The Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture received a presentation by the Department of Basic Education on its annual report for the 2018/2019 financial year.
The presentation focused on the Department’s performance in its five key programmes -- Administration; Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring; Teachers, Education Human Resources and Institutional Development; Planning, Information and Assessment; and Educational Enrichment Services. Achievements included an increase in the number of learners who wrote the National Senior Certificate, an increase in the overall pass rate, and increased monitoring and evaluation of teacher education and school feeding programmes. Overall, the Department had achieved 85% of all of its targets, which was a notable improvement from the 73% achievement rate in the previous financial year.
The financial statement revealed that the DBE had spent 98.8% of its total budget. The underspending was linked to unfilled vacancies, and delays in the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) construction programme. This had been due to disruptions by the Eastern Cape Black Contractors Association and the halting of procurement processes due to local content requirements stipulated by the Department of Trade and Industry.
The management of the ASIDI programme continued to be a key challenge for the Department. It was fraught with material misstatements, irregular expenditure, and fruitless and wasteful expenditure. Infrastructure was another challenge. The Department had failed to reach its target of building 50 new schools, and had been able to deliver only 21 complete projects. It was an indication that the Department needed to intensify its oversight over service providers during all phases of infrastructure.
It was recommended that the Department enter into service agreements only if contracts clearly stipulated management clauses and consequences in the case that service providers failed to deliver on their targets. The Department said that it was actively addressing the challenge of infrastructure and had since appointed a Deputy Director General whose duty was specifically to address where bottlenecks were experienced and more importantly, to provide an action plan for the next year.
The Chairperson said that based on the Auditor General’s (AG’s) report, the performance of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) was not as good as expected, and created the impression that it was on a downward spiral. Although there had been areas of improvement, with some provinces receiving clean audits, the overall performance was disappointing. In the area of financial reporting, the Department was committing basic accounting errors such as overstating or understating expenditure, which he urged it to address.
Dr Regina Mhaule, Deputy Minister, supported the Chairperson’s comments on the AG’s report. The AG had presented at an extended Cabinet meeting, and the outcome indicated that there was a need for political will to address government’s underlying shortcomings. Officials in managerial positions often viewed issues of auditing as the sole responsibility of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), whereas there was a budget allocation for the functions of all managers. Therefore all managers should be held accountable when performance and financial auditing were considered. The Department’s response should not be reactive, and the focus should rather be on providing corrective measures and not consequences. There were inconsistencies where there was no correlation between the targets and expenditure. This raised questions on how the Department was spending money if budgets were being fully utilised, yet performance targets were not being met. The Department had appointed dedicated professionals to ensure the completion of projects such as the construction of schools and sanitation facilities.
Mr Granville Whittle, Acting Director General (DG), introduced the Department’s newly appointed Deputy Directors General (DDGs), Mr David van der Westhuijzen, who was the chief engineer designated for strengthening the Department’s infrastructure programme, and Mr Shiloh Naiken, the Chief Information Officer.
DBE 2018/19 Annual Report
Ms Carol Deliwe, Chief Director: Strategic Planning, Research and Coordination, DBE, said she would compare the annual report against the Department’s predetermined objectives in the annual performance plan for 2018/19 in order to reflect on what had already been done to remediate issues that were outlined in the audit report.
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) suggested that the Department first address the key areas of concern within the annual report before presenting on the interventions it was already taking.
The presentation focused on the Department’s five key programmes: Administration; Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring; Teachers, Education Human Resources and Institutional Development; Planning, Information and Assessment; and Educational Enrichment Services. The report indicated that the Department had seen improvements in performance when compared to 2017/18. Levels of target achievement had increased from 73% to 85%, and there had been a decrease in partial and non-achievement. These improvements in service delivery had been particularly notable in the infrastructure programme. Overall, since 2014/15, the Department had experienced an upward trend in the number of indicators and performance achievement levels.
When compared to the previous annual report, the DBE had managed to achieve widespread improvements in areas such as the overall pass rate, the number of learners passing matric at a bachelor level, the number of textbooks delivered to public schools and the number of young qualified teachers it had appointed. These highlights were an indication of the Department’s logistical capacity, which was unrivalled amongst both industrialised and developing countries.
Ms Deliwe highlighted key areas of the Department’s performance according to its specific programme areas.
Programme 1: Administration
A key driver for economic performance was the payment of service providers within 30 days of procurement. The Department had a planned target of 100%, and an actual achievement of 99.05%. The reason for the deviation from the target was the lack of an invoice tracker tool system. The DBE had resolved all misconduct cases within 90 days, but had been unable to achieve its target of resolving grievances within 30 days due to the unavailability of parties involved.
Other highlights included:
- Internal and district capacity building in quantitative data analysis to improve programme monitoring and delivery;
- An early grade reading study to develop better models for improving language acquisition in African languages, which was currently being implemented in the North West and Mpumalanga;
- The Department’s effort in strengthening its internal audit and risk management unit’s capacity
Programme 2: Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring
The DBE had a 100% achievement level related to the provision of offline digital content and various workbooks for public school learners in Grades R to Nine. It exceeded targets relating to the monitoring and evaluation of the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) upon the request of provinces which wanted additional information, the number of learners obtaining subject passes in the National Senior Certificate (NSC), and the number of learners with intellectual disabilities who utilised psycho-social support services.
A highlight was the increased participation in early childhood development (ECD) facilities (from 30.4% to 44.3%), as well as the need to continually monitor ECD in migration and Grade R attendance across provinces.
Programme 3: Teachers, Education Human Resources and Institutional Development
A major challenge was the disbursement of bursaries under the Funza Lushaka programme. The DBE had planned to award 13 500 students for teacher education, but had only achieved 13 070. This was due to challenges involving students opting to make use of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
One of the key factors impacting learning outcomes was teacher subject knowledge, which the DBE was addressing through teacher assessments. It had exceeded all of its targets in this area.
Programme 4: Planning, Information and Assessment
In support of assessment, the DBE had met all targets for test items, NSC reports and question papers for the year. However, an area of concern was the number of new schools built under the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) programme. The DBE had planned to construct 50 new schools, but had achieved only 21. Reasons for this deviation included the various challenges of using contractors, particularly in the Eastern Cape. Some contractors faced cash flow problems and were facing liquidation which led to targets not being met. In addition to this, construction was impacted by weather, unavailability of resources such as water and electricity, and the closure of sites. The DBE had underachieved its target to provide sanitation facilities through ASIDI for similar reasons.
Programme 5: Educational Enrichment Services
The DBE met and exceeded its targets on particular programmes intended to support and enhance the quality of learning in schools. These included the provision of meals, participation in programmes promoting social cohesion, the monitoring of the implementation of the National School Safety Framework (NSSF) and the facilitation of sexual reproductive health education.
Overall, the DBE had a target status of 85% achievement across all of its programmes in the 2018/19 period. This was an overall improvement of approximately 12% from the 2017/18 period, and was notable in that the Department had undertaken more targets than it had in the previous year.
Mr Patrick Khunou, Deputy Director General (DDG): Finance and Administration said the DBE had a total budget of R23.7 billion in the 2018/19 financial year, of which 98.8% was spent.
In the Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring programme, R59.5 million was underspent due to vacant posts, the lack of procurement of the Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM) electronic system, and additional vacancies in the Learners with Severe to Profound Intellectual Disabilities (LSPID) programmes.
In the Planning, Information and Assessment programme, R208.9 million was underspent due to delays in the procurement process of materials, resulting from stipulations by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Other factors included the stoppage of ASIDI projects in the Eastern Cape following disputes from the Eastern Cape Contractors Association.
There were minimal variances in the other three Departmental programmes.
Mr Khunou described the progress with the various actions and that the DBE had taken following the AGSA’s recommendations in the audit report. Key concerns were the overstatement of capital assets and capital expenditure and the understatement of goods and services expenditure. This was primarily because the current AGSA report suggested that ASIDI separate its capital costs from operational costs. Prior to this recommendation, ASIDI’s accounting was not disaggregated. This had therefore presented a challenge for the DBE to disaggregate approximately R800 million in expenditure since ASIDI had been founded. The Department had so far accounted and separated R300 million.
When ASIDI was introduced in 2011/12, it had been a short-term programme aimed towards eradicating inappropriate structures such as pit latrines. For this reason, the DBE had not created a permanent structure for monitoring the programme. However, it had since done so to support this function. This had been done to remediate the issue of misstatement of commitments.
The Department had held various workshops for the bid evaluation and adjudication committees to strengthen their oversight over the procurement processes for infrastructure. This had been done in response to the AGSA’s findings of irregular expenditure. The Department had also engaged in investigations on 11 cases out of 20 to address irregular expenditure, as well as fruitless and wasteful expenditure. They had investigated 70% of cases under possible fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and reports were being finalised.
Ms Deliwe concluded the presentation by providing information on key recommendations made by the AGSA concerning the process of providing data on programme performance, and how it was presented. The Department would be improving three key areas:
- Providing a specific target for technical mathematics lessons versus technical science lessons;
- Implementing better record keeping and strengthening the Department’s role in reporting what was happening in the provinces; and
- Improving data analysis in relation to how evidence was packaged.
The Chairperson said the presentation had made it clear why the DBE was in its current position and why it had taken certain interventions. He hoped that the measures that had been taken would work in its favour, and he was hopeful that it would get clean audits without basic accounting errors such as misstatements. He stressed the importance of addressing the recurrent issues of ASIDI, as they had impacted on the DBE’s performance. He expressed concern over the procurement processes, and said that issues of misstatements and inaccuracies created the impression of corruption, given the country’s experience with the Zondo Commission.
He asked how much was owed by the DBE to municipalities. This was based on a statement made by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) stating that they were owed by government departments, which affected municipalities’ ability to pay companies such as Eskom. What measures were in place to ensure that municipalities received what was owed to them? He asked for more information on why the Western Cape had not been present at a training programme for school principals.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape), asked if there was a manager or director general (DG) responsible for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. She asked how much content had been digitised, and how many schools had been connected to the internet. She requested a specific breakdown of the location of the 24 schools which had been digitised. Was the DBE employing teachers who spoke the native African language they were teaching? Referring to the Department’s planned target of building 50 schools, she asked why only 21 had been constructed, and said she did not want any inclusion of partially completed projects, because that would be inaccurate.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) said that sanitation was still a problem at schools. The deadline to eradicate the bucket system was meant to have been ten years ago and had been shifted. She asked when the DBE expected to finally eradicate the issue, as it was still the cause of death among children. What was the current deadline, and did the DBE think it would meet it?
She acknowledged that the DBE had made provision for the management of infrastructure and that only 21 schools out of the targeted 50 had been built. She asked for a provincial breakdown of where the schools were meant to have been constructed and which provinces were failing to deliver. Were these provinces being held to account, because infrastructure was a recurring issue for the DBE? Were provinces vetting service providers adequately before issuing tenders?
She asked the Department to provide the Committee with information on where there were teacher vacancies so they could forward these details to students who were completing their degrees under the Funza Lushaka programme to assist in filling vacancies. She asked what the specific duties and functions of the newly appointed head of infrastructure were and whether or not there was a specific action plan for each province against which progress could be monitored over the next five years. Lastly, she noticed that there had been no mention of a Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) programme roll out, and asked about expenditure and progress in this area. She wanted to know what the projected budget would be for HPV vaccinations, as she had learned that it would be reduced in the future.
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KZN) asked which provinces were implementing the early grade reading programme and if it was reaching rural areas where the need was greatest. Assessments should be mandatory in order to establish if teachers possessed the necessary skill sets to teach certain subjects. She asked that DBE specify the proportion of targets which were only partially completed among those which had achieved full completion. Infrastructure was currently not up to standard, and there was a need to do away with pit latrine systems because they were the cause of many accidents at schools. She referred to a primary school which had access to tablets, but they were not being used because they lacked internet connection. In addition, the school had only 20 tablets to service a school population of approximately 1 500 children which poses the challenge of deciding which children should benefit. She said that departments were failing to implement recommendations made by the AGSA, as issues emanating from previous years were still persisting. This was an indication that officials were not adequately carrying out their roles and responsibilities.
Mr Bara raised several areas of concern. He said the ECD migration was a huge issue which required a collaborative effort between the DBE and the Department of Social Development (DSD). Given the difficulty of synergizing efforts, he asked how confident the DBE was that it would achieve its goals regarding ECD, and if they could provide a timeline for their expected progress. How was the DBE ensuring that school feeding programmes were reaching their intended audience if the responsibility for monitoring had been transferred to the provinces? How was it following up on the use of the funds it disbursed to provinces, because the performance at the provincial level impacted on how the DBE performed at the national level?
Regarding the ASIDI, he asked how the DBE balanced the shutting down of schools against the construction of new ones. He suggested a shift in focus towards improving the infrastructure within pre-existing schools as opposed to building new ones where it may not be necessary. Overall, ASIDI had been conceived as a good intervention, but it was now producing unintended consequences. He referred to variations in the level of access to textbooks, and asked if this was an indication that where access was not 100%, some learners did not have textbooks.
He commented that Fundza Lushaka was currently administered by NSFAS, and said this was problematic considering that NSFAS had challenges in implementing its own mandate, yet it had been given the additional responsibility of disbursing funds on behalf of the DBE. He asked if the DBE did not have the capacity to perform this function itself, and suggested that perhaps there was a need to create an inhouse structure dedicated to Fundza Lushaka in the same way that the DBE had done with regard to infrastructure.
He asked what measures the DBE was taking against contractors who had failed to deliver fully constructed projects in accordance with agreements with the Department. Schools in the country were turning into war zones, where students were stabbing each other and teachers were intimidated by the situation and could not institute corporal punishment as a solution. The challenge was for the DBE to find alternative means of instilling discipline in learners. How confident was the DBE that, together with SAPS and the DSD, it could achieve targets set in the National School Safety Framework to curb the violence in schools?
Lastly, he asked about the scope of sexual reproductive education and how far the education went. This was important, because the purpose of the programme was primarily to provide learners with information as a preventative measure, and not to suggest a readiness to engage in sexual activities.
Mr Van der Westhuizen acknowledged that the Department faced significant challenges with infrastructure, particularly the selection of service providers, ranging from contractors to implementing agencies. The DBE needed to review its criteria for selecting candidates and focus specifically on how to balance service provision with economic development. The DBE was making use of various implementing agencies, such as the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and the Independent Development Trust (IDT), amongst others. In the last week, the DBE had engaged with various implementing agencies to present a cumulative figure of the number of projects that had been allocated to them, and the number of those that had been completed. This had been done to unpack why targets where not being met and to address where bottlenecks were being experienced. In 2013 an addendum was drafted which stated that the DBE expected all jobs allocated to service providers to be fulfilled in accordance with service agreements and that in the case where agencies failed to deliver on time, they would be held accountable. In cases of delays, the DBE had the right to intervene as it saw fit, whether this meant requesting the removal of engineers or project managers or the full termination of the contract. The addendum had an additional clause stating that in the case where the DBE had to assume the duties of the contractors, the contractors would incur any associated costs.
He said that although ASIDI contributed towards infrastructure issues, in the bigger scheme it was only a R1.3 billion programme, whereas the provincial programme accounted for R10 billion. He acknowledged that although the challenges between the two were similar, infrastructural issues went beyond the scope of ASIDI.
The issue of population migration was crucial, and its consequences were not unique to education. It required concerted effort, as it was a moving target that carried implications for how well the DBE was able to plan and execute the construction of schools without creating white elephants.
He agreed with the Committee that it was imperative for the DBE to enter into contract agreements only with clearly stipulated management clauses and consequences, in the case that service providers failed to deliver on their targets. It was the duty of the DBE to fully implement such contracts and to take on any necessary remedial action.
Mr Ramasedi Mafoko, Acting Chief Director: DBE, addressed the issue of the construction of only 21 schools, when the target had been to build 50 new schools. The DBE’s failure to meet this target was due to two issues -- the invasion of sites by the Eastern Cape Black Contractors Association, and the DTI’s refusal to allow the procurement of materials required for alternative technologies.
The Eastern Cape Black Contractors Association had invaded 10 sites and demanded that construction was stopped. Their main complaint was that they should have been contracted by the DBE to complete the projects. The DBE had therefore been involved in extensive negotiations with the Association which had ultimately resulted in the loss of up to six months of construction time, delaying the completion of targeted projects.
Secondly, the DBE had identified several schools where alternative technology would be used during construction. The deployment of alternative technology was typically very quick, but progress was halted when the DTI stated that the Department had failed to declare locally procured steel. In the DBE’s understanding, there was no need to declare small quantities of local content, as the projects were using predominantly alternative technology. The DBE had been unable to reach an agreement with the DTI, and had to begin a new procurement process, ultimately resulting in the failure to reach the targeted construction of 50 schools.
He clarified that the initial deadline for sanitation targets was 2016, which the DBE had not met. There currently was no bucket system being used in schools, and the issue being addressed was the use of pit latrines. The new deadline under the Sanitation Appropriate For Education (SAFE) initiative was to eradicate pit latrines by 2021/22. However, the Minister had said that this was too long, and that targets should be met in the next financial year instead. However, procurement under the SAFE initiative could begin before budget allocations had been made, and this was the reason for delays. He assured the Committee that this would not be an issue because sanitation was a short term project.
He clarified that the DBE was reporting only on ASIDI projects, and not those carried out by the provinces.
Dr Moses Simelane, Chief Director: DBE, addressed the digitisation of learning content, and said that the DBE’s approach had been to digitise material from the 12 subjects that had the highest enrolment. The DBE currently did not have information on the monitoring of the 24 schools with digitised content, but would provide it at a later date. The early grade reading programme was being implemented across all provinces, and the Department had sampled and monitored 10 schools in each province to verify the findings provided by provinces with its independent findings.
He said the DBE would launch an investigation into the issue of the underutilisation of tablets in the school highlighted by Ms Luthuli. He assured the Committee that the DBE provided each school with its own server to ensure adequate WIFI connectivity, and provided intensive training on how to use the technology.
The DBE had achieved several milestones concerning the ECD migration. Together with the DSD, the Department met to ensure that each department understood the mandates of the programme. The DBE had since established eight workstreams which had begun to develop specific milestones and implementation plans for the next five years. The legal and policy workstreams had already drafted a proclamation which would be announced by the President, following approval. The DBE had also begun soliciting funding to ensure that the ECD programme was well executed.
He said the DBE relied on provincial departments to advise how many textbooks they would require. Upon receipt of this information, the DBE filled these orders and delivered the textbooks to the provinces. The Department then followed up with the provinces to address any inadequate supplies.
The Chairperson said that the Select Committee would meet with the Portfolio Committee at a later stage to discuss the information presented by the DBE, in order to ensure that their recommendations were consistent.
Deputy Minister Mhaule said that the challenge of presenting the work of the DBE was its wide scope. It was difficult to account for both national and provincial outcomes. The provincial departments were, in accordance to the Constitution, legal authorities which made it difficult to intervene as this could sometimes be misconstrued as interference. Despite this, the DBE was still accountable for the performance of provinces and continued to work collaboratively to ensure uniform performance.
The Chairperson acknowledged that the DBE and the Committee played similar roles in providing oversight.
The meeting was adjourned.
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