% of schools provided with water;
• The Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), involving the provision of sanitation, water and electricity. Delays in ASIDI and led to corrective actions in the Department.
Programme Five: Educational Enrichment Services
The purpose of programme was to develop policies and programmes to improve the quality of learning in schools. An HIV policy was approved by Cabinet and launched at the annual HIV & AIDS Conference
First Quarter Expenditure
Ms Ntsetsa Molalekoa, Chief Financial Officer, DBE took the Committee through the DBE’s expenditure report
The appropriation budget of the Department for the 2017/18 financial year amounted to R23.4 billion. 79% of the budget, amounting to R18.5 billion, was allocated to transfer payments, such as conditional grants (R17.2 billion), transfers to public entities (R1.2 billion) and other transfers (R135 million). The remainder of the budget (R4.9 billion) was allocated to the following:
- Compensation of employees: R417.8 million
- Examiners and moderators: R23.1 million
- Earmarked funds: R1.1 billion
- Office accommodation: R183.7 million
- Specifically and exclusively appropriated: R2.6 billion
- Departmental operations: R272.9 million
- Departmental projects: R290.8 million (inclusive of Kha Ri Gude and National Assessment)
Due to the investigations that were conducted by the Department on reported cases of fraud and corruption involving the Kha Ri Gude programme, the payments of stipends for volunteers in the last quarter of the 2016/17 financial year were withheld until the investigation had been completed. The bulk of the allocation of the mopping up was in respect of the of the fourth quarter payments of stipends that had been accrued for payment in the new financial year.
In programme four, the under-spending had been due to the ASIDI projects.
The DBE spent appropriately on other transfers which dealt directly with bursaries and tertiary educational assistance, because of the increase in need for tertiary fee assistance in tertiary institutions.
There was no expenditure on the new conditional grant for learners with profound intellectual difficulties. The transfer of funds was held back because the proper business plans had not been received. However, the plans had been received and the transfer of the money had been approved.
Ms J Basson (ANC) said the reports were comprehensive but the targets were not clear. Quantification created confusion in following the presentation especially when dealing with statistics. She was also surprised about the targets in crucial areas of the DBE’S performance, such as the monitoring of two provinces per quarter, where only six schools were monitored and therefore in a year, it had planned to monitor only 24 schools. The problem she had was the pace at which things were taking place. Would provinces like the Northern Cape be reachable if concentration was put on areas like the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal – which were massive -- and yet only six schools were being monitored?
There was plan to implement a home education policy -- would the DBE have enough resources to monitor home education? It was already struggling to monitor current schools, so would it be sufficiently equipped to handle more? Referring to ASIDI, she mentioned it was disturbing to see that the DBE expenditure report always included excuses on why there had been delays in the building of the necessary infrastructure and proper sanitation or the lack of electricity. How could one involve other stakeholders in these areas of sanitation, water and electricity to speed up the Department’s performance?
In respect of Kha Ri Gude, had the Auditor General’s (AG’s) issue of the millions that were outstanding been settled? On transfers to entities, the presentation had indicated about 37.9% of transfers for the period. Why did the department not just transfer the full amounts, as opposed to small amounts throughout the year, and were these small amounts enough for the entities to function properly? Expenditure reflected spending the amount of 31.1% of the allocation, so how did this help in the attainment of set targets? There was now a uniform approach to the distribution of textbooks -- had all the provinces now received their textbooks on time?
Mr I Ollis (DA) wanted clarity about the statistics on the digital divide and what that meant, and whether it was related to school connectivity. As the school rationalisation programme would happen across the country in all nine provinces, how many schools were anticipated to be involved? Did the Department know how many mud schools were left in the country? When had the DBE reached the end of its programme of building one school a month? Regarding the programmes on the up-skilling of teachers, what was being done if they did not obtain the necessary qualifications but continued teaching? The number of educators who were under-skilled or unqualified was approximately 5 000 nationally -- what was being done to upskill them? Had no line been drawn to say that action would be taken against educators who did not obtain the correct qualifications, as this was a major concern? How many of the 26 000 schools in SA had computers for pupils to use? He was concerned about the ability of South African children to access the internet in a structured way as a tool for research and learning.
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) said she was concerned that 561 schools were without electricity, and the DBE had not dealt with that, while 81 schools had no water and 66 had no basic sanitation. Provision of these facilities was currently moving at a very slow pace and it should not be that way. Referring to the ASIDI programme, she had noted that implementing agents were a problem, and questioned whether there was another way the DBE could review those types of contracts and adopt a different approach and use different contractors. It should step back and look how the tender process was allocated, and have some community involvement where possible.
She had been in Kuruman last week, and had had an opportunity to go to court and listen to a case of sexual assault of a learner by a teacher. About 43 500 learners fell pregnant nationally every year, but the DBE did not know what the true statistics were, and that was concerning. It also did not know how many learners went back to school. Furthermore, the mental health of those learners needed to be considered because they needed to come back to school. If they were in matric, they needed to be prepared to write their final exams, but up until then nothing had been done to make sure that those learners had received counselling. Teachers turned a blind eye and were afraid to talk about it.
Some schools had received laptops and tablets from the DBE, and certain schools had internet facilities, but this had not been rolled out throughout the country. If these were departmental initiatives, and not still pilot projects, the DBE could be vulnerable to lawsuits. What exactly was the Thuthong Portal, and how did it function? The transport issue had been raised several times, and the DBE needed to come up with a solution. Money had been allocated by the DBE to provide transport, but there was also a problem with the buses being unroadworthy. Was there any way the DBE could intervene? The digitalisation of books was a good initiative but how long would it take to roll it out and would learners in rural areas have access to the programme -- she was concerned about programmes running in urban schools and not rural schools.
Ms H Boshoff (DA) referred to the enrichment programme, and said irregularities with the issuing of tenders caused learners to suffer. The DBE had to intervene, as some of the learners relied on the one meal provided at schools and therefore could not be sent home on an empty stomach. It had been found that food handlers would not prepare the food before knowing how many children there were, and this was unacceptable. The food handlers said that the food would be wasted, and therefore investigation needed to be made as to whether this was because they wanted to take the food home themselves, or sell it to tuckshops. Regarding the ASIDI programme in Pilgrims Rest, there was a school which still had some asbestos classrooms and even when they were not being used, they were still hazardous to learners. At Pilgrims Rest and the rest of the northern villages, water and sanitation was shocking,
Vetting and verification of educators was a major issue of concern. The DBE and the SA Council of Educators (SACE) needed to come up with a better policy to make sure that educators’ qualifications were properly verified before being allowed into classrooms. What was the scope of the psycho-social support, and what was the outcome of this support? Was it accessible to the learners? If not, it should be made available. She had seen classrooms stocked with computers, but no teachers, so what was the use of making provision? It was irregular expenditure if nobody was going to teach the subject, or facilities were there but not accessible because of the lack of qualified subject teachers. She asked about inclusive education, and specifically blind learners who needed Braille -- where were the Braille machines found, what was their condition, and how much budget had been put aside to maintain them?
The Chairperson (ANC) asked whether the DBE had received a qualified audit in the first quarter, and said it must start monitoring and improving where possible before this became too big an issue. In the first quarter, 25% of the year’s work done should have been completed, and the Department should not wait till the last quarter to produce the results. When looking at the programmes, there had been under-spending for each one. What were the people who dealing with these programmes doing, and had the DG taken any action? The DBE needed to ensure that the situation was corrected. The Committee wanted proof of letters that had been written to those who were not doing their work. Regarding the ASIDI programme, if the Department knew that there was not going to be any action in Limpopo and Eastern Cape, why had it not sent money to where it was needed? There had been under-performance with the new conditional grant that had recently been approved, and there was no way that Treasury would have granted it without a plan. However, the Department had delayed transferring the funds and as such were doing the learners an injustice by not implementing the grant at the agreed time. Digitisation was taking place at a very slow pace and although it was a step in the right direction as the learners would benefit, a cue from the DG on where to go next would be beneficial.
Mr Enver Surty, Deputy Minister, DBE, dealt firstly with the issue of infrastructure. When talking about infrastructure, the Department specifically talked about the ASIDI programme, which was there to replace mud schools and any unsafe schools built with inappropriate materials. Some of the realities were that there were mud schools across SA and these had been eliminated everywhere but in the Eastern Cape, so that was where the largest allocation of the grant went. The number of mud/unsafe schools had been reduced to about 300 because of rationalisation. Where ever possible, the Department has wanted to use community involvement and engagement in the building of schools. The progress that the DBE had made was shown by the 182 state of the art schools which had been built. 25 schools had been built in the Western Cape at an expenditure of no less than R32 million per school. These were truly dream schools which created an environment conducive for learning.
Had the progress been reasonable? From about 2004, about 107 schools had been built. However, there had been a lull last year and this was as a result of the merging of schools in the Eastern Cape. How had the DBE dealt with the matter? There had been a meeting with the contractors, and it was found that if a contractor had about seven schools, one would find that three of the schools were properly built and the remaining four were not up to standard. The problem then was that if one terminated the contract, one had to do so for all seven schools, so the aim was for each school to have its own contract.
What were the challenges in infrastructure? Eskom supplied the electricity, and the municipalities supplied the water – not the DBE – so it could not make sure that the services were delivered when they needed to be. The issue was not about paying for it, but making sure that the necessary stakeholders showed up where they were needed. When the DBE talked about information communication technology (ICT), it was saying it was looking at the African rural children to make sure that their needs were being taken care of and being addressed. The disproportional development of provinces would often result in the skewed implementation of these programmes, and this needed to be corrected. However, it was not easy, and even with the provision of computers and textbooks, a competent teacher needed to be present in the learning environment. The DBE had a responsibility to make sure that teachers were trained for integrating ICT into the curriculum of schools. One had to rely on partners to provide all the other resources that the DBE could not, so the Department was moving towards a more integrated approach. 90% of all the learner information had been captured on the DBE data base.
Referring to the school mergers, he said this was a national phenomenon. The Eastern Cape had more than 5 000 schools, and had potentially 1 200 which needed to be rationalised. A list could be provided.
Targets were set quarterly and annually, and were informed by the nature of the work that was being done. Regarding inclusive education itself, workbooks had been provided in Braille, providing technology for partially blind learners. One could not develop an expenditure budget without a plan, and the plan for the grant had since been completed. The AG had commended the Department on the investigation and action launched into Kha Ri Gude without being asked to do so. Transfers occurred on a quarterly basis to schools, which was a control measure so that schools or entities did not abuse the resources. The DBE was redirecting money to where there were no resources, so that productivity could take place.
The issue of abuse of learners could not be condoned and was unacceptable, and where principals were involved it was absolutely absurd. A Bill dealing with a policy that looked at the competency of principals would be open for public comment soon, and once that was concluded it would go to Parliament and be implemented. Most provinces were profiling teachers through the Learner Unit Record Information and Tracking System (LURITS) in order to match their qualifications with the correct needs for each school. Research could not take place with no library or ICT, and the legacy that should be left was that all schools should be connected.
Teenage pregnancy was a huge concern. There was clear recognition that children were becoming sexually active much earlier, and the DBE had just been invited to present to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in the United States on the comprehensive sex education that had been developed for the curriculum. Parental education was becoming a need too. The policy was liberal, allowing learners to have basic rights, and there was need for psychosocial education. One could not deny a child that was sexually active a condom -- that was what the policy said and this was what comprehensive sexual education dealt with. Teenage pregnancy needed to be more about prevention and education.
The DBE were making progress with regard to transport, even though it was not where it needed to be. With regard to Braille, there was only one company that provided it, so it could decide on the price. The DBE had to reflect on whether it needed to produce its own Braille workbooks, and whether it could do it better than the private sector. Regarding consequence management, it did not help if the Department condoned incompetence, and it had to show harshness to those who were incompetent and were the reason that learners were suffering.
Mr Hubert Mweli, Director General (DG): DBE commented that the under-performance of programmes was not really under-performance, because expenditure was not clearly linked to programme delivery. Not all programmes would spend 25% per quarter in order to accumulate the 100% level for the full year, as this rather depended on the time frame of the programme delivery. The financial year was not linked to the school year and as a result, there may be a mismatch between the financial expenditure and the programme delivery, but over time the targets would move towards 100%
Regarding the number of provincial visits, the number of schools determined was dependent on other tasks and activities that the team needed to undertake. In fact, the role of the DBE was not to visit schools but rather to monitor the provinces and make sure that they were undertaking the school visits as they should be.
The reasons for the ASIDI delays may be seen as an excuse, but the DBE had reported to the Committee that it had had to terminate some of the projects with the implementing agents, and they had been re-allocated to the Coega Development Corporation, the Vula Trust and the Development Bank of SA (DBSA), and it was a very long and legalised process.
He said there could be an opportunity for the Committee to sit with the DBE in some of the meetings involving the R1.2 million in new irregular expenditure identified by AGSA, compared to the initial amount of R44 million.
The transfer of large amounts was a risk, as mentioned by the Deputy Minister, and would not be in the interests of the receiving organisations. A list of schools to be rationalised would be sent to Ollis. There were only 137 outstanding mud schools in the Eastern Cape.
Around the issue of unqualified teachers, there were three dynamics:
1. Under-qualified teachers, with old qualifications designed under apartheid, and when the norms and standards were reviewed, they became inferior
2. Unqualified teachers – those with degrees, but had not received teacher training.
3. Teachers whose qualifications did not match the requirements of the post.
It was still the first quarter, and the DBE was working towards improving the outcomes on the electricity, sanitation and water programmes. It could be invited to present on school safety and teenage pregnancy if necessary. Regarding learner transport, there would be learners who still walked, but if it was more than 5 km, then it was beyond the scope of the policy. The ASIDI programme was being merged with the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG). The Pilgrims Rest issue would be taken up with the provinces.
The DBE had been providing psychosocial support at the district level, but the new grant had been intended to increase that service for schools catering for special education needs. The first expenditure of the grant was intended for appointing a multidisciplinary team of specialists. Every school for the blind had a Braille machine, but the challenge was around maintenance as the maintainers of the machines were not qualified and therefore needed to be equipped with the skills to maintain them.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi said that learners from schools she had visited did indeed walk 10km or more to get to school, and she had even walked with them. In Kuruman, the schools had no recreation facilities and that near the school there was a tavern, so the only recreational activity was going to the tavern. There was a big space that could be used for a sports ground and recreation area, instead there being a tavern. She suggested funds from the budget of the Department of Sport and Recreation should be reallocated to the DBE so that the money could be put to good use instead of going back to the Treasury.
The Chairperson thanked the DBE officials and the support team, and said it was unfortunate that there was not enough time to answer all the questions and raised by the Committee. They should meet again to continue the discussion.
The meeting was adjourned.