TVET certificate backlog: SA College Principals Organisation (SACPO) briefing

NCOP Education and Recreation

08 August 2018
Chairperson: Ms L Zwane (ANC, Kwazulu- Natal)
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Meeting Summary

The SA College Principals Organisation (SACPO) came before the Committee to present on the challenges facing the TVET colleges with respect to certification, remedial actions and recommendations. It was reported that for the past two years colleges across the country were battling to get responses from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) with regards to diploma applications. Towards the end of 2016, colleges were given a verbal instruction to hold all diploma applications till further notice, during that time the national office was in a process of overhauling the screening process and had a backlog of approximately 160 000 diploma applications. Umalusi and SITA have been at loggerheads over the crisis of backlogged certifications since the introduction of NC(V). Seemingly, the new certification requirements were possibly not properly programmed into the SITA system to ensure systematic certification processes.

Remedial actions undertaken by colleges were:

  • Regular follow-ups with DHET undertaken
  • Established a central exam office to deal with queries
  • Applications are tracked through a central database kept at the college (CT)
  • Students are requested by the college to re-apply if no response was received within 6 months
  • Applicants are advised to find another host employer and redo the training

Recommendations were:

  • DHET to provide colleges with dedicated personnel that will communicate regularly with management at colleges
  • Regular training and workshops to empower and educate TVET college management to support students when submitting their diploma applications is required
  • Task team to be established dealing with all Backlogs
  • Colleges to have accurate and up to date records of all certificates received against students who are eligible for certification at all times
  • Adequately capacitate the DHET Directorate: National Examinations and Assessment to be able to be responsive to the issues of certification and examinations in the TVET Sector

Members asked what the Department was doing about the challenges that TVET colleges were facing; why the certification was not outsourced to an independent service provider; whether these challenges were a matter of incompetent data capturers or an outdated system; the purpose of the subject certificate; and why the Department did not adopt the same system used by unviersities to address the issue of certification.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the SA College Principals Organisation (SACPO) and the Department of Higher Education and Learning and indicated that the discussion will focus on the certification process and how the problem will be resolved. Members are privy to the challenges that are facing the provinces.

Briefing by the South African College Principals Organisation (SACPO)

Ms Hilda Ntlatleng, President, SACPO, said that for the past two years colleges across the country were battling to get responses from DHET with regards to diploma applications. Towards the end of 2016, colleges were given a verbal instruction to hold all diploma applications till further notice, during that time the national office was in a process of overhauling the screening process and had a backlog of approximately 160 000 diploma applications. Umalusi and SITA have been at loggerheads over the crisis of backlogged certifications since the introduction of National Certificate (Vocational) NC(V). Seemingly, the new certification requirements were possibly not properly programmed into the SITA system to ensure systematic certification processes.

The National Examinations and Assessments Directorate appears to be severely understaffed and is currently not able to adequately cope with the demands of certification and examination administration. On the 22nd of May 2018, the colleges received communication from  the Resulting and Certification unit (DHET), indicating that they are busy concluding 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 certificates and colleges were requested to submit consolidated schedules for all candidates affected. 2017 certificates will follow in due course.  From the first cohorts of students who completed NC(V) qualifications in 2009, certificates were not created and issued to candidates. DHET reported that it was still in a process of procuring printing system. In 2014, the colleges received communication that the DHET was ready to create certificate and schedules of qualifying students had to be submitted, to date, certificates are coming in batches to examination centres.

Ms Ntlatleng outlined the challenges per province – see document

Remedial actions undertaken by colleges were:

  • Regular follow-ups with DHET undertaken
  • Established a central exam office to deal with queries
  • Applications are tracked through a central database kept at the college (CT)
  • Students are requested by the college to re-apply if no response was received within 6 months
  • Applicants are advised to find another host employer and redo the training

Recommendations were:

  • DHET to provide colleges with dedicated personnel that will communicate regularly with management at colleges
  • Regular training and workshops to empower and educate TVET college management to support students when submitting their diploma applications is required
  • Task team to be established dealing with all Backlogs
  • Colleges to have accurate and up to date records of all certificates received against students who are eligible for certification at all times
  • Adequately capacitate the DHET Directorate: National Examinations and Assessment to be able to be responsive to the issues of certification and examinations in the TVET Sector

She thanked the Chairperson and Members for the opportunity.

Discussion

Mr M Khawula (ANC; KZN) thanked the association for the briefing and said it was a pity that when you have to deal with TVET colleges the issues are always saddening. The Committee has been talking about this every time it meets the Department; now it has an understanding of what is happening in TVET colleges; but the question is, what is the Department doing about this? The Department needs to inform the committee where it is having problems in sorting out these issues.

Mr C Hattingh (DA; NW) indicated that he was very happy to receive the presentation because Members have seen these issues unfolding year in year out, and the reality is that we are dealing with people’s future so that they can get employment somewhere for their livelihood. He wanted to know why the certification process or system cannot be outsourced. It is clear that the system does not work, and it has not been working for a decade. It could be outsourced to an efficient system.

Ms D Ngwenya (EFF, GP) noted that these TVET colleges cater mostly for black children and once again our children are being let down. Is this a matter of outdated system or an issue of incompetent data capturers? It does not make any sense that over the past ten years we are still facing the same challenges. Most of these children come from poor backgrounds – why must we always fight for what belongs to us, and is this intentional (to the department), because it has been going on for far too long? If there is a need for a sit-in at the Department that the parents have to do in order to get the results, we will assist them because enough is enough.

Ms P Samka-Mququ (ANC; EC) welcomed the presentation and indicated that most of the time she believes that the Department undermines the Committee or somebody somewhere is not doing their job. Hence, it becomes very difficult for her to engage the official because she would rather direct the questions to the accounting officer.

Ms Samka-Mququ commented that she would have liked to SACPO to give its background to understand where exactly it came from. The Minister needs to account why this backlog is still persisting. Therefore, she was reluctant to ask any questions to the official and suggested that perhaps the Committee should invite the Minister and the Head of Department to account. The Department needs to state very clearly what exactly is going on.

The Chairperson said that in universities when students graduate, they receive their certificates immediately and the numbers are much higher in those institutions. So what is the problem here? She suggested that perhaps SITA must also be invited to account, and actually all the parties are guilty because when data gets to SITA it has incorrect information. Therefore, efficiency is needed at the level of colleges themselves. She also questioned whether SITA was under-staffed. When Members visited the colleges in the provinces, there were complaints about the content of NC(V). This should be explained. We cannot sit with a backlog of 2007, but the Committee acknowledges the reduced backlog. We cannot wait for protest and only react then, clearly someone is not doing their job and that needs to be resolved.

The Chairperson asked for clarity about the subject certificate – what is the purpose of the subject certificate. We need to sit down together and come up with a solution.

Ms Ntlatleng clarified that TVET Colleges cater for people that are working and they may not finish right away but when they finish a certain level they should get that certificate and whenever they come back they can finish up what is left. Those subject certificates may accumulate to a qualification.

Ms Ntlatleng noted that the Department of Basic Education also produced its own certificates so they could learn from that department as well.

On NC(V), she indicated that the curriculum is old but it does need a review because it also lacks the practical component. NC(V) has an advantage because it has practicals, and students are able to do some practical work through it. There are challenges within NV© but the content is very high as compared to the entry level. All these other technical subjects, engineering and others require mathematics and students that pass mathematics well they end up going to universities and colleges end up with the students that did not perform so well who might want to pursue engineering or other related studies.

Mr S Zungu, Secretary General, SACPO, said that the organisation is not only for principals, but it affiliates TVET colleges in order to cover a number of issues that affect colleges across the spectrum which are represented by the principals. The organisation also engages with other stakeholders in the sector.

One distinguishing factor is that universities have proper systems in place, but with TVET colleges, there is no such a system. The introduction of the NC(V) came at the time when recapitalization was supposed to happen. The recapitalization was to address the issue of colleges redress that would merge, in some cases a township college merging with one in town or in the city, but the resources that were meant for recapitalization to deal with the issue of infrastructure backlog ended up being diverted to deal with the introduction of the NC(V) the Chairperson was asking about. The funds had to be diverted to build new infrastructure to ensure that workshops were held to offer the new NC(V) problem. Hence, we have the infrastructure backlog. That infrastructure also incorporates the IT infrastructure which is critical for putting up proper systems. NC(V) was brought up as part of addressing the then outdated Nated programme; we wanted something that would transform the curriculum. We needed to address the two shortcomings with students that were doing engineering which would not do any communication or language subjects which was problematic for them. Secondly, we had to deal with the digital transformation and those students were not exposed to any computer skills and those students were expected to handle the high tech environment. The challenge is that the basic education is introducing the three-stream curriculum, those programmes are almost similar to NC(V). With NC(V) there are positives and negatives and one of the positives is that it exposes students to practical work while they are still students. For us to be able to deal with the backlog, we need to go back to the roots, the backlog was created because of the issue with quality assurance and UMalusi saying that it was not its problems. Students had to do some practicals which had to be authenticated by the college and then submitted. UMalusi declined because it had not been part of that because it was dealing mainly with Basic Education – it did not deal with people in TVET colleges’ students that have done some practicals. This took a while and the backlog was continuing.

The main issue now was that the systems were not integrated, and colleges are using different systems. We need to ensure that what systems are within the colleges that deal with data and ensure that that data is accurate when it gets sent for quality assurance.

Lastly, the issue of the blame game needs to stop because it is not going to assist moving forward.

An official from Department of Higher Education and Training said that the issue is not about the IT system but the exam system. The exam is about precision, if the students are registered with incorrect information then it will be problematic. Some of the issues with NC(V) are that data is not being reconciled because it is registered incorrectly.

There was an intervention done in 2017 to address the backlog. The NC(V) backlog was difficult to clear because of inaccurate information from SACPO. All these organisations have their own systems, but we are struggling with the nated backlog and the system of consolidation from SITA is not functioning but yet for NC(V) it is functioning. On elements of exam circle, the question paper development is one of the issues, if we deliver the question papers to each college using SkyNet why should we deliver certificates to other wrong colleges? The communication with colleges does not start with certificates, we always deliver things to colleges and they are arriving but why are the certificates not arriving? In one of the cases, students were striking for certificates but the very same certificates that the students were striking for were actually in one of the campuses. The question is why the principals are not intervening to ensure that the colleges issue the certificates to students. The DHET does not want to fight the TVET colleges and we have received the report but we still have to look at the accuracy of the report. Coordination in colleges are very important. He suggested a National Examination Committee of Principals to discuss their problems. In 2017 we produced 230 000 certificates from the backlog, and before then there were issues.

He highlighted three problems; the first was that colleges do not submit the student examination marks and then students do not get resulted. Students end up not getting their results and sometimes colleges do not know where the marks are, but they manage the bulk of the marks. Secondly, we battle with courts where courts demand us to result (provide results) the students that were never registered but they are at colleges attending. We care about students but why sit with students that never registered. So why are the principlas allowing students to attend when they are not registered? We are not allowing students to come to the DHET but there are those that come with their parents and lay down their painful stories. We do have weaknesses but moving forward we have appointed a service provider that is developing a new system. The service provider was appointed in March, and the resulting model will soon be piloted. The DHET doubts the accuracy of a lot of information including the one that is provided by SITA. We believe that the new system is going to run parallel exams; we have already piloted the passed exams to check if we are going to get the same result as SITA. In April next year, there will be a parallel run between the old and the new system, so it is only after April where we will see the real backlog.

20 000 diplomas were backlogged, 18 000 were approved and only 2000 that were rejected. We have closed rank with UMalusi, and SITA and we want to do the same with the Principals. The accuracy of the numbers is in question. Another point is that there are changes in the curriculum where level 2 and 3 is a certificate but that certificate will only be issued in level 4. We are willing to work and take responsibility for the backlog, and there has always been a neglect of the TVET colleges. Certificates do not emerge from the capturing of the marks but form the examination as well as the registration of centers and students.

The Chairperson indicated that the duty of the Committee is oversight on the Department, and the Department is responsible for the TVET colleges. So whatever happens at TVET colleges, the Department would take the responsibility and account. She suggested that SACPO and the Department need to work together to try and resolve some of the issues that have been outlined here, and most importantly, it was important that they meet with each other before even coming to Parliament and not fight before the Committee. The most important thing is the future of the children, and the Committee is a public representative institution for the people and when issues are picked up, the Committee is compelled to discuss them with the Department.

Mr Khawula said that the Committee is not a court of law, and it will not give any judgment, both the SACPO and the Department are under one umbrella. Both institutions need to sit down as a family and come up with systems of resolving the issues.

Ms Ntlatleng said that SACPO is employed by the Department, and there is no need to fight. There are constant meetings with the DDG to put these issues on the table. SACPO is more than willing to assist, but it found it necessary to bring these issues forward because the colleges have been struggling for a long time.

Mr Zube said that it was embarrassing that there was no proper communication between the Department and SACPO. The strike that was referred to earlier on by the Department was due to the lack of communication between itself and the colleges – the DHET does not communicate with the colleges even when information or materials are sent out to colleges. Furthermore, no updates are furnished by the department to colleges when a certain issue has been resolved.

The Chairperson said that the parties needed to work together, raise issues and find resolutions. The issue of infrastructure, unqualified lecturers, and workshops on NC(V) (unaccredited workshops for practical work for students) are issues that are yet to be deliberated on by the Committee with the Department and SACPO. She referenced Singapore as one of the countries that has the best TVET colleges and suggested that DHET could assemble a team of principals to go over there to learn about their system.

She thanked the Department for the work done thus far, although it may not be sufficient, especially the capital injection, at least it will make a difference. 

Consideration of outstanding committee minutes

Members agreed to set a different date to consider the minutes because after consideration of the first draft, Ms Mthembu felt that the Committee was not doing any justice to the exercise due to the manner in which it was being conducted.

The Chairperson agreed with the proposal that the minutes will be considered at later date that would be considered by the Committee.

The meeting was then adjourned.

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