The Committee was briefed by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on the progress being made with the roll-out of information communication technology (ICT) in the basic education sector, and was told the timeline for the implementation of the programme was between 2019 and 2024.
At the core of the programme was the amended Universal Service and Access Obligations (USAO) framework of 2014, which required network operators to provide 5 250 public schools with internet connectivity and ICT equipment as part of their obligations. The three major network operators had made significant progress in respect of the connections and allocation of devices in schools. They had so far deployed 4 697 data projectors and servers, 9 394 laptops and 112 728 tablets, to 4 697 schools across all the provinces.
The Committee heard that all special schools would be provided with the ICT solution as well as assistive technologies appropriate to the needs of each school. The roll-out programme for these schools was set for completion in 2021. In addition, the USAO project made provisions for the training of teachers, and to date, a total of 298 620 had been trained.
The Committee asked if the DBE had a monitoring plan to ensure that the resources that had been deployed were actually being utilised. Members expressed interest in how it was aligning its infrastructure development with the ICT requirements. They also asked questions about the training of teachers, data prices and the security measures in place for the protection of the devices.
The Department outlined the measures the Council of Education Ministers had decided to implement around the country in response to the President’s declaration of a national emergency due to the Coronavirus. These included the early closure of schools, adjustments to future holiday dates, cancellation of functions, and the need to adjust plans if the pandemic did not abate as expected. The Committee asked whether the Department had formulated a plan to provide meals to learners who depended on the schools’ meal programme.
ICT roll-out in basic education sector
The Chairperson said that in addition to the items on the agenda, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) would outline the precautionary measures that it had put place to combat the Coronavirus.
Dr Mamiki Maboya, Deputy Director General (DDG): Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring, DBE, made some opening remarks and handed the presentation over to her counterpart.
Mr Seliki Tlhabane, Chief Director: Mathematics, Science and Technology and Curriculum Enhancement Programmes, DBE, presented a progress report on the information communication technology (ICT) roll-out in the basic education sector.
The ICT roll-out programme had been introduced in compliance with the objectives of the White Paper 7 of 2004, the South Africa National Development Plan, the Action Plan 2019 towards the Realisation of Schooling 2030, and the SA Connect Policy of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS), to provide learners and teachers with connectivity for teaching and learning
In 2019, the DBE had finalised a plan for the deployment of digital Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM) through ICT at all levels of the basic education sector. The timeline for the implementation of this plan was 2019 to 2024.
Under the amended Universal Service and Access Obligations (USAO) of 2014, the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) had requested network operators to provide 5 250 public schools with internet connectivity, and ICT equipment, as part of their obligations. The major three network operators -- Vodacom, MTN and Cell C had each been allocated 1 500 public schools, while Neotel/Liquid Telecoms had been allocated 750 schools.
(For details on the number of schools that the network providers had connected to date, see presentation.)
MTN and Vodacom had taken it a step further, to provide connectivity to schools for learners with special needs.
In respect of teacher centres, the Department had identified a total number of 147 centres in all provinces. There were 104 centres connected, 110 centres with infrastructure and 118 centres with programmes.
The network service providers had deployed a total of 4 697 data projectors and servers, 9 394 laptops and 112 728 tablets. to 4 697 schools across all the provinces. There were also provincial driven devices being rolled out. For example, the Eastern Cape had provided 64 000 laptops to teachers and 3 000 laptops to learners.
(See presentation for information on other provinces.)
The USAO project also provided for special consideration of special schools. All special schools would be provided with an ICT solution, as well as assistive technologies appropriate to the needs of each school. The ICT roll-out programme for these schools was set for completion in 2021.
The DBE, Provincial Education Departments (PEDs), as well as Intel, Microsoft and other partners, had trained teachers on how to integrate ICT into teaching and learning. To date, a total of 298 620 had been trained across all provinces.
(See presentation for data by province.)
Ms Maboya said that following the President’s declaration of a state of a national emergency, the Minister of Basic Education had conducted an emergency Council of Education Ministers (CEM), which sought to communicate the steps necessary to combat the Coronavirus both in communities and in schools. The steps had been taken against the backdrop of the decisions taken by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Department had issued Circular Number 3 of 2020 to communicate the containment or management measures that would affect the schools. The measures were as follows:
- All schools would be closed from 18 March, and would reopen on 14 April due to the alarming increase of infection in South Africa over a short space of time.
- The Department would amend the school calendar by shortening the June vacation by seven school days, and the September vacation would be shortened by two school days
- All events requiring the gathering of more than 100 learners would be cancelled or postponed until further notice -- for example, the Spelling Bee competitions and the Moot Court.
- The Department encouraged learners to take advantage of the state of national disaster by ensuring that learners took part in stimulating educational programmes, such as “Ready to Lead.” The Department would provide workbooks and worksheets to ensure this.
- The DBE would provide guidelines on vacation schools/camps that would be occurring, to ensure alignment with the President’s proclamation.
- The Department would monitor the Coronavirus situation closely during the period of the declaration.
- The Department required all operational educational offices during the state of disaster to have sanitisers and preventative measures in place.
- All Provincial Educational Departments must put in place a recovery programme when schools reopen.
Mr E Siwela (ANC) referred to page 18 of the presentation dealing with connectivity of centres, and said the Department needed to explain how it was possible to connect six teaching centres in the Free State when the chart indicated there were only five teaching centres available in the province. How accessible were the connected teacher centres?
The devices connected at the centres would require maintenance. Between the teaching schools and service providers, who was responsible for the maintenance?
The connected devices should not sit in the teaching centres and gather dust. Was there someone responsible for monitoring their usage?
Mr Tlhabane replied that the Department did have a monitoring plan to ensure that the resources that had been deployed were being utilised. The monitoring was covered under the Provincial Performance Measure (PPM). The Auditor General was also monitoring to check that the Department was doing this.
Mr Siwela asked where and when was training provided for teachers in respect to the usage of the devices.
Dr Maboya replied that service providers helped to provide the teacher training. Nonetheless, the training of teachers was initiated mostly by the provinces.
Mr T Malatji (ANC) expressed interest in how the Department was aligning infrastructure development and ICT. The existing infrastructure, particularly in Eastern Cape, did not support ICT programmes. In addition, had the Department put in security measures for the connected devices? There had been news about devices getting stolen days after their installation. Regarding the Coronavirus, had the Department come up with a backup plan in case the virus intensified by 14 April, and had not abated as anticipated?
Dr Maboya replied that the Department was closely monitoring the situation in the schools, and was strategising a contingency plan in case the virus intensified. Private stakeholders such as Vodacom had agreed to provide virtual classrooms.
She said most centres had infrastructure that was responsive to the Department’s ICT plan. The same applied to the grants that the Department currently had. In addition, the new infrastructure that the Department was building in schools had facilities to support ICT. The Department had made this a norm.
On security, the DBE had a sister department that ensured all gadgets were safe. It ensured that the devices were put in fortified rooms, with cameras. The department had also ensured there would be a rapid response in case of burglary..
Ms N Shabalala (ANC) expressed concern about the fact that in some schools, students had to share devices. Would the students be able to take devices home to do homework?
Mr Tlhabane replied that schools had not thrown away the old methods of teaching. Previously students always used devices at school, without the need for taking them home. The Department would continue doing this until there were enough devices so there would be no need to share.
Ms D van der Walt (DA) requested further details on the response she had received from the Minister about ICT. The Minister had stated that the total cost of gadgets delivered to 645 schools to date was R24.9 million. The report showed that 4 697 schools received gadgets. What was the exact budget for the ICT roll-out programme to date? Was the presentation limited to gadgets distributed only by the DBE, or also extended to those distributed by private donors? Had the gadgets stolen in Gauteng been accounted for in the presentation? If not, the delegates should inform the Committee of the value of gadgets stolen.
Mr Tlhabane said that the exact budget amounted to around R30 billion. This cost was carried by both the government and the private sector.
Ms C King (DA) requested an update on the robotics programme that the government had previously announced. Had the Department sourced robotics teachers? Did it have workshops or workstations for the teachers?
South Africa was among the countries with the highest number of cell phone users in the world. For this reason, data was expensive. Had the Department signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with South Africa’s biggest network providers in respect to the cost of data? On Coronavirus, had a meal plan been put in place for those learners, in particular those in the rural areas, who depended on these meals? In case the virus is not contained by 14 April when learners return to school, would the Department do a risk assessment, and put in place preventative measures?
Dr Maboya replied that the meals programme was still under consideration. The Minister had requested that the Department focus on the safety of learners.
On robotics, the Department had finalised the curriculum from Grade R to Grade 9.
Mr Tlhabane said that the Competition Commission of South Africa had managed to get service providers to reduce the cost of data. For example, Vodacom had already agreed to reduce the cost of data. The Department had also proposed, through the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), that network service providers provide E-rates to schools. This meant schools would be charged half the price of data. The Department had agreed with network service providers to zero rate educational sites.
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) found it concerning that of all the provinces, the Free State did not provide gadgets for teachers. What was the reason for this? What had the Department done to ensure that the teachers received their gadgets?
There was some sort of reluctance or resistance amongst older teachers to get themselves acquainted with ICT programmes. What was the Department doing to ensure that the older teachers got the training they need?
In Gauteng, most schools had had their gadgets stolen. Based on this experience, had the Department ensured that the gadgets they were providing to schools were insured? Had it obtained quotations on insuring devices at different schools? It should also improve the security measures at schools.
On the Coronavirus, the Committee should come up with strategies to assist the DBE to ensure that teaching continued in schools in case the virus intensified when schools reopened. Was it possible to get the army to assist in the distribution of food to learners who depend on this? Why was Cell C not part of the service providers the Department was utilising for the ICT roll-out programme?
Dr Maboya replied that provinces had different priorities, and it appeared the ICT programme was not part of the Free State’s top priorities.
Mr Tlhabane said that the cost of insuring devices exceeded that of replacing them when they were stolen. This conclusion was based on quotations that the Department obtained from insurance companies.
Ms Van der Walt commented that private donors would not want to keep donating devices that got stolen, hence the importance of insuring them.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) expressed concern that the presentation did not capture the issue of crime in schools. This affected the ICT programme that the Department was trying to implement. It was commendable that in implementing the programme, the DBE, on the instruction of the Minister, was focusing on special schools. The Department should ensure that all teachers were provided with adequate training. To date, only 50 percent had received such training. What was the plan to ensure all teachers got training? On the Coronavirus, the Department should already have a plan in progress, given the fact that it would intensify.
Mr Tlhabane apologised for not presenting on the challenges that the Department was facing, which included crime. It was considering limiting devices to educational features only in order to reduce their commercial value, and hence stop their theft.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi interjected that this had been previously discussed, but the Department had chosen not limit the features on the devices, which was concerning.
The Chairperson said there was need for improved communication when it came to Coronavirus. The media was flooded by fake news that was misrepresented as authentic. There were also schools that had planned overseas trips, but due to the virus these had been cancelled. Parents were requesting refunds from the schools. Was this a matter between the schools and the parents, or was the Department required to intervene somehow?
Dr Maboya replied that South African Airways (SAA) had announced a decision to allow the free cancellation of flights by those affected by the Coronavirus.
The Chairperson said it was concerning that in the Eastern Cape, teachers received more gadgets than the students. Who was supposed to receive more -- the teachers or students?
The timeline for the implementation of the programme was concerning. It was too long and slow. It was in the interest of the Committee to deal with the ICT roll-out programme before the end of its term.
The budget that the Department was allocating to the special schools was high. What was the difference between this budget and what the Department was providing to normal schools?
Mr Tlhabane replied that the cost of delivering to a normal school was about R600 000, and the cost of delivering to a special school was about R1.6 million.
The Committee moved on to consider and adopt draft minutes.
The meeting was adjourned.
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