The Department of Basic Education (DBE) met with the Committee to present the report of the High-Level Panel (HLP) on the assessment of key legislation and the acceleration of fundamental change in South Africa’s education system.
Pertinent aspects of the presentation included school dropout rates, where it was noted that the issue was not so much the dropouts themselves, but the repetition rate. The problem here was the quality of teaching and the socio-economic backgrounds of those students who tended to have to repeat parts of their studies. Of those dropping out, several reasons were given. Between ages seven and 15, students dropped out because of disability, funds and ineligibility for enrolment. Between 16 and 18, there were also issues with funding, as well as a lack of interest or dissatisfaction with the levels of education attained.
The National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations, written after 12 years of teaching and learning, served as the most reliable measure of the success of the education enterprise, so public confidence in the NSC must be enhanced. In this regard, there had been a formalisation of the standardisation of marking guidelines, as well as implementation of a tolerance range to ensure consistency in marking, and the centralised marking of selected subjects.
The quality and standardised early childhood development (ECD) programmes report’s recommendations suggest that SA ought to broaden access to quality and standardised ECD programmes, target rural and marginalised communities, and transfer the ECD programme from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the DBE to improve readiness for Grade R. There had been some progress made in this regard. The DSD conditional grant for ECD infrastructure and financing framework had been developed, 4 463 ECD practitioners were currently in training towards a Level 4 ECD qualification, and the policy on minimum requirements for programmes leading to qualifications in higher education in early childhood care and education had been approved in March 2017.
Members expressed concern about safety and security in schools, and said drug abuse and gangsterism were serious issues. Today, the majority of schools in rural areas did not have security. The DBE and stakeholders might try to assist schools by providing information communication technology (ICT) materials, but in a school without security, these materials would not be safe. To what extent were systems and policies in place to ensure proper management of schools? Members maintained that there needed to be an improvement in the process of appointing principals. Regarding learner teacher support materials (LTSM), schools did not seem to have a proper retrieval system, and they were skeptical about the possibility of implementing e-learning in rural schools. Questions were asked about the policy on teacher abuse and sexual abuse at schools.
It was argued that some of the challenges identified in the report had existed even prior to 1994. Those schools that were benefiting during apartheid were still benefiting now, so the DBE needed to address these broad inequalities in education. This divide also existed between urban and rural schools. Incentives were needed to attract better quality educators to the poorer and rural areas.
High Level Panel (HLP) recommendations: Progress
The Chairperson stressed the importance of the report to be discussed during the day’s session. The Committee would explore what was being done well, but also what gaps there were in the legislation and how the Department of Basic Education (DBE) could move forward.
Mr Hubert Mweli, Director General (DG): DBE, said the Minister had planned to attend the meeting but had been advised by the Doctor to stay at home and rest. The Deputy Minister had also tendered his apologies.
The core of the report was about improving learning outcomes, and the quality and efficiency in the system. In general, the Department had seen improvements in recent years in reading and maths between the South African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality SACMEQ III and IV. Similarly, there had been an improvement from 2006 to 2016 for Grade 5 Progress in Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS), combined Afrikaans and English. Isizulu had also shown a marked improvement. The number of candidates passing Matric since 1970 had grown over time, and Bachelor passes were equally improving, with the most substantial number of passes in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Regarding dropout rates, the issue was not so much dropouts in and of themselves, but the repetition rate. The problem here was the quality of teaching and the socio-economic backgrounds of those students who tended to have to repeat parts of their studies. Of those dropping out, several reasons were given. Between ages seven and 15, students drop out because of disability, funds and ineligibility for enrolment. Between 16 and 18, there were also issues with funding, as well as a lack of interest or satisfaction with levels of education attained.
A special task team comprising officials from the DBE, provincial education departments and teacher unions had been tasked to finalise a redesign of the Annual National Assessment (ANA). The task team had favoured and recently adopted a broader-based Systemic Evaluation (SE) model. In November 2017, teacher unions and the Department had agreed that the first pilot cycle of the model should commence in 2018.
The National Senior Certificate (NSC), more commonly known as Matric, embodied the key goals and objectives of the South African schooling system. The NSC examinations, written after 12 years of teaching and learning, served as the most reliable measure of the success of the education enterprise. Given the currency and value of the matric, its credibility and the public confidence in it must be enhanced. The HLP report needed to be corrected in one respect: 55% of youths, not 30%, successfully complete Grade 12. This had recently been confirmed by Africa Check. With regard to efforts to enhance the credibility of the NSC, there had been a formalisation of the standardisation of marking guidelines, implementation of a tolerance range to ensure consistency in marking, and the centralised marking of selected subjects, including South African Sign Language as Home Language (SASLHL).
While there had been significant gains in the NSC since its inception, a well documented bug-bear for the system remained the level of throughput. The Minister had amended the policy to ensure that learners that would be spending more than four years in a phase were progressed to the next grade. Progression was accompanied by learner support. Further interventions by the DBE and provincial education departments (PEDs) were focused on improving throughput by including monitoring shifts in subject enrolments at the district circuit and school level, identifying subject demands in terms of economy, workplace and higher education, and ensuring shifts in the right direction for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)subjects. The DBE uses the outcomes of the NSC examination to identify specific areas of weakness at national, provincial, district and school level. Diagnostic reports are developed, which analyse learner performance in key subjects and make suggestions for remedial action at the classroom level.
The Three Stream Model (TSM) maintains that “the different parts of the education system should work together, allowing learners to take different pathways that offer high quality learning opportunities.” The major change drivers here were the fourth industrial revolution, the major skills shortages and mismatches, socio-economic issues -- including the divide between the rich and poor -- and issues of inclusive education. The intention was to have about 40% of students following an academic pathway, and 60% a more technical vocational and/or occupational pathway. The next steps for the TSM model include a senior phase pilot programme, where years 1 and 2 of the draft revised Technical Occupational (TO) subjects must be piloted in schools of skill and other special schools in 2018. In addition, the TO subjects would be repackaged for piloting in Grades 8 and 9 in 2019.
Regarding reading results in international studies, 78% of grade 4 children could not read for meaning in their home language in 2016. There was a substantial gender gap of about a grade level in favour of girls. The Primary School Reading Improvement Project (PSRIP) aims to improve literacy and reading outcomes. It aims to strengthen previous and current initiatives, build the capacity of the teachers in core methodologies and inculcate the necessary routines, provide extra resources (lesson plans, readers and posters), and develop capacity in districts and circuits to support the teaching of literacy and reading.
The Early Grade Reading Study (EGRS) impact evaluation, completed in 230 schools in the North West (2015-17), had focused on home languages, and especially African languages. There had been three interventions -- centralised teacher training, on-site coaching and a parent involvement programme. The next steps for the programme were to finalise and implement the manual on how to teach reading in African languages, strengthen training on reading pedagogies in all languages based on language specific orthographies and linguistic structures, roll out provincial training on how to teach reading in African languages in 2019, and to finalise the reading and writing strategy, reading and writing norms and reading framework for African languages.
There needed to be an emphasis on teaching and developing a breadth of skills in the curriculum, including in critical thinking, problem solving and empathy skills. There were also aims to develop digital competences, in information and data literacy, communication and collaboration, digital content creation, safety and problem solving. Over 50% of schools were connected, but these were most concentrated in urban areas.
The quality and standardised early childhood development programmes (ECD) report’s recommendations suggest that SA ought to broaden access to quality and standardised ECD programmes, targeting rural and marginalised communities, and transfer the ECD programme from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the DBE to improve readiness for Grade R. Parliament should also use its right to allocate increased funding for the ECD and to develop appropriate training for ECD practitioners. There had been some progress made. The DSD conditional grant for ECD infrastructure and financing framework had been developed, 4 463 ECD practitioners were currently in training towards a Level 4 ECD qualification, and the policy on minimum requirements for programmes leading to qualifications in higher education in early childhood care and education had been approved in March 2017. According to White Paper 5, the Grade R funding model in primary schools had been structured via a direct poverty-targeted grant-in-aid from PEDs to School Governing Bodies (SGBs). The subsidy was regulated throughout the National Norms and Standards for funding Grade R. The total Grade R learner cost was equal to 70% of the goal cost per learner in Grade 1, and this covered personnel and non-personnel funding.
The school management and governance report’s recommendations advise that, where appropriate, more powers should be shifted to school principals to empower them to be agents of change in the education system. The recently published ‘South African standard for school principals’ was an important contribution in that it provides, for the first time, a clear and comprehensive statement of the competencies required of a school principal. The framework for the training of heads of departments (HODs) had been completed and piloted. The Department had also developed guidelines for the capacity building programmes for SGBs, which provides provinces, districts, SGB associations and principals with minimum topics that SGBs must be trained on. A number of slides with considerable data were then presented.
The equitable share (ES) formula did not determine how much was spent on education in each province. However, it served as a somewhat useful benchmark against which to gauge the adequacy of each province’s allocation to basic education. However, strictly this should be ES as a percentage of all spending items in education, divided by the ES as a percentage of all spending items in province. In one respect, equitable share was actually -- not just theoretically -- ‘short-changing’ certain PEDs. The use of the Census 2011 population figures in the education component (mid-year estimates were used elsewhere in the formula) meant that, in particular, Gauteng was under-funded. More specifically, Gauteng appeared to be losing around R300 million each financial year. The cumulative under-funding for the Gauteng Department of Education over the 2018 medium term expenditure framework (MTEF) period, was estimated at R1 billion.
On the issue of wage pressure, the average increase in the purchasing power of educators, relative to the official consumer price index (CPI), resulting from above-inflation cost of living (CoL) adjustments, had amounted to 27% between 2007 and 2017. In addition, the annual notch progression came to 1% a year. A ‘demographic dividend’ in the form of a slowing increase in the average age had pushed the average cost of educators down by just 0.3%, but this effect was increasing. The above factors meant that the purchasing power relative to the CPI of the average educator had increased by 35% from 2007 to 2017. On human resource (HR) matters, there were a number of filled and vacant educator posts at the national and provincial levels. The system had become a bit unequal because of the wage pressures just referred to. The number of middle managers in schools had been declining.
On the topic of improving the extent of returns on our investments in education, by far the best way of improving individual and societal returns was to improve the quality of learning and teaching across all grades. The economic evidence was clear that ultimately it was weak competencies that hindered economic development and individual advancement.
The Chairperson commented that the DG had provided a full insight to which the Committee could constructively respond.
Mr D Khosa (ANC) wanted to check how the DBE was planning to put in place efficiencies which included the re-privatisation of the programmes and accommodating the recommendations of the HLP, as well as listening to proposals by communities. They seemed to be happy with the way in which infrastructure was provided, but they were proposing a different approach to the way in which that infrastructure was provided by the Department. If one could address the challenges in particular schools, perhaps one could more competently assess their particular issues. On safety and security in schools, drug abuse and gangsterism were serious issues. Today, the majority of schools in rural areas did not have security. The Department and stakeholders might try to assist schools with information communication technology (ICT) materials, but in a school without security these materials would not be safe. On school management, to what extent were systems and policies in place to ensure the proper management of schools? There needed to be an improvement in the process of appointing. The Department needed to be quick about it.
Ms C King (DA) commented that she regarded the report as somewhat broad and generalised. How equipped were departments in enforcing that curriculum and ensuring regulations were followed? Looking at the systemic assessment, it seemed like nothing was new - the issue seemed to boil down to the implementation of the system’s standards. On the systemic model, this year there was a pilot project. What provinces, and how many schools and learners would be impacted by this? She asked how the Department could monitor the value of learners who had not gone to the formal matric level. Regarding Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM), schools did not seem to have a proper retrieval system. On e-learning, she was skeptical about the possibility of its implementation in rural schools. The report also discussed security at schools, and she asked about policy on teacher abuse and sexual abuse at schools. She stressed again the need to fully implement the curriculum (which was not so much the problem, and to therefore address the fundamental issues at the heart of the DBE’s most basic concerns. She also expressed concern about the monitoring of private schools.
Ms J Basson (ANC) said some of the challenges identified in the report existed even prior to 1994. They were still there and she wanted to know what the fundamental problem in resolving them was. Those schools that were benefiting during apartheid were still benefiting now. There was a need to address the broad inequalities in education. This divide also existed between urban and rural schools. How were these inequalities and the unequal distribution of wealth and teachers being addressed? Was it possible to broaden management in education? On assessment, there was a lack of transparency at schools according to the report - was it possible for assessments to have a common standard in order to see that the current system was providing equal education throughout the country, so that if one saw that a child at the foundational stage should be able to read and write, one could compare schools accordingly. On incentives, better quality educators were needed in poorer and rural areas. Under what time-frame would all schools be able to access ICT? On security, schools were having to re-purchase materials every year after thefts and damage. How far was this issue of providing quality security being addressed? How did the DBE view all the challenges that education had to address in terms of the allocation of human resources? Would the number of employees have to be reduced somewhere and if so, how would it affect the Department?
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) asked if there was a panel at schools which focused on improving the quality of education. What measures had been taken to evaluate what learners were learning at the primary stages and how well were these schools performing? On the issue of socio-economic conditions, particularly in poor and rural schools, most did not have a set curriculum. Based on this report, what was going to be emphasised on the ECDs? Also, on the curriculum, what measures must be taken to ensure that the curriculum was being properly covered? There was always the issue of data that did not correlate with the realities of education. There had been a lot of interference with regard to principal appointments that had been influenced by unions. There was the belief that if one had been in the system long enough, one ought to be appointed to a principal, but management skills were not guaranteed and there had to be greater assessment here. There had to be a government-union relationship, but sometimes the unions were too overpowering. Teachers receive only a two-day ICT training course – should there not be greater training if ICT was being emphasised? There was also an issue with sanitation -- what were the timelines for proper implementation and development? There was no clear guidance given to schools on dealing with sexual offences at schools. There was a lack of vetting of teachers in the system.
Mr Botes (ANC) commented on the equitable share reduction over time, and said the R800 million for infrastructure and sanitation had been allocated to the structure. Over the next three years, there would be an average growth of 7.5%. He had raised this because when the President spoke about a stimulus it went to short-term job market solutions, but the fact of the matter was unemployment had been low in 1994, while now it was about 27%. In the past 12 years, the associated effect of education in the employment sector had not come through as had been expected. If the Committee wanted to put up a concerted effort, it had to make a business case for basic education. As a collective, it needed to say it could pump a certain amount of money in and get a certain reduction in the amount of unemployment. There were apparently structural issues that were preventing this. He then raised the issue of 55% of learners that successfully complete matric. Did the figures say that there was a 45% dropout? The Committee needed to know how many children were completing the exams. When talking about education, one also needed to address demographics. What was the situation on race and gender issues? Regarding the increase in the powers of principals, the DG must explain whether the SGBs had been pivotal in education, in terms of the role played, and if they had contributed to a better or worse state.
The Chairperson remarked that the Members seemed to have read the report in detail. On the issue of the quality of principals, there seemed to be so much wastage of funds at the school level. There had to be greater accountability and more a serious auditing of schools. The schools needed to adhere to stated norms and standards, so one could assess what it was that the schools were really doing, otherwise one ended up sitting around tables continuing to speculate on what particular issues schools faced. She said a full report would be necessary to address some overly-generalised points.
Mr Mweli commented on how Members had read the report, which contrasted with other Committees where this was not the case.
Regarding accounting for money transferred to schools, before funds were transferred to schools, there must be an audit. All schools were expected to submit audited financial statements. The DBE may not be doing a good job analysing these audits, however. It may be weak in actioning the findings of these reports, and it had to do this better going forward. That applied even to the utilisation of funds, as all public funds must be accounted for. At the last elections of the SGBs, this was what had happened. One did need to ask what value SGBs were adding to the education system. The DBE would come back to this.
On the issue of increasing the powers of the school principals, the higher levels would follow up on the recommendations of the higher development plan. The HLP suggested that their role in taking financial decisions should increase.
On demographics in data, this was provided for, but to a limited extent. It was previously provided for in respect of race but now was mainly done in terms of gender. If there was a need to revisit that, the DBE could do so.
A 55% throughput did not equate to a 45% dropout rate. It meant 55% of those had met the requirement for the programme. There were supplementary programmes for those students not meeting those requirements and so they would later re-sit the programme. The dropout rate, at grade 12 as an example, was about 12%. There was a problem insofar as a full picture of how many learners repeat the grade was concerned. It was not normal to have learners failing in earlier grades. If there were deficiencies in grade 1 programmes, then grade 2 must accommodate this. There could be various reasons why learners were repeating grade 1. In the first instance, learners in South Africa were entering the system with a low initial level of education. There was less intellectual development in certain households as compared to what might be typical in more middle-class households. It was public knowledge that the Presidency had conducted a survey on ECD, and it was found that learners from households with lower incomes were not making equal progress compared to their richer counterparts. Some community centres were more daycare centres, where no real learning was taking place. The DBE was rolling out the national curriculum framework in 5 000 centres, stating what should be taking place. At some centres, students were sleeping or playing all day.
Regarding average growth, appropriations tell one only about the input and not the budget cuts. No speech would tell one about how much had been cut. The DBE had increased the salaries of those in the system, but not the number of warm-bodies in the Department. There were complaints about abandoned sites because of cash-flow problems. The R800 million shortfall from the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) was going to be used to pay for further continued development, owing to the shortfall in the current financial year.
There were protocols in the branch for social cohesion on the issue of sexual assault. The DG would try to make it available. Perhaps the issue was that teachers ought to be trained better, and there needed to be a strengthening of intervention on these issues. The Department needed to pay attention to sanitation and infrastructure.
On training teachers on ICT, the DBE had developed a framework that mandated what skills teachers were expected to have. This information would be shared with Members.
A good relationship between government and teacher unions was needed. Scandinavian countries had mastered this relationship. Unions form a part of the professional development of teachers. Trust was important. In one region in the US there was a marked improvement in results where this relationship had been developed.
The Department was proposing a Quality Management System (QMS) instead of Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS). The performance management system could not improve where it was. He was not sure whether IQMS could account for the improvement in the results. They accounted for 25% of the total learners in the system.
The Department was still dealing with the issue of school principal appointments. We need to tackle both school governing bodies and unions.
The DBS was also still dealing with the issue of curriculum coverage. It maintains that evidence needs to be provided to fully assess school progress. It could ask about developments in the first and second quarters, about what was being taught and assessed, and how was this quantified to the school’s mind. Gauteng had been the province with the best results here.
There had been a random controlled pilot of 230 schools in the North-West. Results suggested there needed to be more focus on coaching in order to give better results.
Wage pressure was a difficult issue. 70% of 1 - 3 quintile schools did not have school management teams, and it impacted on the quality of education because there was no quality control.
The Department had a policy of rural allowances. In some provinces, wages worked, but this did not seem to obtain across all provinces. The DBS did need better programmes.
On the distribution of teachers, between 3-5% on the Post Provisioning Model (PPM) attend to schools in rural areas. Some schools implemented the PPM incorrectly, and the Department had to correct this.
He referred to the adverse financial effect of water bills on schools, and said that public institutions should not pay like residents when special dispensations were given to businesses. The Department believed that a similar scheme should be implemented for schools.
Regarding the targets of the NDP, the targets set for education were steep but the DBE had to find ways of achieving them. However, when they were too high, it was sometimes difficult to meet them.
The Department would ensure that there was broadband for rural schools. It would meet with the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, so they could hold each other accountable. In doing so, they would have to be able to move from 30% to 50% connectivity. Schools should not be expected to pay for the cost of data.
Mr Mweli accepted the observation on the issue of systemic evaluation. The DBE must indeed listen to communities on efficiency and re-privatisation when building schools.
The Chairperson expressed interest in discussions between the DBE and the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), and asked what progress had been made.
Mr James Ndlebe, Director: Management and Governance, DBE said that the issue of appointments had come up many times. It was about appointing the right principal for the right school. High school principals must have taught in high schools. A principal needed seven years’ teaching experience, and the Department would continues to tighten these requirements.
Ms Marie-Louise Samuels, Director: Early Childhood Development, DBE, added that the Department did not consider ECD only at public schools, but also in the registered and unregistered ECD centres. There were 1 500 centres, but reports suggested there were more that were unregistered. ECD was an inter-departmental function, and the DBE was presently trying to strengthen collaboration between departments. It would consolidate moderation in order to be more efficient. The DSD had a conditional grant to deal with infrastructure, with a target to construct 51 new centres this year. They were also responsible for parent training. The DBE was responsible for curriculum and training, and the framework was available in all languages and Braille. The Department trained practitioners and had online training that had been very successful. In a single year, they had reached 42 000 of these practitioners.
The DBE was preparing an assessment in grade 1 to ascertain the impact of the ECD services. They were attempting to bring an alignment between the ECD centres and the schools, remembering that it was not compulsory. The impact of Grade R on learning outcomes looked at two areas, and from the start inequalities already seemed to manifest themselves. The Department would circulate this report.
Mr Mweli commented that he had not been able to secure a meeting between SAICA and the Department, and he needed to bring something tangible to the Committee. He stressed that he would prioritise it.
The Chairperson commented that the Department should go back and work on the report and all the issues raised in the Committee, and requested that the final consolidated report be provided the following Tuesday.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi said she had not been aware that Member’s recommendations would be made part of the report. She asked the Chairperson if it would be possible to submit further recommendations via email. She felt that Ms Boshoff (DA) might also want to submit recommendations, since she was absent from the day’s session.
The Chairperson replied that this was definitely possible. They could email the recommendations to the Committee Secretary.
The meeting was adjourned.