The Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefed the Committee on the current preparations for school governing body elections, which would take place from March 2018. The complexity of the election process was highlighted, especially with regard to uniformity across the provinces. Although the overall percentage of readiness was good, it was not excellent.
Members of the Committee were mostly concerned with issues of representation, vetting procedures and the inclusion of initiatives linked to learners with disabilities in future reports. A small technicality of language used in the presentation to describe the Department’s role and responsibility was cleared up, as an impression had been created that it might use the pilot project as a model.
The DBE and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) jointly presented on the progress made with the Operation Phakisa information communication technology (ICT) roll-out in the basic education sector, and indicated that at 60%, the progress with digitised content remained encouraging. Current social partnerships with various stakeholders, including government, were producing excellent results. The strides towards total digitisation would result in huge savings for the DBE, as content would be available for a fraction of the total cost. Teacher training administration was close to 100% connected, with teacher learning at 64%.
Members suggested that it should be a priority to first get the basic infrastructure into place, but the DBE responded that there was an urgent need to fast-track this operation in order to leapfrog socio-economic problems. Other concerns raised by the Department, and debated by Members, was the need for improved bandwidth speeds, for schools to be zero-rated for connectivity instead of the current 50% requirement, the constraints arising from budget cuts, the need to ensure that schools in the rural areas also benefited from the programme, and the challenge of providing the necessary security to protect the ICT equipment invested in the schools.
School Governing Board Elections: DBE briefing
The Chairperson welcomed both the Minister and Deputy Minister, as well as the delegation from the Department of Basic Education (DBE). She said the value of School Governing Body (SGB) elections needed to be understood. These bodies assisted the Department with the efficient running of schools. The biggest challenge facing this Committee was progress made so that elections could run smoothly on 1 March. Additionally, the training of SGB members in the requisite skills for their tenure was also a legitimate concern. If the SGB members were not trained sufficiently, it would negatively impact the school and implementation of departmental policies. Those elected for the post must represent the interests of their community. What processes were in place to ensure that the right people got voted in?
Mr James Ndlebe, Director, Education Management and Governance, DBE, said SGB elections were last held in March 2015. The aim of the presentation was to discuss the progress from that time to the present. The Department would highlight legislation from the South African Schools Act (SASA). Specifically, Section 31 of the South African Schools Act, Act no. 84 of 1996 as amended, stipulated that the term of office of a member of a governing body, other than a learner, may not exceed three years, so every member of an SGB’s current term of office would expire in March 2018.
The election period had been gazetted for a month by the Minister last year in order to allowfor public comment.
Mr Ndlebe explained the strategic significance of SGB elections.
The election of SGBs was one of the flagships of the education sector that had to be prioritised by all provinces in terms of planning, budget allocation and the allocation of both physical and human resources. Furthermore, governing bodies had a strategic significance, as identified by the National Development Plan (NDP), which called for the alignment of the interests of all stakeholders to support the common goal of achieving good educational outcomes that were responsive to community needs and economic development. Importantly, SGB elections contributed to the development of a strong sense of community ownership. He made particular reference to the point where the performance of schools tended to improve when parents were actively involved and took an interest in the affairs of the school.
After the process of gazetting, letters from the DG went out to the provincial Heads of Education. These letters were set up in order to indicate the appointment in writing of provincial election officers; the promulgation of the SGB election regulations; the production of an SGB election circular; and a management plan that included the launch of the SGB election in the province, the appointment of election officers, an advocacy campaign, and the development of election training material.
After the election took place, the DBE established a task team composed of SGB association members and provincial SGB coordinators in order to plan for the forthcoming elections, provide support to provinces, and bring about uniformity in the sector.
Mr Ndlebe gave details of the preparations for the election process, and said that clearly provinces were on different levels of readiness. Some progress needed to take place in the second phase of monitoring, especially in the training methodology of SGBs and encouraging a stringent voters’ roll that accurately reflected the community. It was apparent that all provinces, except for Gauteng, had carried out their duties. In the case of Gauteng, documents still had to be signed by the provincial Member of the Executive Committee (MEC), and this would be completed either today or tomorrow. Therefore, once this last administrative issue was complete, all provinces would be up-to-date and ready for the elections.
The launch dates of SGB elections were set according to the readiness of each province. These dates would be communicated through letters to the parents and in the case of Mpumalanga, a radio station avenue would be used. Provinces had to communicate with stakeholders, parents and inform them about the election period. All provinces had had successful advocacy campaigns.
Still outstanding were the invitation letters to parents, monitoring schedules, election outcomes, grievance resolutions teams, the orientation of newly-elected SGB members and the final report.
The Chairperson said she was concerned that a matter was still outstanding, such as the set up of grievance resolution teams. There were only three to four days to go, so when was the Department planning to do that? Teams had to be ready so that whatever came up, the DBE was ready to resolve those issues.
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) said she had noticed when doing oversight, that the Committee normally focused a lot on the teachers and the performance of the school, and had no way of measuring the training of SGBs to make sure that they were capacitated to do the work. Was there any measure the Committee could use? Were they doing the work? There was nothing on paper that said they had received this kind of training and that they were fully capacitated. Was it possible for the three-year term of SGBs to be extended to about five years? Was the Department considering that, or were they sticking to a three-year plan? Whose responsibility was it to train SGBs, and who were the stakeholders in the process? Was there any State Education Training Authority (SETA) involved in training SGBs?
Mr X Ngwezi (IFP) referred to the Committee’s oversight visit to Mpumalanga. At the M L Guna school, it appeared that there were members of the SGB who did not have children there -- maybe the learners had passed and already left. Was there any way of auditing or checking the committees that were elected three years back, to prevent this from happening? He had noticed that where there were good governing bodies, most of them were a little better educated. Should it not be considered in the guidelines that representatives should at least be literate? There should be some basic reading or writing requirement, because one of the challenges was that the majority of parents were illiterate.
Mr M Tshwaku (EFF) asked how the SGB qualities were determined. Some of the SGBs he had seen were not exactly models of society. What criteria were used? In terms of the powers of the SGB, these people had a lot of influence. If one was not careful about who one chose, one would find that you would have a school or department like Hlokoma, where there were no teachers or an acting principal. There were instances of people in SGBs who did not even understand the finances. What criteria did the selection panel use in selecting a principal? Was there a screening model? Some people supported certain political parties and would not allow the EFF to have its own revolutionary meetings close to the school. He asked the Department to assist with guidelines and documentation about SGBs so that Members could get to know more about them.
Ms H Boshoff (DA) said the presentation had indicated, especially with regard to Mpumalanga, that only two districts had been visited or identified. What had happened to the other districts, and how sure was the DBE that schools and other districts, not only in this province, were completely ready for the elections? How effective had this pilot been if only certain schools had been identified?
Were any of the election guideline training manuals for the appointment of provincial electoral officers set up in Braille, and if not, why not? How were blind learners accommodated in the schools? If there was no one at the district or provincial level who was trained in Braille or in sign language, how could one ensure that schools for the blind and deaf were now full-service schools? Were there people that served for them on the SGBs?
Mr I Ollis (DA) commented for a Department that was very keen to reduce the role of governing bodies, he was impressed that they had such a sophisticated system across the whole country. The DBE was able to organise SGB elections at all 26 000 schools across the entire country, so it sounded like the systems were there and were actually working. He was aware that some members of SGBs did not have the proper training, or the training was available but they did not avail themselves to be trained properly. There were social problems, and it was not just school governing bodies that had people who drank a lot. There were Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers who drank a lot, and one knew it was just one of those things that came with society. One just had to deal with it and help people to recover.
Ms N Mokoto (ANC) appreciated the state of readiness that had been presented. Nationwide preparation was a tough job to do. However, how would the DBE deal with the outstanding matters in the little time that was left? The other question was the realignment of the dates because some of the provinces had been given some leeway to organise guidelines, and they could decide on the dates. What would happen if some schools missed the dates that have been identified for them to hold the elections? She also wanted to understand how the training of SGBs benefited the process.
Ms Tarabella- Marchesi appreciated the fact that the Minister had gazetted the SGB elections, but commented that this would not really trickle down to the parents. Apart from the schools sending out letters, she suggested that maybe radio stations and newspaper should also be used to make parents and communities aware that the SGB elections were going to be taking place soon.
The Chairperson said she had herself received an invitation letter from the school her child attended. All the radio stations in her community emphasised one thing, and that was 1 March. Looking at the guidelines that had been given out to show how the processes were going to happen, she was very interested in the requirement that 15% of parents on the voters’ roll needed to be there on the day of the meetings to form a quorum for the elections. She was a little disturbed, however, to see that that was not standardised in the South African Schools Act (SASA). For example, the Western Cape talked about 10%. Did the provinces have that leeway for deviating away from the national standard, when all the other provinces were looking at 15%. Why was there a difference?
Ms Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, said the SGB elections were bigger than local and national level elections. For example, if they did not form a quorum, they would have to come back.
Regarding the suggestion of five year terms, the Deputy Minister would confirm that there had been submissions that the DBE should stick to three years until the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill was enacted. It had to use the legal framework, and it was still law that it was three years.
On training, the teachers were invited, as well as the learners who also formed part of those SGBs. They were electing the parent component thereof, so training happened at different levels for parents and learners, really explaining what their roles were going to be. Training could not be generic, as different communities or different SGBs found themselves confronted by different problems, and needed different kinds of support structures.
Screening was a democratic process. Parents had to choose who would best represent them, not who could read the law, or who could read the books. Members passed judgments here without necessarily being finance people. Members pass laws because people think they can represent them. Illiterate or literate, it was a democratic process.
She gave an assurance that parents instinctively knew what they thought was best. That was why they could choose schools that they thought were the best, without being educated. They would not send their children, if they thought it was not a good school. They would even tell one that they did not want a particular teacher to teach their children. They were not teachers, but they still did not think that teacher was good.
When parents were empowered, one did not have to ask them for a certificate or give them a right to cope with the laws. They were able to do it. There had been a good turnaround at schools in the Free State, where they had been able to reduce teenage pregnancies from 100 to four a year, just by being streetwise and knowing how to deal with children and knowing their children. One often needed certain skills in certain communities to deal with the challenges there. There was ongoing training, but there were also elections and candidates had to be dynamic and suit the very people that they were supposed to represent.
SGBs did not appoint principals, but they did recommend. When the DBE found there was a good SGB, this was one of the most crucial factors, because they understood what they were supposed to be doing, and were very effective in monitoring those schools. In poor communities, where schools were being vandalised, an effective governing body got the community to protect and support the school. They were also able to hold the teachers accountable, and to hold the DBE accountable too. The DBE often got frantic calls from parents who said that principals were appointing the kind of people they do not want to lead their children. Parents let the Minister know what was good for their children. It would be rare that they would appoint a loser to be at the school.
The Department had placed a lot of adverts in the media at the local level. The best communication was at the local level, to reach the schools and the parents. Those were the people the Department wanted – it did not want the community -- it wanted the parents of the children at the schools. The DBE did do advocacy, but the test of it all was to get the schools to mobilise the parents to attend these meetings.
On the question of 10%, the Member was quite right. In the Northern Cape, because of the vastness of the province, they had not been able to make the 15%. The DBE had engaged with them and said it was too low, and it could not allow a threshold that was too low. The Western Cape also had a threshold that was too low, and again the DBE had engaged with them and said it could not allow a threshold that was too low. It was not a closed case, but the Department was engaging with them to say stick with the threshold, because otherwise parents would comment that they were not properly represented, and that there had not been enough of them. It was in the interest of the sector to keep a healthy threshold.
For SGBs at schools with children who had different abilities, such as those who were blind, the DBE would work within that framework. It would not be any different, because the Department would really be working at the school level, not at a broad community level.
Deputy Minister’s response
Mr Enver Surty, Deputy Minister: DBE, said that five years was definitely a good period for members to serve on SGBs because it took a while for them to be inducted into the process and to get to know the environment and the process. The BELA Bill should address that, and he hoped such a proposal would be supported when it came for consideration by this Portfolio Committee.
He said the Minister had made ws an important point. There was a diversity of activities that governing bodies were responsible for, including the provision of nutrition, sport and recreation, and the safety of learners, so different capacities were required among the members to respond to the various matters because they were trying to provide a very caring and supportive environment. One did not have to be a psychologist or a highly educated person to be able to supply this support.
At the same time, there were areas where induction was certainly necessary, especially how to manage the finances of the school. In that regard, there was a huge opportunity to continue with education, and the DBE had suggested that SGBs in clusters of schools should start using the teacher resource centres. There were 143 of them, and SGBs could not only do an induction programme but embark upon a sustained programme which would make them familiar with the contents of the law, their powers and responsibilities etc. The DBE supported the view that training should be continuous, but at the very least there should be a strong induction programme.
The 10% quorum threshold was quite interesting, as it was very similar to the debate that took place when it came to the stipends for practitioners in Grade R schools. Some provinces were paying R2 500, while others were at R4 000, and some at R6 000. Because of this inequality, they had all agreed at the end of the day to have a minimum threshold of R5 000. There was now a similar situation with regard to the threshold. In the past week, the Department had had a meeting with all the district directors and the Minister, and the district directors had agreed on a minimum threshold of 15%. The district directors from the Western Cape had a different view, but amongst all the other district directors 15% was viewed as necessary, otherwise one would not have a truly representative governing body.
He agreed with Mr Tshwaku that SGB members did wield a great deal of influence. What the BELA Bill was saying, with regard to the appointment of principals that without excluding the SGBs, a new process be set in motion whereby the heads of department would make the decision, without excluding the SGBs. This was because professional leadership and management of schools was central to the efficient functioning of schools, and hoped that the Committee would give its support to the bill.
The DA had spoken about experience, qualifications and competencies as an important element of the qualities of principals, and the DBE wanted to include that.
The organisation of the SGB elections had been an extraordinary feat, because more than 26 000 schools would be holding elections in a month’s time without having received dedicated financial resources for that particular purpose. This meant mobilisation had been very effective, efficient and well-coordinated. The DBE was improving year after year in terms of managing this particular process.
Mr Ndlebe said the training of SGBs was actually carried out by the nine provincial departments, as per section 19 of the South African Schools Act. The law said the Department must carry out the training, but one did get associated governing bodies that were also offering such training. In that instance, the DBE also supported them, but the law stated that departments must make themselves available for training.
As the Minister had indicated, sometimes where training had been organised it was difficult to get members of the SGBs to attend. This was particularly the case in the commercial farming areas, where the situation would be a bit difficult for members who were working in these areas to always be available for these training sessions.
Regarding the issue of the disability sector, the DBE wanted acknowledge that it had a lot to do in that regard.
Regarding instances where there were parents who did not have learners at the school, he pointed out that one could also be a guardian. One might not be a biological parent, but might be assigned that responsibility by a parent who was a migrant worker. More often than not, that assignment was not formal. However, if it came to a parent who had children biologically at the school, and the children happened to leave, those posts or those positions had to be filled. Elections would have to be conducted so that such parents were replaced, and the guardians of the children had to be included in the process.
The Chairperson interrupted that she thought there was a sort of a loophole, because the DBE talked of a voters’ roll of parents, but then introduced the issue of guardianship -- an arrangement that was done informally. How could that be tightened up?
Mr Ndlebe said when it came to elections, the voters’ roll would prevail, but when it came to other responsibilities, the parent could assign those responsibilities to others who could do them on their behalf.
The provinces would be at different levels of readiness for SGB elections. If a school missed a date, it was allowed to reschedule. There was monitoring to keep the deadlines so that by a certain date, all schools should have finished their elections. Whether one was rescheduling because of the quorum or because of matters beyond one’s control, one could reschedule. The DBE allowed for that.
Mr Seliki Tlhabane, Acting Chief Director: Maths, Science and Technology, Curriculum and Quality Enhancement Programmes, DBE, said issues of eligibility were things that may not be detected before elections, when one set up the grievance teams. After the election, one may get information about a parent who should not have stood for the elections. If the grievance committee felt that one of the candidates was not suitable, then they would just remove that candidate and put one of the extra suitable candidates in their place. One did not have to go back to the elections once more.
To manage the functionality of SGBs, the DBE had a tool that guided managers in their day-to-day functioning. It indicated to the number of meetings they had to hold, whether they had minutes, and that they were taking decisions. It was a comprehensive tool. At the end of the year, the DBE would take a sample of about 2 000 schools across the country to look at that tool and analyse it to provide a report on the state of the SGBs are. It would show whether finances or the appointments were a problem, so the training could be focused in those directions.
He referred to the twinning of schools, where the principals and electoral officers do not conduct elections in their own schools, but conduct them in neighbouring schools. The twinning was about exchanging an electoral officer from the school to the next-door schools. The dates were set by the schools because they knew when they would get the majority of the parents. There were schools that know there would be more parents on a Saturday, others on a Sunday and others during the week. When they set those dates, the DBE ensured that they did not clash with their neighbouring schools, to give the parents an opportunity. So the dates were not determined by the Department, but by the schools themselves, looking at their catchment areas.
There were members of SGBs that did not have children at the schools. The law says SGBs could co-opt members of the community -- even parents who did not have children -- on the basis of their ability and skills.
Mr Tlhabane said SETAS was not involved in training, but universities took certain aspects of the DSB guidelines and ran courses that had accreditation and certificates.
The Chairperson said the Committee would be monitoring the progress of these elections during March. It would definitely have a follow-up presentation where the Department could take it through what the challenges of the elections had been, compared to other years.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi said it would be good to get the feedback about the previous term at today’s meeting, to find out how efficient SGBs were and if training was actually working or not. When one visited schools, one would find people who had been elected that not had any training, who did not understand their responsibilities, and hardly ever took part in meetings. Those were points of concern. When the DBE did oversight, it should have a file that for SGBs to say they have gone through the training, and these were the challenges they were facing.
A Member asked what happened to SGBs who did not want to leave out after their term had expired. The communities become complacent and leave it like that. There were schools where SGBs had been there year on year.
Mr Tshwaku asked what happened if an SGB member had a criminal record. It was very dangerous – one was actually gambling with the future of the children. There must be minimum requirement to become an SGB member. He also raised the issue of sampling, and said the number of schools sampled must be expanded to ensure it was representative. Across Gauteng and areas in the townships there were problems with SGBs not knowing what they were doing, and issues of corruption The district officers were doing their work, so why could they not do a 100% check on whether those people were doing their work? What about looking at using unemployed graduates which were there? Regarding training, he commented that by the time people got skills and started understanding how the SGB worked, their term was over. He though the criteria for selection was very important.
Ms J Basson (ANC) said there was no follow-up to what the Committee was being briefed on today. The Committee could sample only the schools from the provinces it visited. The districts could do 100%, because they had to monitor each and every school. What language was used for training, and how effective were the training manuals for electoral officers in order to reach all levels of people? How much time was allocated to the training for the parents to grasp the issues?
The Chairperson said that although the DBE often referred to the challenge of collecting data from the provinces, it had the processes in place to overcome this and to provide more evidence of what was happening with regard to the SGBs.
Minister Motshekga responded that the DBE was an oversight body which did monitoring and evaluation. Though it monitored the reports, it went and verified the reports it received. The DBE must have a file of 360 000 members of the SGBs. This could not be done at the national level, only at the local level. At the national level one could not go to ten schools and give a whole impression of the sector, so the DBE were going to 2 000 schools for what was a “dipstick” survey. There are structures, there are sectors, there are districts and provinces which do some of the basic work, so the DBE has to verify if what they were telling the DBE is true.
There were guidelines as to who could qualify to become an SGB member or not, so although it was a democratic process, it did not mean that a paedophile or murderer could stand for election. However, there were a lot of crooks that came through the system, and that was the DBE monitored on an ongoing basis.
The Department took the point that the language in the DG’s report must be clearer, and not the impression that it had been a pilot project. However, the DBE could not spread out and go to all 24 000 schools, otherwise it would not be able to do anything else except deal with SGBs.
The Committee was told that in the guidelines and even in the provincial regulations, there was a code of conduct and eligibility clauses. The aspect of criminal records was actually specified on the ballot paper. When a candidate is accepted, they go through a swearing-in procedure in which they declare that they have no criminal record and sign to that effect. Should a person who was elected to the SGB have a criminal record, the community would inform the DBE immediately that that person was not supposed to be there.
The Chairperson encouraged Members to continue to be the watch dogs in their oversight, and ensure that the SGB elections took place well. She asked about progress with the BELA Bill, because it was going to be addressing some of the issues that had been raised today. A problem the Committee faced was when a report says all is well, but when it goes on oversight visits it finds there are problems. It seemed to be easy for some lower level departments to deceive one, and one could only put one’s trust in the 2 000 schools sampled.
Deputy Minister Surty said education was a concurrent competency, and the implementation of policy was in the hands of provinces. That was why there were provincial legislatures and decisions were taken there in terms of implementation. The DBE’s task was to see that the laws were implemented in the provinces. The provinces should be aware of any school that was not functioning according to the guidelines and bring it to the DBE’s attention, and it would certainly would intervene.
The DBE had received hundreds of submissions onthe BELA bill, a lot of which were related to the power of the SGBs. It was looking at all the submissions and analysing the data as a whole. Where there was a need to refine the bill, the DBE would do so. Then the mandate would go back to Cabinet to approve it, and then it would be referred to Parliament. Because it was a section 76 bill, it could be introduced either to the National Council of Provinces or to the Assembly. Parliament would go through the same public participation process, for public comment on the Bill. This process would take no less than 90 days before it came to Parliament.
Operation Phakisa ICT Rollout in Basic Education
The Chairperson highlighted the central issue of funding for the Operation Phakisa rollout of information communication technology (ICT) at schools, and how far the project had progressed.
Deputy Minister Surty referred to the progress of digitised content, saying that at 60%, the progress remained encouraging. Current social partnerships with various stakeholders, including government, were producing excellent results. For example, the provincial Department in Gauteng had contributed R50 million to the project. The strides towards total digitisation would result in huge savings for the DBE, as content would be available for a fraction of the total cost. Teacher training administration was close to 100% connectivity, with teacher learning at 64%.
The content that was made available to the DBE was out of the Department’s hands. This was where the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Service (DTPS) had to step in. A collaborative relationship had been successfully established between the DBE, DTPS, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Presidency. The key challenge remained on the issue of connectivity. He said the completion of this project would be the first of its kind in the world, and would put South Africa on the global map for innovation and technology.
Mr Tlhabane said the purpose of the presentation was to give a comprehensive overview of Operation Phakisa, which was made up of multi-sectoral parties. To ensure the smooth running of the project, the stakeholders hold regular committees meetings. For instance, the outcomes for the sectors’ oversight meeting on October 25 2017 in Cape Town had documented the following:
- The DBE would share the database of connected schools in SA with the DTPS;
- Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) would make sure that connected schools had ICT end-user devices;
- The DBE was requested to advise schools on how to apply for e-Rate and report any defaulting Telco to the DTPS;
- The DBE was requested to budget and take responsibility for internet service after expiry of initiatives of organisations that support school connectivity for a limited period – for example, the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) supported schools connectivity for only two years.
The role of the Department of Communications (DoC) in the operation was to meet with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to discuss e-Rate, the zero-rating of educational websites and sustainability at connected schools. It was also requested to arrange a meeting with licensees (Telcos) through ICASA to discuss how they could contribute more towards education, other than current Universal Service and Access Obligation (USAO) obligation.
Within the DBE, the initiatives related to the areas of development for digital content, ICT hardware, e-Administration, e-Exams, e-Governance, business processes, and ICT professional development all showed a positive trend of growth.
The presentation demonstrated the system of teacher training development used in ICT systems. The provinces with ICT infrastructure already in place, such as the Western Cape, appeared to be further ahead than smaller rural provinces. These courses were aimed at teachers, subject advisors, district officials, provincial and national Officials, and followed a systematic policy cycle process.
Mr Tlhabane also spoke about the challenge of the SA Connect internet bandwidth speed being insufficient to cater for the educational demand. There was a need for schools to raise the 50% monthly e-rate to pay for connectivity. Possible solutions to cover this rate included acquiring assistance through the Universal Service and Access Fund (USAF). However, this process was still in deliberation and not yet gazetted.
Mrs Miriam Paul, Chief Director, ICT Macro Applications, DTPS, highlighted the role of investigation into overlaps in connectivity and their causes, the two phases of goals and outcomes and core network providers. However, the final mile tender between the N1 sample schools was still to be finalised.
Broadband Infraco (BBI) was supposed to provide the long-distance infrastructure around the country, while the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) would provide the service over the network. SITA had already provided connectivity to two facilities in the OR Tambo District -- Mhlontlo Local Municipality (Tsolo College of Agriculture and Dr Malizo Mpehle Memorial Hospital) -- through a proof-of-concept (PoC) as part of SA Connect implementation.
So far, no funding had been allocated to the implementation of phase two of SAConnect.
The Chairperson said the Committee would now turn to another very important topic, the issue of ICT connectivity to schools, and how this issue could assist teaching and learning in South Africa. The last meeting with both the DBE and the Department of Telecommunications had been in 2016. There had been a number of challenges but also progress, and around 52% of schools were already connected by then.
The biggest challenge was the funding for this project, but the Committee also wanted to know about the fundamental structures of the project. What was the progress now? At the end of the day, one wanted to see all the schools being connected and all the learners being able to access the materials.
Deputy Minister Surty said he thought the DBE had made great progress with regards to digitised content. They were close to 60% in terms of digitisation, not only with the curriculum, but with the textbook content too. It was hoped to achieve almost 100% digitisation by the end of this administration.
The Department had tried to mobilise resources, and had wonderful partners in MTN, Vodacom, the National Education Collaboration Trust and the provinces themselves. For example, Gauteng had contributed R50 million towards digitisation. The Eastern Cape had contributed R5 million, and contributions from other provinces were expected.
The value of the initiative was that once a textbook was digitised, it was available to all provinces. It was going to be in the education “cloud,” so that was exciting. It was a huge project and the DBE was not basically sourcing funds from outside public-private partnerships in order to achieve it.
The second important element involved teacher professional development. Many sessions had taken place. Provinces and districts were making progress through utilising teacher resource centres. There was almost 100% administrative connectivity. Teaching and learning itself had moved to 64%.
The biggest challenge so far was the information made available to the ministry. It was not in the hands of the DBE, which had to rely on the Department of Telecommunications and the Postal Services. In response, the DBE had set up a committee involving the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Telecommunications and the DBE to drive this process forward, and this had been done with the authority of the Presidency. The Presidency was behind the drive to have the schools connected sooner rather than later.
Once digitisation took place, previous issues such as textbooks being delivered on time would not prevail, as they would be available in digitised form. All textbooks would be interactive in order to encourage and promote self-regulated learning. Linkages through other education resources would be available through the education “cloud.”
The Department wanted to make administration web-based. The effect of that would be that the Minister of Education would be able to respond to questions regarding the performance of the system in place in real-time. Additionally, the performance of a particular learner could be tracked. The DBE would be able to monitor curriculum coverage in real-time, the absenteeism of teachers, and the impact of absenteeism on the outcome of the school.
The tool was available, but the key challenge was connectivity. Mr Tlhabane and his team were doing extraordinary work. What they were doing was quite unique in the world. The DBE was taking education and making it a public interest issue, which meant education would be available to all free of charge.
Discussions with some of the service providers were quite advanced and still had to be formalised. They had agreed to have the education cloud sit on their platform. Anybody who accesses the cloud would have access to the past exams, the curriculum and textbooks free of charge, even if it was interactive.
This achievement would be the first on the continent and a first in the world. The DBE was encouraged by the fact that it was indeed dealing with the issue of connectivity, and that it was bridging the digital divide and embracing the fourth industrial revolution.
Mr Tlhabane said the DBE was truly appreciative of the support from its political heads and the various departments involved. They had asked the Deputy Ministers to lead the process to unblock those issues that required political intervention. There were some challenges, but these were being closely worked on with the DTPS, especially the issues of connectivity.
The DBE had observed the initiatives of provincial governments. Gauteng had a provincial broadband approach called the Gauteng Broadband Network, the Western Cape had followed suit with the Western Cape Broadband Project, and there was Limpopo Connect in the Limpopo Province. This programme would connect all the schools that were within a defined radius of the N1. The infrastructure was still there and these schools were going to be connected with high connectivity. The current work of the DTPS was seen as a model that could be used for other schools to get high speed connectivity.
The speeds that were defined by SA Connect did not meet educational needs. There was also the issue of the implementation of the e-rate, where schools were supposed to be billed for 50% of the data. The Department had been informed by the DTPS that that was actually happening. The challenge was schools having to pay for the remaining 50%. This was supposed to be paid through a fund that had been established through USAF, which was paid through the levies of the network operator. Although the network operator was paying this levy, it was actually deposited through the fiscus of National Treasury. It was ring-fenced. This was a challenge that the DTPS had reported.
To mediate these challenges, the DBE had addressed Equal Education (EE) zero rating. Although it was not gazetted, the Department was implementing zero rating through its partners and all critical education sites. There were partners who had already demonstrated the willingness to do this.
Ms Paul provided the DTPS response on the SA Connect issue, which involved the national broadband policy approved in 2014. The DTPS was trying to aggregate the government's demand on broadband. It had looked at two phases of the SA Connect. In phase one, it had developed a business case, where it had identified 6 135 facilities, government schools, post offices, clinics, police stations and other government facilities. Phase two was for the rest of the facilities around the country -- about 35 000 facilities in the districts.
The current status of the SA Connect phase one was that in the beginning, it had been allocated around R1.84 billion for the implementation process. This budget had now been reduced in the last budget allocation to around R370 million. From 2014 to the present, the DTPS had appointed BBI and SITA to provide phase 2 facilities.
The DTPS was currently finalising the broadband rollout plan with SITA and BBI. The BBI was supposed to provide the long-distance infrastructure around the country. They were still finalising this with other service providers. They had tendered to finalise the last mile access network providers. This had been closed in 2017. It was currently finalising the last mile network provider between National Treasury, the Department and BBI.
The Department had given the order to SITA to provide the facilities. SITA already had two facilities in the O R Tambo district in the Eastern Cape as a proof of concept for the services. This was for Phase One of SA Connect. Phase Two involved more or less 35 000 facilities in 34 districts. In 2014, the Department had collaborated with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and had found that it needed an extra 64 000 kilometres of fibre in South Africa to fill the gaps. It had also submitted a funding proposal to National Treasury in August 2017, but funding had not yet been allocated for this phase.
BBI would provide the core network, and SITA would provide the service over the network. BBI would also look at third-party access to the network, as stated in the tender which was being finalised. A Minimum Service Agreement (MSA) had been signed between the BBI and SITA. SITA would provide the internet and data application services to government over the BBI network. SITA would be providing the routers and Wi-Fi devices inside the schools. The DBE would be in charge of the devices used by learners and teachers at the schools.
Mr Ollis asked what happened with the money sitting in the National Treasury which was meant to pay 50% of the schools’ connectivity fee. It was like the fuel levy, which was misappropriated by the National Party that subsequently used it for other things. Who was going to control how this money would be used so that it would be used in the right way to pay the schools’ monthly internet costs? Maybe the Department must make one payment. It was an urgent matter, especially if schools do not get paid and ended up being cut off from the system. How could the policy regarding the speed of connectivity be fixed? The 2014 bandwidth speed policy needed to be revised. What portion of the Phase Two R60 billion budget would be needed to connect schools only?
Mr Tshwaku thought digitisation was good, but one had to be realistic. The country still faced with schools needing to be built, textbooks to be delivered on time, and the hiring of qualified teachers on the current budget. How were the schools going to be digitised? Would the school have computers? There had been a school that gave learners iPads, and six months later the iPads had all been stolen. How was the DBE going to functionalise matters? Were the rural schools being taken into consideration, or just the urban areas and townships? Were the poor and the working classes being catered for? Who stood to benefit from this policy? What was the DBE’s timeline? Telecommunications had been struggling with migration -- was it a long term or short term issue? There was a need to get the basics right first. For example, how would the computer laboratories be protected from break-ins?
Ms Basson said this was a good project if it could go according to plan. However, it seemed there were still a lot of challenges. It seemed that schools in urban areas, where qualified ICT staff were plentiful, had a greater advantage than rural areas. What plans did the DBE have to distribute all the resources equally to all the schools, especially rural schools? The teacher resource centres seemed to have uneven distribution of resources. For instance, if a district had 500 schools and only two technicians, with an approximate average of 300 kilometres between them, how useful would the resource centres be to the schools? The DBE should consider the distances from the teacher resource areas and how they varied between provinces.
Ms C Majeke (UDM) asked what was being done about the remaining schools that still needed to be connected? Only two areas had been sampled in the SITA study, and they were within 10 kilometres of each other. What about testing neighbouring towns that were further apart in order to give hope to the people living in such circumstances?
Ms Boshoff said that in 2004, there had been a report that suggested that every learner on the General Education and Training (GET) and Further Education and Training (FET) phases would be ICT capable by 2013. This target had been missed. It was important that the youth urgently acquire ICT skills in order to boost the economic growth of the country. In Limpopo, it had been suggested that routers in classrooms be replaced with Wi-Fi in the entire school. What about schools that could not afford to pay their 50% insurance fee? Was it possible to set up a system that put these schools in the care of insurance schemes and stakeholders? The DBE needed to have regular meetings with the DTPS in order to have a stronger grasp on the progress of the project. What about home schooling and connectivity? In 2015, the DBE had given an assurance that special needs schools would be connected. With regard to the vetting requirements, it was clear that many rural schools did not meet the specifications. She would like to know what provision was being made for connectivity at rural schools.
Mr Ngwezi asked about the security of resources onsite. How could schools continue paying for stolen goods? It was clear South Africa did not have that kind of money. Where would the schools’ self-funding 50% be raised if there were backlogs? How could one prevent a good initiative being affected by poor administration?
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi asked how the Department would make sure the teachers would become more competent and innovative to maximise the learning potential of the students, teaching them how to use digital devices and how to improve thinking skills. What was the type of teacher training that was being encouraged? Would it be more appropriate,as other Members had mentioned, to first have basic facilities in place before rolling out this project?
Ms Mokoto said there was a need to note the progress of digitisation and ICT rollout in schools around the country. What was the progress in terms of reaching the targets that had been set in the medium term strategic framework (MTSF) and the NDP? How far was the DBE from reaching the 2020 goals, particularly for learning and teaching? She asked for details of the reduction of the budget. The Deputy Minister had spoken the responsibility for connectivity, but then SA Connect had spoken about it being the responsibility of other departments. Some provinces had not responded to the call to come and fund the programme. It would be better to have all of the provinces together, to make better progress.
What was the deadline for the zero rating? The Committee was aware from the report that some of the service providers would do it for three years after the Department took over. It might also impact the number of schools’ data it had. For instance, of the 64.9% of schools, perhaps some would not be connected and would become white elephants. What did 64.9% actually represent in terms of schools?
How about insurance providers? What insurance was being provided for currently connected schools? How could one be more creative with the budget constraints within the schools? What about setting up systems such as pay as you go data, in order to work within set financial targets instead of waiting for the Department to assist?
Mr H Khosa (ANC) said the challenge about zero rating was whether the dates were currently achievable. There was a need to address security in the policy. For example, how would educators keep themselves and the valuable equipment safe, as educators had been attacked in Mpumalanga. What would happen with learners with special needs? In most cases, they were lagging behind the rest of the country.
A Member commented that for security, one had the police, and hospitals had high security. However, schools were not places where expensive resources were found. Former model C schools had self-funded security systems. There was a need to be creative with the security.
The Chairperson remarked that another area where there was “a need to boil water while we wait for the chicken”, and that was the initial teacher training, when it came to teaching through the ICT. One needed to check that these teachers were ready to take up ICT training.
Minister’s closing remarks
Minister Motshekga said the biggest win-win solution to most of the DBE’s challenges was that it had interdepartmental teamsto try and support each other. They even met in some instances with municipalities. If they got this right, it would help them leapfrog all the other problems in the sector.
Security was a big issue, with external and internal threats. Life continued, regardless of security threats. Security should not be an issue that discouraged the progress of this project. At the end of the day, having ICT made life more efficient, such as using the technology of a mobile phone. ICT was such a basic and crucial tool that one had to deal with the challenges.
There were many exciting developments for children with disabilities that would not be possible without ICT. For example, there was the ability to move an object on the screen with one’s eyeball. In this case, the provinces had to work together. There was a lot of supply chain management that needed to happen. For example, the laboratory model was not the best. The DBE was open to changes and setups that would provide the most efficient system.
There were programmes that the Department wanted to implement, but it did not have the funds for them. For instance, the second chance programme, where children have the chance to rewrite their matric. However, through ICT, a programme such as this enabled students to rewrite their matric. The DBE was working with universities to urge that ICT modules be taught to all teachers in the field.
If the DBE could get this project done correctly, most of the problems that it was facing would be overcome. It would assist with teaching. The Department could not afford to build science labs in every class, but if there was ICT-simulated teaching, it would overcome this hurdle. This project would help the DBE to overcome some of the challenges that it could not solve immediately. It was the only hope for the poor. It reduced costs, and enabled the DBE to do things it could not do with the human capacity available.
Deputy-Minister’s closing remarks
Deputy Minister Surty said it was not a question of debate that the fourth industrial revolution had arrived. The manner in which one taught, learnt and functioned was changing in this rapidly changing global environment. What kind of skills did one give to one’s children? How did one teach? It required analytical and problem-solving skills which might have been so necessary in the past.
The reality was that ICT was critical in the fourth industrial revolution, and it was of great urgency that the DBE was focusing on the provinces that did not yet have the infrastructure. For instance, Gauteng and the Western Cape had the infrastructure and the human resource capacity. One had to recognise the difference in ICT development between the provinces. ICT could change the character and the outcomes of a system of education. Last year, Free State had been number one because they had utilised ICT optimally. He was not at all surprised that the Free State had done better than the Gauteng and the Western Cape, and it was a rural province. They had not waited for their other challenges to be fixed. They had applied ICT at every one of their schools and made interventions and acquired data as it happened. This was empirical evidence.
Gauteng had nine data driven districts. A year ago, the first three districts had been from the Western Cape. If one managed ICT in a different way, one could achieve better results. Western Cape had come in at number ten, not because they had any fewer challenges, but because they have not been able to utilise ICT as optimally as other provinces.
The DBE distributed more than 64 million work books. Every Grade R child receivedfour books delivered to him or her free of charge. From grade 1 to grade 9, books on literacy and numeracy were provided to every child. Those books were owned intellectually by the Department of Education. If one were to buy these books from a private seller like the CNA, one would pay approximately R125. The Department prints and delivers those books at R10 per book. The savings are almost a 1 000%. If one looks at what the DBE had done in terms of digitisation, it already had 110 textbooks which it owned intellectually digitised. Where that textbook would have cost R320, the DBE was now able to reproduce it for R20. The poor ultimately benefited from the enormous saving.
If the DBE first had to sort out basic challenges such as building toilets, the digitisation process would occur in only five years’ time, and the rural child would not have the benefit of access to ICT, no digitised content that he or she could download, not only on a computer but even on an ordinary phone. The content that the DBE had digitised could be downloaded to an ordinary phone. That was how versatile and ubiquitous it was.
This process had to be done concurrently. That understanding had to be embraced by everybody so that they understood the value of what the Department was doing. If the process was allowed to occur in a year, all children with access to the digitised content would have access to six years’ worth of textbooks. The DBE would not be saving millions, but billions of rands for education.
The Department’s norms were right. It had specified the speed and the nature of what it wanted, and decided to move away from past conceptions of computer labs, training and resources, and to be more creative. Not every school could provide a lab, and the DBE wanted something that was portable and mobile, such as a trolley with 40 laptops that could be pushed into any classroom in the evening, and be locked. This would be effective -- all it required was a safe door. It resulted in huge savings in terms of security. It was more practical, functional and portable, and could go everywhere.
It would not be long before every child had a laptop. The DBER was looking at the minimum speed. Cnnectivity could take place through satellite, between 3G and 4G, signals or television, or it could take place through fibre. Which was the most economical option?
The Department agreed with Mr Ollis that there should not be a 50% rate, but a zero rate for all schools. This concern had been raised because it was happening in Malaysia and Tanzania, it used to happen in Libya and it was happening in parts of the Middle East. Why should it not happen here? That was the DBE’s argument, a principle supported by its colleagues, so the norms were right in terms of speed and requirements. The challenge with the rebate was how it could be ring-fenced and provide the benefits to the schools.
When building schools, one would not have a single school without electricity. Electricity was more effective than solar power for ICT.
The Western Cape and Gauteng were the front-runners. They do extremely well in terms of ICT because they had inherited the infrastructure. Both of these provinces had learnt very expensive lessons in terms of ICT, and the DBE had become much wiser about how to manage it.
MTN had implemented specially designed devices for the partially sighted and special needs children in over 200 schools to date. The slight backlog was due to the process of finalising norms which was taking place between the DBE and the Department of Social Development.
In talks with the Department of Telecommunications, the DBE was looking at Wi-Fi in schools. The intention was to do things in a bigger way. The Department could not do it alone and had to do it with our specific partners. It was working closely and collaboratively. It wanted connectivity first and then a budget for devices. If one was not spending the money on a textbook, one could spend R50 on a device.
In terms of equity, every child should be able to have access to a device that was suitable to him or her. Issues of infrastructure would not be as great a problem once there was connectivity.
The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister, saying it was good to see his passion. Everyone wanted to see this initiative moving forward.
DBE’s closing remarks
Mr Ndlebe said that in terms of sustainable goal number four, ICT was viewed as a social transformation and human rights issue. This was the approach of many countries. If one did not take that approach, more people would be excluded. There would be a big gap between those who had moved and those that had not moved at all.
The presentation had given a comprehensive report on the progress the DBE had made to deal with the challenges identified in 2016. The former President had set a deadline of 2019 by which time all schools should be connected. Unfortunately, the presentation did not suggest that deadline would be met, but the DBE had highlighted the challenges. It was now known who was supposed to do what. Going forward, the Department could be monitored based on what it had committed to do, and make sure it eventually met those targets.
His recent visit to the Eastern Cape indicated that they were ahead of other provinces. It had provided laptops to all foundation phase and intermediate phase teachers and principals. In the coming financial year, the focus was going to be on the senior phase and FET. Once they had done that, the Eastern Cape would be ahead of everybody.
Provinces were at different levels of development, but the issue of security remained an albatross. In Gauteng, for instance, the gains that had been made had been reversed by vandalism and theft. It was clear that progress had been made, but there was still a lot to be done and challenges that needed to be dealt with.
The Chairperson thanked the Minister, Deputy Minister, and delegations from the DBE and DTPS, and commented that the engagements today were taking the country forward.
The meeting was adjourned.
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