Western Cape Appropriation Bill: Education budget, with MEC

Education (WCPP)

08 March 2019
Chairperson: Ms L Botha (DA)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by the Department of Education on the Appropriation Bill for 2019/20. The Committee was pleased to hear that the Department had received a clean audit for the period under review.  The Department has received a baseline growth increase of R250 million with the total allocation for the 2019/20 period being R23 669 089 000. R240 million has been set aside for the e-learning strategy and R36 million was an investment towards school safety. R270 million has been allocated for no-fee schools. R1.75 billion has been set aside for infrastructure development. The Committee heard that the priority areas would remain the e-learning strategy for closing the gap between the rich and poor; and on the Growth Mindset Programme which is an investment towards teacher development.

Members were keen to understand how the impact of the Collaboration Schools was going to be expanded to the province and asked if the Department had plans in place to cope with the increase in the number of learners in the province. Members bemoaned the steady decline of maths and science results on a yearly basis. Learners were moving to maths literacy as an easier option to pure maths. The lack of support from the SAPS with regard to vandalism in the schools was noted.

The Committee commended the Department for taking care of the learners based in the Central Karoo who had previously appeared to have been forgotten because they were far from the metros. Members asked what the contributing factors were in the decline of maths and languages, especially in Grade 6; why in disadvantaged schools with Africans and Coloureds there were fewer numbers of students registered for maths and science yet these schools had the highest pass rate in these two subjects; if the increasing number of passes in Grade 12 was because of the increased number of learners in disadvantaged schools; and if it was possible to get an implementation plan for the Appropriation Bill and the costs involved.

The Committee was pleased to hear that the Bill has been proclaimed and certain parts were going to be in effect at the end of March 2019, but were concerned about the fact that learners seemed to have given up on education in the Eastern Cape and were migrating to the Western Cape.

Meeting report

Briefing on the Western Cape Appropriation Bill: Education budget
Ms Deborah Schäfer, Western Cape MEC for Education, reported that the Department has received a clean audit for the period under review. She informed the Committee that there were still learners who were not at school because there were not enough resources and there was a big shortage of teachers. The Department was sitting with a demand for twenty schools per year. There have been budget cuts from the national department, and this was going to have an impact on the Department’s matric results, especially when looking at the 2018 results. Despite these challenges, she said the Department has managed to keep learners at school for longer. The Department was trying to innovate at the same time to keep up with the demands. That was why it has developed a number of strategies to make children and teachers confident in themselves.

Mr Brian Schreuder, HOD, Western Cape Education Department (WCED), stated that the key objectives for the year ahead have remained the same. Plans would continue to reflect improvement areas. The Department would continue to improve conditions under which learners and teachers study and teach. The Department has received a baseline growth increase of R250 million. The total allocation for the 2019/20 period is R23 669 089 000. R240 million has been set aside for the e-learning strategy. R36 million was an investment towards school safety. R270 million has been allocated for no-fee schools. R1.75 billion has been set aside for infrastructure development. The biggest challenge was around the increase of 25000 learners this year. This meant that more schools needed to be built to meet the growing demand. Three new Collaboration Schools were planned for the current year. He further indicated the priority areas would be on the e-learning strategy in order to close the gap between the poor and the affluent; and on the Growth Mindset Programme which has been an investment towards teachers so that they learned to love the children they were grooming. The main emphasis would be on fiscal consolidation and the identification of priority projects in order to bring equal education into classrooms. Gangsterism has still remained one of the biggest challenges for the Department.

Discussion
Mr D Mitchell (DA) commended the Department for taking care of the learners who were based in the Central Karoo who most of the time appeared to be forgotten because they were far from the metros. He wanted to understand how the impact of the Collaboration Schools was going to be expanded to the province. He also wanted to establish how community dynamics have affected infrastructure development at schools because e-learning has brought resources to poor schools, and he was curious to know if the Department was getting support from the SAPS to protect the infrastructure.

The MEC stated that some Collaboration Schools have not been as good as others. There have been some improvements because of additional funding. There were on-going discussions between donors and partners. The absence of operating partners has remained a challenge for the Department and it has had to re-assess the programme after the elections. She also indicated that the e-learning system was working although there was nothing conclusive at this point. There were some matters that still needed to be sorted out like connectivity and computational skills. She further pointed out that the Department was not replacing stolen goods from schools because it was the responsibility of the communities and schools to protect the infrastructure.  There was not much support for the Department from the SAPS (South African Police Services) because the police unit was under-resourced, and even with the community watching group system that was in place and helping the SAPS, no follow-ups were happening.

Mr Schreuder added that it was early days to say a lot about e-learning. Transformation in the teaching and learning methodology has been rolled out. The results of the survey indicated that learner interest has been growing. Big classes remained a challenge, but progress has been recorded. Regarding the loss of school equipment, he said there must be a balance between cost and loss. The problem was that vandalism has got a far greater negative impact.

Mr T Olivier (ANC) indicated that his concern has been on the steady decline of maths and science results, year after year. The presentation from the Department on the 2018 matric results has reflected that more and more learners were registering for maths literacy. He wanted to understand if the Department has got plans in place to cope with the increasing number of learners that were flocking to the province this year. The reported number was 25000. He also asked the Department to investigate the discrepancy in the learner/teacher ratio because in affluent schools if the ration is 1:35, the classroom was considered to be full whereas in the poor schools the ratio is 1:60 and the school would continue to take more learners. He stated that there was a school in Villiersdorp where the affluent school has got less numbers and the disadvantaged school was full yet the syllabus and subject offerings were the same.

Mr Schreuder said that they still wanted to encourage more learners to take up maths and science. He stated that it was not wise to compare results on a yearly basis, but rather to look at the performance over 10 years, and not use a political term of office. Maths literacy was seen to be easy; hence learners preferred it to pure maths. He said taking maths literacy was better than not taking it at all.

The MEC stated that they were doing what they could regarding extra learners, but sometimes communities wanted the Department to build schools on land that did not belong to the Department. There were a number of reasons why there were delays in the building of schools. Delays for application were from the side of the City of Cape Town regarding procurement. She further said the learner/teacher ratio was there for those who wanted to pay fees for education, but if the Department was to increase it, the parents would take their children to private schools, and she promised to take up the Villiersdorp matter with the school principal of the affluent school and Department. She admitted that the Department has got no other ideas regarding the learner/teacher ratio and if it does not have more money to get the necessary extra staff. Getting extra teachers and extra teaching time would affect the extra-curricular activity because there has to be classes in the afternoon. This was a complex scenario.

Mr Schreuder added that they have recognised that there was a shortage of space. Even if the Department could provide more space, the demand would always be there. The Department has not been able to build extra classrooms. The situation would only improve if the Department got more funding to build more schools and employ more teachers. Teachers were aware of the challenges of over-crowding. Thousands of rands have been spent on upgrading teachers or teacher development programmes. That was why the Department also introduced the e-learning system to help alleviate the problem.

Mr Alan Meyer, Chief Director for Districts, WCED, explained that regulations were clear on the amount of space allocated to each learner. The size of the classroom was also playing a part. Small classrooms meant fewer numbers of learners to fit into the class. He indicated further that the school governing body policies were also determining the number of learners per class because parents have paid for the number of learners that they wanted in a classroom. It all depended on the formula that had to be applied by the school or school governing body. In some areas like Kuilsriver the Department has got big empty classrooms, but the challenge was on parents from areas like Bonteheuwel, Mfuleni, etcetera because the parents feared the time that would be taken by the children to go to school in Kuilsriver and coming back home even though the Department was willing to transport learners from Elsies River, Mfuleni, Bontheuwel, etcetera.

Mr C Dugmore (ANC) asked what the contributing factors were in the decline of maths and languages, especially in Grade 6. He also wanted to know  why in disadvantaged schools with Africans and Coloureds there were fewer numbers of students registered for maths and science yet the these schools had the highest pass rate in these two subjects. He wanted to find out if the increasing number of passes in Grade 12 was because of the increased number of learners in disadvantaged schools. He wanted to know if it was possible to get an implementation plan for the Appropriation Bill and the costs involved. Lastly, he wanted to establish the theoretical framework that informed the strategy for the programme aimed at reaching a large number of schools in terms of Leadership Development.

Mr Schreuder reported that not much has been invested in School Leadership Development. The budget would be prioritised in the next five years for the programme. He said the Develop Mind Programme was for learners and it was being piloted. The Department was spending between R7 million and R8 million per annum on it. Then the Change Mindset Programme was aimed at teachers and would need a service provider that was currently being procured as it was a specialised area. He said further that some of these leadership programmes would be pro bono work and in-sourced.

The MEC said that the Bill has been proclaimed, and certain parts were going to be in effect at the end of March 2019. There were still consultation processes in the form of comments that would be solicited, and a chief evaluator was going to be appointed to do the evaluations. She also stated that many learners in the disadvantaged schools have come to the Western Cape to do Grade 10 from the Eastern Cape and they failed when they were in her Department because the children have given up on the Eastern Cape Education system. This was one of the things the Department was trying to address in the challenges facing leadership in schools.  On increasing number of Grade 12 passes, she explained there was a 63% retention of learners in the Western Cape. Weak learners were allowed to write matric exams. The learners are always given a chance to write their matric in two phases because the learners must be given an opportunity to finish matric. She said other provinces have got the same challenges like the Western Cape, but the difference was on how her Department solved the problems. She further admitted that there have been no improvements in maths and languages, but indicated that that would be the key focus area of the Department for the year. The improvement of reading in the province would be the main focus in the next five years.

Mr Sally Abrahams, Acting DDG for Planning: WCED, added that a longitudinal view was more important than looking at the situation in a year-on-year basis with regard to maths and languages. He said they have been able to consolidate things and have seen improvements in languages since the Department has added new material to improve the comprehension skills of learners. The Language and Maths Strategy has been used as the basis for support and development of subject advisors, educators, and learners. The Department has picked up where the problems were in languages. The process is very complex, especially when one looks at the progression of learners. That was why they were receiving assessments to identify where the challenges and improvements were.

Mr R Mackenzie (DA) asked if the teacher-training system was equipped to deal with the ever increasing number of learners in the province because this meant that the infrastructure has to be improved, more teachers and principals appointed, more security personnel, and more schools built; and he wanted to know what the additional R250 million to the budget meant for the Department.

Mr Schreuder stated that education was forced to cope and teachers have to adapt to the conditions on the ground and to budget cuts.

The MEC said that the budget did not mean that much because it has not been easy to deal with challenges facing the Department because the Department had to cut staff in order to have more teachers in its schools. If state capture was not there, the Department would have been in a better position.

Mr Mitchell  wanted to find out how the Department was going to ensure that retired, experienced teachers were not approached by the SGBs (School Governing Bodies) to return to teaching.

The MEC said that there was a need for a discussion at a broader scale on this matter because other countries were retiring people at the age of 70 for it has been seen that people were now living longer.

The Chairperson asked how the budget was going to strengthen support to teachers and instill hope to make them want to be in the profession while the environment is that of cost-cutting.

Mr Schreuder said that one can retain teachers by giving them higher salaries even if one wanted them to come back from retirement. Sometimes it was difficult to find teachers for certain subjects in certain areas.

Mr Dugmore remarked that the MEC should be telling the Committee what she was fighting for in the Revenue Fund and wondered if education would be getting an equitable share from that. He wanted to know what donors and partners were expected to put on the table for the Collaboration Schools. He wanted to understand why there was one African at senior management level whereas there were many before. He said that diversity could enrich the performance of the Department.

The MEC said that it was the commitment of the Department to appoint qualified Africans. Where there has been a departure, it has not been impossible to replace the colleague. There is always support for diversity. She also indicated that the funding for the collaboration partners does not come from the Department, but it was reflected in the financial statements of the school. The funding usually went to the SGB. The contribution was only at school level. She also stated the Revenue Fund was meant for the drought relief. It was the Provincial Treasury that could explain why it allocated the way it has done. It all depended on what is in the Fund. She noted that she was not happy with the allocation to education, but she understood it was a balancing act and, at least, there has been a steady growth. The Department has, however, done its best to ask for enough money from the National Government.

Mr Leon Ely, CFO, WCED, said he was happy to receive the allocation for growth in terms of additional funding. The National Department has decreased allocations to many grants, except on the nutritional one. If the Department does not expend the allocation, the national department would give the Department less or the Department would be asked to give a motivational plan for spending less or wanting more. He said that the drought grant has been shifted to maintenance. The increase in catering was for all the things related to Grade 12 examinations like food for markers and accommodation.

The MEC, in her concluding remarks, stated there were still challenges facing education in the province, and she asked politicians in their election campaigns to advise communities not to vandalise school property when there are service delivery protests.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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