Department on: Teaching and Learning International Survey & Comprehensive Sexuality Education; with the Deputy Minister

Basic Education

17 September 2019
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Basic Education gave a briefing on the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) and Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) Provision in Schools.

TALIS is a survey focusing on the learning environment and the working conditions of teachers and principals. South Africa was the only African participant, having 2 046 teachers from 169 schools participate in the survey. Regarding gender, the survey found that 60% of South African teachers were female, whilst only 22% of principals were female. The survey showed that students and teachers in South Africa largely had good relationships and felt that they could rely on one another. Regarding school climate, the survey indicated that some school incidents were more frequent in South Africa than in the other TALIS participants. On optimising the use of teachers' time, the survey revealed that of their time, South African teachers spent 66% for actual teaching and learning, 17% for keeping order in the classroom and 16% busying themselves with administrative tasks. The Department aims to use the survey as a mirror to aid in policy making.

The Committee expressed serious concern about the value of the survey for South Africa, and the data on the gender gap and teaching time revealed in the survey. The Department reassured the Committee that TALIS was invaluable to South Africa because unlike other studies it focuses on the teacher’s experience and perspective. The Department also reassured the Committee that the TALIS report was aimed at bettering policy and issues like the gender gap and time spent on actual teaching and learning were being addressed by the Department and the suggestions made by the committee were duly noted.  

To contextualise the need for CSE Provision in Schools, the presentation emphasised that South Africa still has the largest HIV epidemic in the world with approximately 7.9 million people living with HIV. The delegate promoted the use of the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education (ITGSE) because of the vast evidence it has collated on major health and social issues facing young people, including sexual reproductive health and rights. Importantly, the guidance from ITGSE provides that CSE must be scientifically accurate, incremental and age and developmentally appropriate. The presentation concluded by addressing important, common concerns and misconceptions about CSE in South Africa.

The Committee expressed concern about the media storm on CSE and appreciated the clarity given in the presentation. What was clearly important to the Committee was that there be proper consultation on the content of CSE.

Some Members of the Committee challenged the research with mentions of other research contradicting the Department’s aversions about the impact of CSE. The Department and the Committee agreed about the issues underlying the need for CSE. The Department accepted that it would be valuable to make a media statement with the approval of the Deputy Minister clarifying some myths and misconceptions around CSE. The Department was clear that they had conducted extensive consultation, however, were open to further consultations as well as making the materials available for input and objections.

Meeting report

The meeting started with condolences and a moment of silence for Deputy Minister Bavelile Hlongwe.

The Chairperson noted that this was a difficult time for those affected.

Ms Reginah Mhaule, Deputy Minister: Department of Basic Education, introduced the two presentations. Comprehensive Sexuality Education ICSE) Provision in South African schools is not something new as the recent media storm may suggest. The Deputy Minister emphasised that TALIS is aiming at addressing the issue of policy and is a welcome enhancement or guide in changing policy.

One of the major reasons CSE in schools is important for South Africa is our high prevalence of HIV and Aids among young people. We were just about to win the fight in relation to girls (15+); those girls are at school and now the infection rate is increasing amongst boys.

TALIS is a survey focusing on the learning environment and the working conditions of teachers and principals. South Africa is the only country in Africa that participated this year, and we did for the first time. TALIS is not meant to be used to criticize the Department but rather aiming at addressing the issue of policy.

TALIS presentation

Dr Mark Chetty, Chief Education Specialist, DBE, said the aim of the presentation was to outline what TALIS was, why the Department was participating in it and what the key findings of TALIS were.

TALIS is the first and largest international survey involving 260 000 teachers with a major focus on the learning environment and the working conditions of teachers in schools. It helps us understand the factors associated with quality teaching and outcomes. As part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030 vision, all learners are to be taught by qualified, professionally trained, motivated and well-supported teachers.

South Africa was the only African participant, having 2 046 teachers from 169 schools participate in the survey. The survey was narrowed in focus to grade 8 and 9 teachers and the report launched by the Minister on 2 July 2019 at Nellmapius Secondary School in Gauteng. The TALIS study critically involved Grade 8 and 9 because when teachers were asked what years are the most difficult to teach, it was these and by Grade 10, teachers suggested that more maturity developed in students.

Regarding gender, the survey found that 60% of South African teachers were female, whilst only 22% of principals were female. This case was worse in some provinces, as Northern Cape showed only 5% of principals being female. The survey showed a need for South Africa to support a dynamic workforce through designing effective recruitment campaigns and reinforcing accessibility to initial teacher education and training.

On a positive note, the survey showed that teachers in South Africa, were largely satisfied with their jobs and often, joined the profession to make a positive difference in society. Students and teachers largely had good relationships and felt that they could rely on one another.

Regarding school climate, the survey indicated that some school incidents were more frequent in South Africa than in the other TALIS participants. 21% of principals reported that theft and vandalism occurred at least weekly in their school, whilst the TALIS average was below 5%. 27% of principals in South Africa reported that use/possession of drugs and/or alcohol occurred at least weekly in their school, whilst the TALIS average was well below 3%. The survey showed a need for South Africa to foster school and classroom climates that are conducive to student learning and well-being.

Regarding optimising the use of teachers' time, the survey revealed that of their time, South African teachers spent 66% for actual teaching and learning, 17% for keeping order in the classroom and 16% busying themselves with administrative tasks. This was quite like the TALIS 2018 average.

The survey also looked at the learning content and found that most of South African teachers provided tasks for learners to think critically – 83% reporting this factor as frequently/always in the TALIS questionnaire. The survey looked at how equipped South African teachers felt for teaching learners with diverse ability levels and needs and found that, the country has great room for improvement in this area. More than the TALIS average, South African teachers felt more confident about teaching in a multicultural class.

The survey found that almost all South African teachers are educated with a higher certificate or degree. Only 2.3% had their Matric/NSC as their highest education and 97.7% possessed a diploma or higher. 39% of South African teachers reported a high level of need for professional development in teaching learners with special needs.

The TALIS survey had a good buy-in from teachers, which shows the Department that TALIS does offer a way for the Department to look at its programs. TALIS gives the Department rich data going forward for addressing current and planned projects. It gives the Department an initiative to further strengthen the hand of one important stakeholder – the teacher.

The Department recommended that the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education notes and discusses the main features and results of the TALIS report.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) presentation

A delegate presented CSE provision in schools on behalf of DBE.  

To contextualise the need for CSE in schools, the presentation emphasised that South Africa still has the largest HIV epidemic in the world with approximately 7.9 million people living with HIV. Apart from this epidemic, the presentation also highlighted the country's high rates of sexual violence affecting the youth and high rates of teenage pregnancy. The delegate importantly showed how CSE aligned with several existing government policies by outlining the relevant policy framework going as far back as 1999 and as recent as 2019.

The delegate promoted the use of the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education (ITGSE) because of the vast evidence it has collated on major health and social issues facing young people, including sexual reproductive health and rights. Importantly, the guidance from ITGSE provides that CSE must be scientifically accurate, incremental and age and developmentally appropriate. The evidence base of ITGSE comes from several systematic reviews globally. The 2016 review of ITGSE revealed that CSE did not sexualize children or increase sexual activity amongst children and that abstinence-only programs were not effective in delaying sexual initiation, reducing frequency of sex or reducing the number of sexual partners among young people.

The delegate emphasised that CSE has been part of the Life Orientation Curriculum since 2000 and that they are merely promoting a specific implementation through curriculum review with the important aid of Scripted Lesson Plans.

The presentation concluded by addressing important, common concerns and misconceptions about CSE in South Africa. The Department recommended that the Portfolio Committee note and discuss the provision of CSE in schools through curriculum and co-curriculum programs.


Ms D Van der Walt (DA), on CSE, referred to slide 13 under grade 5. A point on that slide talks about sexual grooming where it is written “I can say no.” Ms Van der Walt moves from the assumption that this is for girls and asks if this we are teaching our boys accepting a no? Furthermore, as a comment we must make sure that the CSE is appropriate and that children are not taught something they are psychologically not ready for. Ms Van Der Walt asked the Department how it would balance the different levels of information and experiences that different children have.

On the TALIS report, she said there was no mention about cellphones in classrooms or during school hours in the presentation, which is an important factor in teaching and learning. She asked for clarity on the 8th slide in the presentation where there was a reference to the language skills of learners. She referenced slides 37 and 38 to say that the results were concerning and emphasised that it is critical to optimise time in classrooms.

Ms C King (DA) asked for clarity on the TALIS report and noted that it was clear that most teachers were not skilled enough to work with learners with special needs. She asked whether there was any engagement with higher education to address this issue during teacher training. This should be a specialized subject in school for teacher training. Regarding safety in schools, she asked again whether the State is called to assist teachers when it comes to safety in schools and what exactly are the tools they should be using if they cannot take corporal punishment as a measure. One cannot send a learner for detention anymore because the learner would just undermine the educator. It was concerning that the TALIS report did not touch on how principals, educators, SMTs etc. felt about the curriculum and whether there was a need for curriculum review.

On the CSE presentation, she read the Midland report where it says that research was done in three provinces. It says that parents were not against CSE per say, but that the crux of the matter was that most were unaware of the content of CSE. This means no proper consultation took place informing parents of the content. She asked if the Department had called parents to consult this since this was a human rights approach for learners. What about considering the human rights of the parents to see what education their children will receive. She challenged the finding that CSE had a big impact.

A Committee Member thanked the Department for their presentations. On the TALIS report, the member asked whether there is there an acceleration or talent program to get the number of female principals to increase. What leaderships programs are there to capacitate female and male teachers?

In terms of the CSE, the member appreciated that it is an emotive subject. Based on the reports and lack of information on what CSE is going to entail, it has elicited a lot of emotion for all stakeholders involved including parents and teachers.  

In terms of the review in the report, it is stated that it is very positive, but vast amounts of research show the opposite of what is portrayed on CSE by the Department in the presentation. CSE has not reduced early sexual debut, teenage pregnancy and STI’s amongst young learners. The member wanted to know if the department considered other results other than UNESCO, that are not UNESCO funded. There is a consensus on the issues and problems the country faces and that we need to find solutions within the context of our own country and know what the adaptation looks like. The Department needs to inform the key stakeholders better. The member asked about the response from communities where the lessons plans were piloted.

Ms N Adoons (ANC) asked for clarity on the TALIS results showing only 60% of time was being spent on actual teaching and learning and noted that the other 40% was dedicated to discipline and administration. She asked if there is a timeline used for the country could increase the number of teaching and learning, especially in light of the concern about extra-curricular activities. She also asked about the value for money of the study itself for the country.

On CSE, she said she was happy about getting clarity on a 28 June 2019 article by Dr Marlene with shocking headline; “Grade 4s to learn about masturbation in school in new life orientation curriculum.” This was untrue and she said the article also mentioned that the stakeholders were not consulted and asked the Department when these consultations would happen. Learners should also be part of the stakeholders that should be consulted in this process.

Ms Mashabela (EFF) emphasized that participation of all stakeholders was needed because speaking about sex is taboo in most families. Secondly, on slide 16 on TALIS, where the percentage of female teachers is 60% and principal is 22%, she said the Department needs to carefully address this gender gap so that it does not demoralize teachers.

Mr Malatji (ANC) commented on the issue of the aging of principals in the TALIS report and affirmed that there should be a deliberate program by the Department as a way of training younger principals. This is especially true in provinces like KZN, there must be younger principals appointed there. On the issue of CSE, all stakeholders must be involved in this process. Any political parties should also be involved because we all belong to constituencies. The country needs Life Orientation teachers who are also trained in psychology. It isn’t good enough to have just any teacher, teach on such critical social ills.

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC), thanked the Department for their presentation and argued that because it is such a deep comparative study, it will be useful for South Africa. South Africa often falls short regarding the offering of science and mathematics subjects and this creates a need for outsourcing talent. South Africa is spending too much money on education but lamented the fact that the spending didn’t’ seem to him to be coming up with the necessary dividends. He asked what the country should do in order to have enough production of such teachers so that we can outsource less. He contended that this outsourcing trend should be intercepted.

Referring to the TALIS report, he emphasized the importance of teaching of history in our schools. The TALIS study specialized in comparative education studies which he said must come back to assist us in questions like what impact the teaching of history as a compulsory subject could have on our students. South Africa cannot continue with a youth that doesn’t know its history or identity.

On CSE, he appreciated that it was clear from the research that teaching on sexuality will not and does not unnecessarily sexualize learners and children. He cautioned the Committee saying that things that we do not want to talk about are the things that come back to haunt and kill us. He highlighted the need to balance teaching in schools and educating in the home. A very important part of this is having the curriculum approved by the community as we cannot impose changes to a curriculum without winning the hearts of the community.  

A Committee Member noted that TALIS report gave a clear picture as to where we are with our teachers in schools and how they’re doing their job which gives us ammunition to get ready to empower our own teachers to be able to deliver quality education. Now that the Committee had the correct information, maybe the Chairperson, Minister and Deputy Minister should take this matter to the media to avoid the hullaballoo that was there on what is to be taught. The presentation gave very clear and correct information that should be publicized.

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) said the State needed to make sure that young people are affirmed in the present term. This is something that should be pushed through the Committee and asked about the inclusivity of the TALIS report, particularly whether all schools were considered, regardless of race. She referred to the scary statistics in the CSE presentation, particularly on HIV infection, saying that it is reflective of a serious issue of poverty. As an example, most young people who end up in “blesser” relationships do so because their parents cannot afford for them to be at school. She asked whether the LO content that is in the CSE report, considered the age and development levels of our learners because this would be an important issue for religious groups.

Responses to questions of clarity

A delegate first responded to the question on sexual grooming on whether boys are taught to accept the no and highlighted that it is one of the key objectives of CSE is to not focus exclusively on girls. We follow the technical guidance in order to ensure that the lessons are age and developmentally appropriate.

On the question on safety, the delegate confirmed that one of the things DBE was working on is a focus on training teachers on dealing with adolescents and young people and de-escalating conflict in the classroom.

As a general response, the delegate noted that there was a theme in the questions from the Committee that the Department had not consulted. The Department affirmed that it has consulted quite extensively at every point of review and revision of the curriculum. In the CSE space there is several additional policies introduced in the last couple of years. The Department firstly revised its HIV content in 2017 where it consulted widely across the country. Regarding the scripted lessons plans, before these interventions enter the community, the Department insists that the service providers consult SMTs, SGBs, and traditional leaders of the communities. The Department will gladly leave a full set of Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs). The notion that the Department is not consulting is not true. Even on the new learner pregnancy policy, the Council of Education Ministers in 2017 approved the policy and the Department again consulted widely. DBE keeps a log of comments and notes how it addresses the comments when it receives them.

The delegate told the story of the small organisation that wrote to the Minister saying that they have never seen the document and the Department was instructed to do further consultations, which they did. The Department tried to satisfy the organization by providing the curriculum, learning and teaching support materials, and offering its time for engagements and consultations.

On the question of whether there is evidence for the reviews the delegate reassured the Committee that the UNESCO reviews are not based on studies done by UNESCO but rather global studies. About half of the studies UNESCO looked at are from developing countries. The Department is however always open to engage with the studies referred to in questions to the department.

On the question of impact of CSE, the delegate stated that this is an area which they found difficulty and the reason the department’s approach has been trying Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs).

On the question of equipping teachers for teaching learners with special needs the delegated assured the Committee that for the first time, its program Teaching For All actually focuses on special needs education and seven universities have piloted and are starting to implement. The Department hopes that by next year all 25 public universities will go through this training.

On the question posed by Ms Adoons, the delegate shared that there was a team of people working on this review. One of the members of this team focused on sexual pleasure and that the Department disagreed with this approach and cancelled the person’s short-term contract. The delegate highlighted that the backlash varies and whilst there are conservative people, there are people who are saying we are not radical enough.

On the question posed by Mr Malatji on training LO teachers with psychology, the delegate affirmed that fortunately a large part of TALIS curriculum focusing on psychology. The delegate agreed that the Department needed to issue a statement and assured the Committee that this would be done once the Deputy Minister approved.

IN response to the Chairperson, the delegate averred that part of the reason why there must be a focus on CSE is the scary HIV and AIDS statistics we have. Although the rates have gone down for girls and young women, the rates for boys are going up. The delegate assured the Committee that the information they use on age-appropriateness is based on advice the South African Department of Health notes as the key developmental milestones of a child.  

Mr Muzi Ndlovu, DBE, confirmed that on the 3rd and 4th of October, the Department met with religious formations. And were able to address the SCOC and many more including traditional leaders on the same topic. The Department presented a similar presentation to the one we have today and by the end of the meeting these stakeholders requested assistance in training them to deal with issues in their places of worship.

The delegate assured the committee that apart from the educator guides and learner books, the Department also has orientation manuals for school governing bodies and educators. During the Department’s consultations in the classroom, parents requested that they need some form of training and in response the department has developed a parent orientation guide. SLPS are not implemented nationwide just in the 1500 schools. The delegate is of the view that CSE drew such deep interest even before the department could come up with a proper roll out plan to address some of these concerns.

Dr Chetty responded to the Committee as a whole and was appreciative of the input and questions. As a general comment in response to the question on the value of the study the delegate stated that what is unique about the TALIS survey is that it responds to the call from teacher unions that we need to listen and give more attention to the teacher’s voice on the ground. All five teacher unions have indicated this. The TALIS study has a great buy in from the unions because it gives us perspective of the teachers. That there is cohesion between labour and Department on issues affecting the sector is invaluable.

The delegate stated that the Department agreed with the Committee Members that special needs need to be given more attention to. He assured the Committee that work is being done in this regard and called for a deeper conversation with higher education in teacher training.

On safety in schools, the data shows that in terms of incident reporting there is a higher incident rate in South Africa than across the TALIS 2018 average. There is a higher frequency of variables such as bullying and vandalism on average. The delegate highlighted that South Africa is safer than some developing comparators such as Brazil. Because no African country participated in the study, the Department is not able to compare the statistics continentally and so perhaps there is a need to do some parallel studies with neighbouring and other African countries. The delegate highlighted that the study also reveals a lot of positives for South Africa such as the fact that there is a high percentage of teachers feeling comfortable in classrooms, but there is more to be done to make the schools even safer.

Responding to the comments on teachers’ input on the curriculum, the delegate said this was only volume 1 of the study and that there would be more to be shared in volume 2 on teachers practices and how they feel about the curriculum. There is a sense from the data that teachers need more time to cover the curriculum and assured the committee that there are measures in place to look at amending the curriculum to give teachers more time to focus on teaching and learning such as narrowing curriculum, reducing the administrative load etc..

Gender is an issue coming up quite strongly from the TALIS study and has confirmed anecdotal evidence. Talent and acceleration programs should be looked at by DBE especially in rural areas. An accelerated talent program for females will be a good measure going forward and is noted. Leadership programs are not attended, and the Department needs to strengthen this in conversation with the Higher Education Institutions. Regarding standards for school principals, DBE is working together with SACE to have them principals registered.

The actual teaching time is the core business of teachers and the Department needs to focus on this area to help teachers give more time to the core skills instead of focusing on administrative issues and discipline. In terms of the recruitment and attracting teachers for mathematics and science and not depending on other countries, it is true that South Africa needs to develop our own teacher workforce and address the fact that teaching is often not the first choice for people starting their careers. This is especially true for mathemtics and science teachers. Teaching of history as compulsory is being taken seriously on the ministerial committee on history. The point is noted by the Department.

On the age of the teachers, the Department has noted that we need more young people and young principals. The delegate affirmed that South Africa needs more dedicated monitoring mechanisms keeping track on recruitment practices in school.

The Deputy Minister made some closing comments, firstly on CSE. She shared a story of how there’s a group of people under the banner of Trek for Mandela summitting mount Kilimanjaro. One young man from Mpumalanga is partnering with the Department raising sanitary pads. The young man was inspired by his experience growing up, seeing that menstruation was a conversation that was often avoided in his family to the detriment of young women. The Deputy Minister spoke about how often in church one gets stigmatized for being HIV positive. She argued that church leaders and other religious leaders were consulted and seemed happy at the consultation only to tell a different story when they leave. She highlighted the importance of working together as we are dealing with issues that are societal, church, family and community matters. She believes that consultation is not an event, but a process and that the debate can always be opened whenever we feel the need.

The statistics show that HIV infection rates for young people are generally getting lower. The number of infections per week is still great and is a great cause of concern for our future as a country. The Deputy Minister noted that the issue at stake today was consultation and that although the department has consulted, it will continue to consult with people.

Regarding the TALIS survey, the Department participated in this study because it used this study as a mirror to look at itself as a system on improvement of quality teaching and learning. The aim of participating in the survey is so that policy can shift to respond to the findings of TALIS.

On the issue of developing teachers, the Department currently develops all teachers. The Deputy Minister reminded Members that the TALIS report was released in June of 2019 and the Department has only presented part 1 of the report. The study will be further consolidated, and the Department will respond by implementing important changes.

The Department should prioritize those teachers who are teachers in terms of their identity and not just their current employment. We still have young people in the system, and they should be capacitated.

Ms Sukers wanted to clarify whether the Department will make available the content around the curriculum as it changes. CSE in the South African context is different and there needs to be clarity on what exactly CSE is. Parents want to be involved in what children are taught and the implementation of CSE is scheduled for next year. She also asked if parents differed from the Department if there would be alternative available for parents.

Ms Van Der Walt made a comment on the country’s persistent issue of illegal abortions and suggested that the DBE get involved in local government to get rid of the illegal abortion advertisements in public spaces. Children in need of an abortion read these adverts as they occupy these spaces and are lambasted. Because this is an issue, she suggested that DBE should get involved at the level of for example asking for by-laws so that there must be authorization before it is advertised.

The Deputy Minister responded saying there is no secret, and nothing hidden. The Department will bring both the old and new textbook to the Committee. She assured the committee that the textbooks are already available and so parents can bring submissions for input or objections to the content. Illegal abortions are not necessarily exclusively a matter of DBE but also of parents. She supported the idea that there should be by-laws regulating illegal abortion services and their advertisements.  

The Chairperson took the Committee through the Committee quarterly report highlighting its contents.

Mr Moroatshehla moved for adoption.

The Chairperson took the Committee room through Draft Minutes once the media had existed.

The next meeting with Sports is postponed and so there is an opening. If in between the Committee can find a way to have an oversight it will do so, as so far it has not had time.

The meeting was adjourned

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