The Select Committee of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Education and Recreation convened a meeting for the Eastern Cape Department of Education to provide an update on the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations following site visits to the province in October and November 2016.
The Committee had recommended improvements in the following general areas: health and safety, scholar transport, rationalisation of schools, pregnancy education, clarity on the status of Grade R teachers, access to birth certificates for learners, drug and alcohol education, relations with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and other provincial departments that could improve service delivery, better quality and availability of learning and teaching services and materials (LTSM), and access to furniture. The Department observed that these recommendations were particularly pertinent to special schools, which required greater resources than other schools. The Department had resolved to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Departments of Health and Social Development to improve health and safety, had procured more school buses, conducted meetings with parents to explain rationalisation programmes, tied specific problem schools to SAPS units and conducted unannounced checks, and issued a tender for the storage and delivery of LTSM and furniture.
Members were generally appreciative of the improvements in school conditions in the Eastern Cape, especially at special schools, and commended the Department on the work it had done thus far. However, they were disappointed at the lack of statistics and data provided, which meant the Committee did not have a clear indication of how severe the problems were. They expressed concern on the DBE’s tendency to shift responsibility to other departments, the lack of emphasis in dealing with the challenge of teenage pregnancies, the lack of clarity surrounding how SAPS conducted checks and what processes were followed afterwards, the reasons for the slow improvement in textbook retrieval, and why an MOU between departments had been signed only this year.
The Eastern Cape MEC responsible for education admitted that the Department was ‘weak’ in certain areas, but there had been slow and steady improvements. The Department would take the comments of the Committee seriously and address the shortcomings that they had highlighted. A more comprehensive report would be drawn up ahead of the Committee’s next site visit to ensure continued improvement.
The Chairperson introduced the members from the provincial delegation to members of the Select Committee, and recalled the Committee’s visits to the Eastern Cape after the budget had been passed. The pre-visit took place from 18-21 October 2016, and the formal visit -- as part of the ‘Taking Parliament to the People’ initiative -- took place from 14-18 November 2016. After both these visits, the Committee generated a report with findings and forwarded recommendations to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in the Eastern Cape. Some of the issues highlighted by the Select Committee could be addressed in the short term, but other issues required a long-term approach. The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) had started a process of requiring follow-up reports, as the Select Committees often mades recommendations without implementation by the respective provinces and departments.
Mr Themba Kojane, Head of Department (HOD): DBE, Eastern Cape, reiterated the provincial Department’s efforts to strengthen monitoring and support to schools, and this was reflected in the report. Officials who were responsible for monitoring were properly trained, and provided quality feedback. He introduced Mr Ray Tywakadi, the Deputy Director General for the Department of Basic Education in the Eastern Cape, who would lead the presentation.
DBE Eastern Cape: Response to Recommendations
Mr Tywakadi said the presentation was focused primarily on two municipalities: Alfred Nzo Municipality and Buffalo City Municipality (BCM). The Select Committee had visited 27 schools in Alfred Nzo and 15 in BCM, most of which were senior secondary schools, totalling 42 schools.
Buffalo City Municipality
The findings for Buffalo City were divided into special schools and public ordinary schools. To summarise the findings, Mr Tywakadi focused on two special schools which had different issues, St Thomas School for the Deaf and Ebhotwe Inclusive Primary School.
With regard to St Thomas School for the Deaf, the Select Committee recommended that the Department should ensure the following: appointing teachers qualified in sign language, purchasing the building from the school, reopening the workshop at the school for skills training, filling the positions of two deputy principals, and considering the full adoption of the curriculum. The Department had resolved these issues by implementing training sessions for educators and Department officials in sign language, purchasing the property of St Thomas from the church, re-opening the skills workshop in 2018, filling the vacant deputy principal posts, and finalising a curriculum adaptation framework.
For Ebhotwe Inclusive Primary School, the Committee had recommended the Department should build more classes to alleviate class sizes, create another sick bay for students, curb the drug abuse issue with the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the SA Police Service (SAPS), and involve the community in the running of the school. In response, the Department had deployed temporary classrooms and had engaged with the principal and the student governing body with regard to sick bays and drug abuse.
At Fundisa Special School, the Committee had recommended more classrooms, larger buses to address the issue of students walking long distances to school, and improved specialised training for educators with regard to autistic students. The Department had built temporary classrooms, procured more buses -- but there was now a shortage of drivers, with posts being advertised at all schools. Planning had begun to upskill educators with regard to autistic needs, but this had yet to be resolved.
For Vukuhambe Secondary School, the Committee had noted irregular budget utilisation; concerns over the safety and security of students as a result of vacancies; a shortage of non-teaching staff; and adapting the core curriculum to cater for special schools. The Department had asked the district to monitor the school’s budget and expenditure patterns more closely; had filled vacancies with regard to safety and security; vacancies of non-teaching staff had been addressed; and there had been training of staff to develop a more responsive curriculum.
On a general note, the Department had resolved to facilitate a follow-up visit by the Select Committee in early 2018 to review the progress made since the recommendations were issued. For public ordinary schools, the Committee had noted the following areas of concern: learning and teaching support material (LTSM) shortages, furniture shortages, dilapidated infrastructure, poor leadership and management of schools, teacher quality and support, teenage pregnancy, school safety, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Mr Tywakadi addressed each of these areas of concern, including the Committee’s recommendations and what action the Department had taken.
For learners’ health and safety, the Committee had recommended collaboration with the provincial Department of Health (DoH) to ensure learners were guided with respect to early pregnancy, and collaboration with the SAPS with respect to the ‘adopt-a-school’ initiative. In response, the Department had resolved to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the provincial DoH and DSD on further collaborations; set up district-based support teams (DBSTs) with the DoH and DSD to support learners’ health; and had identified schools at risk and had them linked to SAPS as part of the MOU on school safety. On learning and teaching support material (LTSM) shortages, the Committee had recommended that a focused intervention on the supply of textbooks and shortages of stationery be created. The Department had resolved to assess textbook shortages in each school and had procured the required textbooks for delivery from 15 January to 28 February 2017. All textbooks and stationery that were in short supply were provided by March 2017, wrongly delivered materials were retrieved, and the Department had issued a tender for collection and warehousing.
The Committee had noted that there was a shortage of furniture in many schools. The provincial Department had conducted a furniture audit in collaboration with national DBE by the end of 2016. By 17 July 2017, over 1 100 order forms had been received from schools. Orders amounted to 244 870 units of desks and chairs, and 50% of deliveries had been concluded by the end of August 2017. Approximately 158 000 chairs would be delivered by the end of November 2017. The furniture audit had also revealed a surplus of 150 000 items at schools and 30 000 items of furniture that could be replaced. The Department had adjudicated a tender to collect, store and distribute to schools, and five regional warehouses had already been procured for this purpose. The full results of the furniture audit would be available only by March 2018.
On the poor management and leadership in schools, the Committee had recommended the Department assist the schools by strengthening the school management teams. The Department had since begun to mentor and coach under-performing principals, using experienced and retired teachers. It had concluded the training of principals on curriculum leadership, and was currently training heads of department (HoDs) on curriculum management. The Department had also collaborated with General Motors, which had experience in training teachers in the Eastern Cape.
On the issue of teacher development, the Committee had recommended quality programmes for teacher development and training at all levels. The Department had set up four teacher development institutes to support teachers, the bine existing teacher centres had been refurbished, and a virtual teacher development programme, in collaboration with Vodacom, was being piloted in two districts, All foundation teachers had been supplied with laptops.
The Committee had identified that many schools had been given the wrong quintile classification. The Department had found that the problem applied to the Port Elizabeth area in the north, and to Buffalo Flats in East London, and had asked principals to make representations to correct their quintile classification. All cases submitted in Port Elizabeth had been finalised, while some schools in East London were still making their submissions.
Alfred Nzo Municipality
Mr Tywakadi said the Select Committee had identified the following issues: infrastructure, school furniture, learning and teaching materials (LTSM) supply, scholar transport and accommodation, provision of birth certificates and identity documents (IDs), rural allowances to educators, regulations for the declaration of technical high schools, drug abuse, payment of expatriate educators, teaching methodology, relationships between high schools and their feeder schools, identification of heritage sites, provision and payment of subsidies in special schools, teacher supply and demand, sound working relations, and the use of infrastructure in rationalised schools.
On the need for infrastructural upgrades, it had been recommended that a detailed plan should be provided to the NCOP as to how to resolve this, and the Department should seek engagement from local municipalities to provide adequate and permanent infrastructure with mobile classrooms and flushable toilets. The Department had provided mobile classrooms, in conjunction with the Department of Public Works (DPW). The issue of school furniture was a similar concern in Alfred Nzo as it was in Buffalo City, and the Department had issued a tender on furniture procurement, and furniture had been provided to schools where there was a dire need.
The Committee had noted the issue of learning and teacher support material (LTSM), and had recommended the Department issue a comprehensive report of deliveries by November, communicate the textbook retention policy to parents, and decentralise the procurement of LTSM. On the issue of decentralisation, the provincial Department was restricted by the policy of the national Department of Education, which urged a centralisation of LTSM materials. With regard to the other recommendations, the Department had implemented and was monitoring the retrieval policies of textbooks, and surplus books were being requested from other schools to make up for the shortage.
The Committee was concerned that learners were walking long distances to schools and had recommended efficient transport services or hostel accommodation. The Department had budgeted for these in some areas, and sites for building private hostels had been demarcated and work had begun.
The Committee had found that many learners and members of the community did not have birth certificates or IDs, and had recommended that the Departments of Home Affairs and Social Services assist in this regard. Districts were collaborating across departments to overcome this issue, and the challenge had reduced dramatically. The Department did not yet have statistics on how many individuals were without birth certificates.
The Committee had advised the Department to implement policy and pay qualifying educators, and it had resolved to implement this incrementally.
A further recommendation by the Select Committee was the formation of a steering committee to regulate the declaration of technical high schools. In response, the Department had partnered with the OR Tambo Foundation, the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA), the Road Accident Fund (RAF) and Eskom to revitalise technical high schools, particularly Oliver Tambo Technical School.
The Committee had recommended that schools should be partnered with SAPS to curb learners’ drug and alcohol abuse and ill-discipline, and involve the community in mediation efforts. The Department had since aligned schools with police stations, and facilitated unannounced visits and spot checks by SAPS at schools, and encouraged greater community involvement in this issue.
The Committee had recommended that all those who worked, including expatriates, should be paid regularly, and the Department had resolved these discrepancies. A more consistent approach to examining teaching methods and tactics was required, and the Department had provided support to subject advisors and helped to bridge gaps in content.
The Committee had recommended better relationships between high schools and feeder schools to ensure continuity in learners’ education, and the Department had resolved to advise schools to conduct common planning, teaching strategies and share successful practices.
On the recommendation to identify heritage sites, the Department had collaborated with the Departments of Sport and Recreation (SRSA) and Arts and Culture (DAC) to compile a list of schools older than 50 years to be considered as heritage sites.
The Committee had recommended a sharper distinction between normal and special schools and the Department should subsidise these fully. Based on the norms and standards governing special schools, the Department had fully subsidised these schools.
The Committee had recommended that early childhood development (ECD) practitioners should be paid on a par with educators and trained to the appropriate level, that outdoor recreational material be purchased and an environment conducive to ECD be fostered. The Department had collaborated with the local municipality and the DSD to focus specifically on children under the age of five.
Finally, the Select Committee had recommended that the Department engage communities for the use of under-used buildings for other projects. The Department had to work in conjunction with the DPW in order to fulfil this recommendation.
During the presentation, Mr Mandla Makupula, Member of the Executive Committee (MEC): Eastern Cape Department of Education had arrived. The Chairperson invited him to make concluding remarks, prior to questions and comments from the Committee Members.
Mr Makupula said he appreciated the leadership of the NCOP in insisting on oversight to ensure improvements in the Department. Reflecting on the status of special schools, he said this had been the concern of the chief directorate, Education Social Support Services, which had had an acting head for the past 11 years. For the first time, a permanent head had been appointed this year. This was indicative of the emphasis on improving conditions within the Department. Despite the improvements, the province and the Department was still grappling with the legacy of how things were done in the Eastern Cape. Of the 43 special schools in the province, 13 were located in Port Elizabeth. The vast majority of the province did not have access to special schools, which were concentrated in the large towns. Mr Makupula said that since he had taken on the role of MEC, he had emphasised growth of special schools in smaller towns and rural areas. Many large districts did not have even one special school.
He reassured the Committee that the Department took the work of the NCOP very seriously. Once the findings had been released, a dedicated day was used for meetings to interpret and carry out plans to fulfil the findings. There were challenges at St Thomas involving the principal, and the HOD had been instructed to produce a report on the work of the school. In public schools, not only had laptops been handed over, but 16 000 teachers had been trained to use them. The Department had worked with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to roll out of tablets to learners.
Mr Makupula highlighted the growing stability in relations between teachers and the Department. He demonstrated this claim by stating the last time the province had a school boycott by teacher organisations had been in 2012. The Department had a much more open arrangement with unions about policy, which had led to further stability. In March 2011, the Department had begun inviting parents as members of the school governing bodies (SGBs) to participate in policy, such as school nutrition schemes to help feed children.
Since July 2011, the Department had noticed a lack of traffic officers and suitable roads for the increased number of buses. These were the remit of other departments, and the provincial Department had approached Treasury for increased finance to solve these issues. However, because these issues were close to being solved, the Department could now focus on its core business of ensuring children were learning. Despite being last in the Matric results, the province still performed well in terms of producing Bachelor’s passes. In relative terms, the province had much larger student populations than other provinces which made producing high Matric pass rates difficult.
The Chairperson welcomed the comments by Mr Makupula and the presentation of the provincial delegation, but stressed that more detail, specifically numbers and dates, should have been included in certain sections.
Ms L Dlamini (ANC, Mpumalanga) referred to the last point made by Mr Makupula with regard to Matric pass rates, and said it was unacceptable that the Eastern Cape remained last in this regard -- it must do better. When the NCOP visits the provinces, the Select Committee wants to meet with senior officials and politicians from respective departments, and on the last visit this had not been the case. The Committee felt undermined by this behaviour and expected it to improve on future visits. The issue of rationalisation had not been adequately addressed in the report. When the Committee had visited Alfred Nzo and spoken to the community, parents had said that some of the schools closed by Department had been built by the parents themselves. Consultation between the Department and the affected communities had not been done properly, and in future this must be strengthened.
Ms Dlamini commented that the Department often did not speak with a single coherent voice, and often shifted the responsibility to districts or other departments. This approach was not conducive to improving services. She recalled that when the Committee visited the province, a high school in one district had very few learners and the principal had bad a relationship with the teachers, as the teachers felt he had been ‘imposed on the school’ by the Department. At a primary school, there had been an issue of overcrowding. She could not recall the names of the schools.
On the issue of scholar transport, she argued that procuring buses without drivers was poor planning, and not an excuse. In many instances of a shortage of buses around the country, departments first procured capable drivers before the buses.
On the issue of learning and teaching materials, Ms Dlamini said that the issue was not solely one of availability, but also bad quality. Textbooks had been delivered to schools, but when the Committee had visited schools, the materials were often kept in storage. If students did not have the textbook, it was insignificant that it had been delivered. Similarly to the issue of textbooks, she questioned why the Department had already procured five warehouses for furniture storage, when this did not necessarily translate into furniture being used in schools. Why had the Department issued a tender to collect and store furniture, but had already procured warehouses?
She expressed disappointment at the lack of numbers and data surrounding how many IDs needed to be issued. Despite recommending action from the Department, the Committee still did not know how many people were in need of documents. The issue was not particular to learners -- even some of the elders lacked certification.
Finally, Ms Dlamini discussed the issue of early childhood development (ECD) centres. The Committee was chiefly concerned with the curriculum of children aged five. She argued that this issue could not be left to the Department of Social Development, as suggested in the presentation, because they were not equipped for this work.
Ms T Mampura (ANC, Limpopo) concurred with both the Chairperson and Ms Dlamini on the disappointing lack of data provided by the Department. However, she congratulated it on the progress thus far, especially ensuring that vacancies in important areas were filled. On the issues at special schools, there had been great improvement. On the issue of student transport, a Committee’s recommendation was to provide hostels for pupils, but the Department had not elaborated on the progress of this recommendation sufficiently.
Ms P Samka (ANC, Eastern Cape), speaking in isiXhosa, argued that the Department needed to work more closely with districts and communities to solve issues at specific schools. She commended the Department on working closely with parents on monitoring the budget of Vukuhambe Special School, but this practice needed to become more common. Student governing bodies (SGBs) needed to play an important role in ensuring schools were run effectively, and budgetary concerns were monitored. She represented Alfred Nzo as her constituency and expected the Department to focus more closely on districts which were particularly in need of support.
Ms D Ngwenya (EFF, Gauteng) congratulated the Department on the progress it had made, especially with regard to improving conditions in the special schools. She was looking forward to a follow up visit to witness the improvements at first hand. However, she criticised the lack of detail provided on the issue of teenage pregnancies in the Department’s presentation. What was the Department doing about pregnancy education, and did they have the figures on it? She welcomed the Department’s partnership with the SAPS, but questioned what the process was when a random check found children with illegal substances. How were these children rehabilitated and educated about drug use and selling? With regard to the posts that were advertised for vacancies, when would these be filled? She questioned the Department’s policy on textbook retrieval, asking how the Department planned to enforce it. Was it possible to build a relationship with SAPS, students and parents through interactive meetings? Could students learn to trust SAPS? The police were viewed as enemies by students.
Mr M Khawula (IFP, KwaZulu-Natal) questioned why the MOU between the DBE and DoH had only recently been signed. He recounted a presentation where the DoH had previously claimed that improvements in learners’ health and safety were being made. This would contradict the need for an MOU. Addressing the MEC, he asked what the position of Grade R teachers in the Department was. There had been a long-standing issue with the DBE and unions with regard to Grade R teachers. Was the provincial department taking care of Grade R teachers? Were they being paid fairly? He questioned whether or not the Department of Education was simply passing the buck to the Department of Social Development in this matter.
Regarding the MEC’s comments on student numbers and the Department’s continual poor performance at Matric level, Mr Khawula said that KwaZulu-Natal had more students than the Eastern Cape, and this should not be an excuse. Instead of focusing on the pass rate, the Department should focus on how many learners had failed, and who left school with no certificate at all. The Committee could not simply exonerate the Department with regard to high failure rates. The emphasis should not lie on which province was last in the Matric exam pass rates, but rather on reducing the number of students that failed.
The Chairperson reflected on Members’ comments. The Eastern Cape almost always came last in various national measures of performance, but she was positive about the proposals and interventions the MEC and the Department had initiated and planned. The Department must remain positive about the future of education in the Eastern Cape. The MEC had a positive attitude, but he could not use the lack of finance as an excuse for poor performance, as all provinces suffered from this. She was pleased that teacher training and development was a priority of the Department, but questioned whether the training infringed on the contact time with learners. If so, this would be detrimental to teaching.
She questioned whether the SAPS were doing ‘unannounced’ visits at schools, and how parents were involved in this process, On the textbook retrieval policy, principals were forced to write to the Department that there were insufficient textbooks, and Department then had to issue a tender to procure them. She queried why the correct number of textbooks could not be delivered the first time, as this was an unnecessary expense. Water and sanitation had been a major problem during the Committee’s site visits. Intergovernmental relations and municipalities’ cooperation with the Department was needed. How much communication was taking place between these stakeholders?
Reflecting on the site visits, the Chairperson said that the storage of food for learners was often inappropriate. If the storage of food was compromised, the safety of children was compromised. Rationalisation was important, but this issue had been raised by other members of the Committee. She commented that special schools had become a soft target for abuse. The absence of health professionals to assist these students was concerning, so teachers needed to be trained fully.
MEC Makupula said he appreciated the words of encouragement from the Committee, and the fact that politicians were interested in oversight. The message from the Committee was, ‘pull up your socks’. He encouraged his delegation and others in his Department to accept that the Committee had the best interests of the Department at heart, and it had to work tirelessly to implement its recommendations.
He apologised for the lack of senior officials present at the last site visit. It had been an issue of scheduling, as there had been several other provincial meetings happening at the same time.
Addressing the issue of rationalisation, the onus lay with the communities. The Eastern Cape had 5 537 schools, but 1 902 schools had fewer than five teachers. There were 45 schools with only 19 learners. There were mass discrepancies between teachers and students at schools. He acknowledged the problem of rationalisation, but explained that it took a long time to communicate the reasoning for closing down schools with all stakeholders. He admitted that some Department officials did not follow this policy of consulting stakeholders, and acted unilaterally. Some communities were reluctant to close down schools, even though some had only 12 students, because schools were named after community heroes or historical figures. If communities were not persuaded of the need to close down schools, they often resorted to vandalism. The Department could not deploy security to these schools, as this could be done only by the Department of Public Works. The Departments of Health and Social Development had asked for an updated list of schools which had been closed to ensure learners were safe. By March 2017, he had gazetted 536 schools that were empty -- not because of closure, but because parents had moved their children. Rationalisation was a complex affair.
Mr Makupula admitted that the Department was ‘weak’ in regard to textbook retrieval. The guidelines on textbook retrieval were issued only earlier this year, so they had yet to be implemented properly. The schools often received textbooks, but struggled to retrieve them. The Department then had to order new materials each year. The same principle applied for furniture.
Responding on the issue of district cooperation, he said it was difficult at the provincial level to ensure smooth cooperation with districts. There was a disproportionately high number of districts. The Eastern Cape had had 23 districts, whereas there were only 91 districts across the country. He had been consulting with various officials across the Eastern Cape to consolidate districts, and there were now 12 districts. Some districts in the Eastern Cape, such as OR Tambo, had more schools than whole provinces, such as the Northern Cape.
Responding to Mr Khawula’s concerns on health and safety, Mr Makupula conceded that the Department had been slow to resolving relations with the Departments of Health and Social Development.
Mr Kojane said he accepted the guidance of the Select Committee with regard to improving the quality of their report. The Department would use its ability to gather statistics and data ahead of the Committee’s next site visit in November 2017. He accepted the recommendations of the Committee, and the Department would compile a more comprehensive plan to specifically address issues of scholar transport and rationalisation, in conjunction with the national Department of Basic Education.
On the issue of principals being ‘imposed’ on schools, the Department had prioritised that vacancies were to be filled. However, there was a need to revise the national policy within the Department on the hiring of principals, to ensure there were better relations between the principal and existing staff. The office of the HOD was concerned with ensuring the competency of each appointment. Members of Department would be sent to other provinces to learn from other provincial Departments, particularly surrounding the training of educators for technical schools.
On the issue of Grade R teachers, the province had had to look at the conditions of Grade R practitioners. The matter needed to be regulated at the national level. Mr Kojane recalled that there was a general understanding of paying Grade R teachers a salary of R5 000, but there were discrepancies between provinces. There was a process to ensure that those who had completed their Grade R training were actually employed in the foundation phases. After discussions with the unions, the Department had set aside 1 995 posts to increase remedial support and Grade R teaching, especially to promote reading and writing.
On cooperation between the Department and SAPS, he said that relations have been improved, especially in conjunction with parents. SAPS had been deployed to ‘hotspot areas’ to be vigilant at schools. The relationship was a permanent relationship between SAPS and specific schools, in order to build trust. In the past, several schools in Port Elizabeth had been closed by the threat of gangs. The teachers and pupils had not had a relationship with SAPS to ensure their protection so that learning could continue. Mr Kojane highlighted the importance of this development.
The Chairperson said the meeting had ended on a positive note, as it appeared conditions were improving in the Department in the Eastern Cape. She would wait to see these improvements manifest themselves in improvements in the quality of the Matric results by the end of the year.
The meeting was adjourned.