COVID-19 Update & DBE 2020/21 Annual Performance Plan; with Ministry

Basic Education

05 May 2020
Chairperson: Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo); Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Audio: Department of Basic Education 2020/21 Annual Performance Plan 

Annual Performance Plan (APP) of Government Departments & Entities 20/2021

A joint virtual meeting of the Portfolio Committee and the Select Committee on Education were briefed on how the Department of Basic Education would spend its 2020/21 budget and the outcomes and indicators of its Annual Performance Plan (APP) which incorporate the priorities from the State of the Nation Address. Parliament's approval of the budget and the APP as tabled in March 2020 is required. For example, there was the introduction of the three-stream curriculum model, which would bring about a fundamental shift in focus towards more vocational and technical education. DBE was in the process of distributing tablet devices to learners. It also incorporated the policy on Incremental Introduction of African Languages (IIAL) currently being implemented to promote use of African languages in schools.

Members asked if it was in order merely to "note" rather than "approve" the original but now outdated DBE budget and plans; when COVID-19 Basic Education directives on school reopening dates would be gazetted and expressed concern over the cut to the infrastructure budget, especially seeing that so many schools were vandalized recently. They wanted to see more emphasis on school security in the plan so DBE could secure such assets. Concerns were raised about ICT rollout, including the connectivity challenges faced by learners in rural areas. There were questions about providing more scholar transport due to COVID-19 social distancing protocols if this would be in the hands of the Department of Transport or DBE. The Department was urged to have uniformity in school feeding schemes across the country. Another question was whether any of the COVID-19 R500 billion relief package would be allocated to COVID-19 compliance in schools.

The Department's APP was tabled in Parliament in March, which was before the national state of disaster was declared. DBE explained that the APP and budget – once approved by Parliament – would have to be adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The amendments would be presented in July. A major change in the APP is that funds would be redirected from infrastructure to making schools COVID-19-compliant, including short-term water and sanitation solutions. Due to budget cuts, Education would lose R135 billion over the medium term expenditure framework. Money from the Education Infrastructure Grant will be used for COVID-19 related purchases, such as sanitiser and personal protection equipment. The R500 billion relief package is aimed at those under financial stress but the DBE does not qualify for this.

The Minister explained that the finalised date for schools reopening could be gazetted only once the National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet had approved the plans for reopening. The 1 June date was merely provisional.

DBE is unlikely to implement its original plans as it would not be able to visit a school, or train teachers or a school governing body. DBE will not be able to spend the money as it had originally planned. All new and unexpected activities due to COVID-19 will have to be included in the redrafted plan. The Committee was urged to adopt the February budget and March APP as a legal formality as it could not be spending the budget since 1 April which has not been approved by Parliament. The Committee resolved to obtain legal advice on the adoption of the DBE budget before its next meeting.

Meeting report

Chairperson Opening Remarks
Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo), Select Committee Chairperson, remarked that the Committees were holding a virtual meeting at a time when the global coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on everyone’s lives with the measures taken to protect ourselves as the reality is this virus is killing people in large numbers. As public representatives, the challenge is to change how constitutional responsibilities are conducted, specifically how oversight is conducted in a new format through virtual meetings. Previously, Members of Parliament sat together in Parliament and engaged. But now due to social distancing, meetings have to be held using cell phones and laptops, that is, virtual meetings.

This meeting has a clear mandate as the Portfolio Committee is required, in terms of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act, to look at the budget of the Department of Basic Education (DBE), its five-year Strategic Plan and the 2020/21 Annual Performance Plan in this two hour meeting. By the end of the meeting, both Committees should have approved the budget. The Committees need to be mindful that in July, a new special appropriation bill will be tabled; it will take into account the impact of COVID-19 and Government’s response. This will amend budgets for all departments. The Committees should look at how COVID-19 affects the Department but the meetings to discuss COVID-19 changes to the budget would be held at a later stage. There would be a second look at the budget in July when the Committees would do another budget review. The Chairperson was sure that in the next meeting the Minister would report on the decisions taken about Basic Education. There was a briefing by the Minister in the last week about the discussions held between her and the Minister of Higher Education about the way forward.

Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule noted that the Minister was still in the process of connecting to the meeting. [The Minister connected about eight minutes after the start of the meeting]. The Department was in the meeting to present the Annual Performance Plan (APP) for 2020/21, and the Strategic Plan for 2019 to 2024. Since the start of Quarter 1 in April, DBE was affected by the pandemic, and things are not moving, which tells one that even the plans being presented are plans which will be subject to change. The Department was advised that it needed to present these for compliance sake, so that when it come to the adjustment process, then the Committees shall have seen the original plan. The two Committees will then be able to approve the adjustment, because the APP goes with the budget. She noted that talking to the APP in its entirety might not be helpful, because it was a plan that was going to be reworked.

Basic Education Five Year Strategic Plan and 2020/21 Annual Performance Plan
Mr Hubert Mathanzima Mweli, DBE Director-General presented the plan.

He remarked that the Department is “sitting in a new world”; a world that was not there when we planned for the next five years nor was it there when we planned for the current financial year”. The assumptions that were used then are now “completely out the window” and that applies to all departments. It was for that reason that National Treasury advised that budget adjustments for this year will be brought forward instead of happening around October. The budget adjustments would happen around July this year. That is why the Deputy Minister said that it might not be worthwhile to go into the detail of the APP, but the Department was complying with the law by presenting it.

The presentation included: Education Sector Priorities; Measuring performance: Impact Statement, Outcomes, Outputs, Indicators and Targets; Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) and Auditor General analysis of the APP; activities and monitoring affected by Covid 19 and alternative mechanisms; Budget as tabled in February; and Audit Action Plan.

Outline of the Sector
Mr Mweli noted that the number of schools has gone down but the total number of learners is up at 13 041 198. There are 12.4 million learners in the public schooling sector, and 632 443 in the independent schooling sector. There are 407 001 educators, and 23 076 schools. The public schooling sector makes up a fairly large part of the education sector. Most other countries do not have as large a public schooling sector as South Africa.

Performance of 2019 NSC Class
This year’s National Senior Certificate (NSC) is “an uphill”; the Department does not have learners in classrooms yet, and is still trying to get that sorted out. The presentation indicated how provinces and the country as a whole performed in the NSC last year.  There has been an increase in enrolment of children zero to four years old at Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres when comparing 2009 to 2018. According to StatsSA, there was a slight decrease in the number of learners in Grade 1 who attended Grade R. In terms of equity, for both learners with special education (SE) needs and those without disability, there was a good improvement, particularly for learners with SE needs. The percentage of primary and secondary schools combined with a teacher who received specialised training in Learners with Special Educational Needs (LSEN) by province, 2017, showed the Free State to be highest at 96%. With filling of teaching posts (primary and secondary schools combined), nationally, this value has improved from 69% in 2011 to 78% in 2017. Funza Lushaka graduate placement figures were not drastically different from the previous year, but still maintained the trend of placements being the lowest across the Western Cape. On school nutrition: in quintiles 1 to 3, there were 9 274 481 learners benefiting from the National School Nutrition Programme. In terms of schools, 19 938 out of 23 076 schools benefit. If schools in quintiles 4 and 5 are included, then the number of learners who benefit goes “close to 9.7 million learners receiving feeding every day out of 13 million learners. Workbooks, which remains DBE’s flagship project, are doing well; there was a 100% delivery. Even with a shortage of other books, the workbooks were “always there”.

Key Government Priorities
There were seven priorities. Mr Mweli pointed out that Government priorities have slightly changed – “A capable, ethical and developmental state” has moved up to be the number one priority, followed by economic transformation and job creation. Education, skills and health is now the third priority. In terms of the MTSF 2019-2040 outcomes, school readiness is number one, reading for meaning at number two, and number three is preparing for further studies and the world of work. Number four is contributing towards a prosperous and equitable South Africa. Number five is school infrastructure.

SoNA 2019 Key Issues
Early grade reading remains uppermost in the list of priorities. The next was more consistent measures of progress for Grade 3, Grade 6 and Grade 9, bringing in measurement and assessment regimes that would help the Department to follow progress and get a sense of how the system is doing.  Preparing young people for the jobs of the future was also a priority.

SoNA 2020 Key Issues
These included the following:
Ÿ “We are making progress with the introduction of the three-stream curriculum model, heralding a fundamental shift in focus towards more vocational and technical education.
Ÿ Various technical vocational specialisations have already been introduced in 550 schools and 67 schools are now piloting the occupational stream
Plan to issue tablet computers to school students: The process of distributing these tablets is underway.
Ÿ 10 year-olds need to read for meaning: Our early reading programmes are gathering momentum.
Ÿ Coding and Robotics introduced in grades R to 3 in 200 schools, with a plan to implement fully by 2022.
Ÿ Following recognition by DBE in 2018 of South African Sign Language (SASL) as a home language and the recommendation by the Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee that it be the 12th official language, we are now poised to finalise the matter”.

Action Plan To 2024
Ÿ “The Action Plan is based on 27 national goals intended to improve basic education across all levels.
- 13 of the goals are output goals dealing with better school results and better learner enrolment in schools.
 - The remaining 14 goals deal with what must happen for the output goals to be realised (see graphic).

Council of Education Ministers (CEM) Priorities for the Sixth Administration
Notably, one of the priorities was the “urgent implementation of two years of ECD before Grade 1, and the migration of the 0 - 4 year olds from Social Development to Basic Education” (pg. 30).

Measuring Our Performance
Mr Mweli went through the five outcomes for the strategic plan, which included an indicator, baseline, and five-year target (pp 35-41) and last year's APP 2019/20 performance indicators, with the number of indicators per programme, annual targets, bi-annual targets, and quarterly targets (pg. 44).

He noted that DBE had been reorganized, and the five financial programmes would be aligned “in due course”, because the Department had been given realigned responsibilities; senior managers were appointed in new positions. But the management structures would continue whilst DBE was realigning the organisational structure with the financial structure. If one compares this year and last year, DBE was becoming focused on delivering in 12 months, rather than within six months or a quarter. With the annual targets for 2019, 65% were achieved and this increased to 80% in the current financial year. Bi-annual target achievement decreased from 5% in 2019 to 3% in the current financial year; 30% of quarterly targets were achieved last year, while this year 16% were achieved.

The five programmes of the 2020-21 APP and the output indicators were noted (pp 46-72). An example of an output indicator that was adversely affected by COVID-19 is oversight and monitoring activities at provincial, district or school level. DBE is currently unable to do that. Reviewing the APP involved not only the budget review, but also the APP indicators were bound to change. Some functions such as monitoring would have to be done virtually, and some might not be able to be done at all.

Programme 2 is the “core” of DBE, and included district monitoring on the implementation of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) for Grades 10 to 12. Such activity would be affected by COVID-19, since face-to-face interaction is “extremely limited”. Within Programme 4, a major change that would happen is moving some of the allocation from infrastructure to urgently respond to COVID-19 requirements, such as making infrastructure compliant with COVID-19. Such compliance included the 1.5 m distancing between learners, basic COVID-19 essentials, and the basic sanitation and hygiene package, which are provided through money that would have ordinarily been used for infrastructure. That money will be redirected to providing water and sanitation, and to responding to what is needed temporarily, and later permanently. In Programme 5, output included policies on social cohesion, school nutrition, and learner wellness. Mr Mweli noted here that activities such as choral eisteddfods and other mass participation activities would not take place until South Africa is on COVID-19 Alert Level 1 or 2. As long as South Africa is on Alert Level 3 or 4, mass participation activities will not take place.

DPME and Auditor-General SA Feedback on 2020/21 APP
This feedback (pp 74-75). was factored into the strategic plan. There was a DPME comment on learning in English disadvantaging some learners, to which management responded that “the policy on Incremental Introduction of African Languages (IIAL) is currently being implemented, to promote use of other African languages in our schools”. Feedback from the Auditor-General was received on 17 March after APP tabling had already happened.

2020/21 APP Monitoring Activities Affected Due To COVID-19
For example, an original indicator was “An Annual Sector Report is produced on the number of teachers trained on inclusion”. The alternative monitoring plan is “Teacher training will need to be conducted in a manner that complies with requirements for social distancing” (pp 79-82).

2020 Budget Review
DBE has been allocated R25.3 billion in 2020/21, R27.3 billion in 2021/22 and R28.6 billion in 2022/23. Included in these allocations is Compensation of Employees of R584 million, R622 million and R649 million over the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) years.

Comparing the previous year with 2020/21, the highest increase (6.4%) was linked to Educational Enrichment Services – school nutrition could account for the increase. On the economic classifications allocations for 2020/21, there was a gradual increase, but the DG would also show the impact of budget cuts to these allocations later in the presentation. He provided comparisons of detailed earmarked allocations and the details of conditional grants allocations /transfers (for which there were some increases) and transfers. The Cabinet baseline reduction “is where the nub of the issue is” and shows how much money will remain with DBE and look at the budget cuts over the MTEF (p 97). For example, there was a baseline reduction of R134 395 billion in 2020/21.

Audit Action Plan for 2018/19 Audit Report
Mr Mweli noted the progress on implementing the audit action plan to fix the previous audit findings on immovable tangible assets; commitments, contingent liabilities; accruals and payables not recognised; material irregularity; and irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure investigation; and performance information. Consequence management was implemented in quarters 3 and 4.

Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo), Select Committee Chairperson, noted that the mandate was clear – the Committees would be dealing with the DBE APP, budget and strategic plan.

Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC), Portfolio Committee Chairperson, thought that it would probably be better for the Members to note the presentation and to understand that the reality was that many of the DBE plans would not be able to be implemented. For example, if DBE planned to visit the schools, or teach the principals, or planned anything for the SGB (school governing body), the reality is that it will not be able to implement or monitor them. She suggested they needed a legal advisor to direct them on how to act in light of the current situation. “COVID-19 happened to all of us; we are sitting in our houses; we never expected it”. DBE will not be able to spend its money as it had planned. As much as the Members needed to adopt the budget, it was not going to be on what DBE would be spending money. She moved that what the Members needed from DBE was that after it had adjusted its plans and budget, there would be a follow-up meeting where it would brief the Members. For the purposes of consensus, the two Committees should move to note these plans. We note the plans for purposes of compliance. Guided by the Parliamentary legal advisors, we would adopt the budget and comply with the legal requirements. The Members would have to face the realities of COVID-19 as this has happened for everyone; all must find solutions, and ways to adjust to the current situation.

Chairperson Nchabeleng noted that there will be a budget review in July. What DBE has now in the APP and budget will change. It cannot implement the current plan, which was drawn up before COVID-19.

Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) asked if the Minister would be given an opportunity to comment.

Ms D van der Walt (DA) acknowledged that everyone was in a difficult situation. It was unclear, within the process of planning, how the provinces were performing. She asked that the Minister address any COVID-19 directives or information; when will the Committee see anything in the gazette? She was concerned about the cut to the infrastructure budget, especially seeing that schools were vandalized recently. The safety of schools is important. Members understand that helping the economy is important but one would have hoped to see that Basic Education had additions to its budget instead of cuts, because there are “a couple of million” children and teachers that need to be safe in their educational circumstances.

Dr W Boshoff (FF+) said that it was “impossible” to deliberate on the APP and budget without having the COVID-19 crisis in mind all the time. That is why the Portfolio Committee Chair mentioned that Members could merely note this APP. It was subject to change. What troubled him is that a miracle was expected to get normal education running with the budget cuts and "now we are expecting to double up on the miracle to have enough space for social distancing, means of travel for children to get to school, sufficient sanitation to keep the schools virus-free, and then we are cutting the infrastructure budget”. He wondered if this meeting session made sense given the current circumstances, and if Parliament as a whole has not lost its purpose.

Chairperson Nchabeleng said that teaching and learning “will never be the same” in the next two to three years, or possibly for many years to come.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) agreed the presentation needs to be redone because it was not aligned with COVID-19. She was concerned about unplaced graduates. At the July session on the revised APP, she wanted to see how the unplaced graduates of the Funza Lushaka bursary programme are filling the posts in the provinces. On Outcome 5 of the MTSF 2019-2024 Outcomes on physical infrastructure and an environment that inspires the learners, there should be an update on the more than 400 schools that were burgled or burned down. How are those schools accommodated within Outcome 5? On the indicator 4.1 in the strategic plan that schools have access to functional internet, ICT disparities occur all over South Africa. The visual monitoring should be replaced with something different because DBE is expecting learners to be at school. Yet at the same time, those who are supposed to do the monitoring are going to make use of visual monitoring; this was not accepted by her.

Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) thought that there would be fundamental changes to the APP in responding to the COVID-19 requirements. The APP must talk to violence in schools, and to security of schools. DBE should be able to identify hotspots where schools were burned down and had to be rebuilt, so that DBE finds a way to secure these assets. He was aware that there are plans that talk to scholar transport and provision of water and sanitation to respond to COVID-19. He was certain that part of budget would have had to be used in addressing those aspects. He agreed with the Chairperson that the Committees note the APP and when it comes back, it address violence and security.

Chairperson Nchabeleng noted that the plan was designed long before COVID-19. It would definitely change, since there would be a budget review in July, and then be accepted. But the Committees needed to adopt this budget and plan, while knowing that these two documents were going to be changed.

Ms N Adoons (ANC) seconded what the Chairperson said about noting the documents and wait for the adjusted plan that will be tabled. The priorities of DBE would change. Infrastructure of schools is a grave concern. ICTs should be improving; she wanted to see ICTs prioritised by DBE. The pandemic has shown us that we need more connectivity, where learners could be doing their schoolwork at home. She knew the challenges that South Africa has. One will find that in the villages, the poorest of the poor learners cannot even get an opportunity to go through schoolwork that is televised (i.e. work put out by DBE to ensure learners catch up). ICTs must be prioritised as part of infrastructure, as part of teaching and learning. She agreed with noting the plan, and awaiting the adjusted version.

Mr E Siwela (ANC) agreed with about infrastructure and ICT deployment. This has been a concern for a very long time. As DBE goes into reviewing its plan, perhaps it should focus more on infrastructure and ICT deployment. He proposed that all qualified teachers, whether they studied via Funza Lushaka or not, should be given an opportunity; otherwise DBE runs the risk of disadvantaging parents who worked hard to send their children to school. All should be given equal opportunity, although preference should be given to Funza Lushaka. However, he would prefer a situation where all are treated equally.

Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) said that “we all agree with the noting of the report, until we have a chance to review the budget”. To add to the concerns for the review: she added the financial support of schools, specifically for the payment of SGB teachers. She was concerned that some of those teachers might lose their jobs; how will DBE support schools in retaining those posts?

Ms Christians was concerned about the implementation of robotics and coding in 200 schools this year. How will the budget be adjusted to hasten the roll-out of electronic devices to South Africa’s learners in terms of COVID-19 and assisting all learners to get proper teaching and learning during this time, and in the future? Her last concern was about matric learners who would be applying to university this year. Usually at this stage, many of these learners would have started their application process; can DBE monitor that process, can it assist its matric students in any way, financially or otherwise? Could it assist universities, so that learners can apply and get into university.

Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KwaZulu-Natal) agreed with everyone, especially on the plan that will still be reworked, since it was done before COVID-19. She wanted to emphasise infrastructure; where she comes from, infrastructure is not good, and so it needs to be worked on [Ms Luthuli lost connection with the meeting].

Ms C King (DA) was glad that DBE would come back with a better plan. She was concerned about the timeframe in which the plan would be tabled, and if it would take place when schools would be opened. When would the Committee get to see a proper plan that takes into consideration COVID-19? The AG highlighted that DBE needs to strengthen implementing agents; she wanted to see what measures would be put in place to ensure that implementing agents’ quality assessments are short because of the infrastructure backlog.

Ms King stated that nothing was really mentioned on scholar transport and the policy – there had been a meeting in November 2019 and generally it adopted the policy. She wanted to see, especially in light of COVID-19, how scholar transport changes will come into effect. Will scholar transport be in the hands of Department of Transport, or DBE - is it being moved back to the DBE? When one looks at the monitoring, the AG was already concerned about the levels of monitoring; in today's report, it noted that monitoring will decrease with COVID-19. She would have preferred it if DBE had strengthened its monitoring, even if on a virtual basis, so DBE knows that it has up-to-date data and analysis.

Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) asked how conferences would be conducted going forward. Normally there would be an opportunity to have the Minister give a briefing, and then have an opportunity to pose questions to the Minister. She asked how this would be dealt with going forward; she believed that the Committees had to take advantage of having the Minister present, given the fact that the ministers might not be able to join the Committees as often as they would like. She wanted to go back to last week: There a presentation by DBE; subsequent to that, there was a media conference where the Minister gave a briefing to the country. However, there were many questions that the Committee had on the way forward with the COVID-19 strategy that the Minister had proposed. This meeting would be an ideal opportunity for the Minister to respond to some of the Committee’s concerns.

She agreed with the Chairperson that everything has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, where DBE’s plans would have to be “thrown out of the window”. DBE would have to re-look at how it allocates its budget. What was concerning was that the Minister said that the schools will be COVID-19 compliant. But the budget seen today does not take that into consideration. Was there anything from the R500 billion COVID-19 package allocated for schools to be COVID-19 compliant?

Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape) agreed with the Chairperson. She was concerned about the security of schools while the country is in lockdown; DBE must look into that in its planning. She wanted to urge the DG on having uniformity in the country for feeding schemes. Feeding schemes at certain schools in the Western Cape are continuing. “We know our children need food”, but the Department of Social Development and DBE need to speak to each other. DBE cannot put anybody at risk.

Chairperson Nchabeleng asked if the Minister had joined the meeting, and she replied that she had. He said it was clear that education in this country will never be the same going forward. School health and security will definitely be different such as distancing needs. However, COVID-19 does not stop schools from building. Available resources could be directed to areas where there is a problem in the accommodation of students. In areas where there are known accommodation problems for students, then churches, community halls, could be used. The budget for school building will remain, and the remuneration of teachers will remain in the budget; COVID-19 will not change these items except in the case where there will be some additions going forward. The documents that the Committees have now do not talk to COVID-19 as they were not designed for COVID-19. That is why it was asked of Members to adopt these documents; these documents will be reviewed in July when the budgetary review process is done.

Ministry response
Minister Angie Motshekga thanked both chairpersons for the proposal. When DBE was invited, it did indicate that the plan was pre-COVID-19. “You can’t adjust what you don’t have”. DBE, like some other departments, raised the matter of withdrawing their plans in Cabinet. The plans were submitted in March; the situation now is not the same as in March. “We were told that it does not work like that. We were told that we have to speak to that which we presented in March”. One cannot amend what one does not have. It is just a process to adopt the budget and plans so one can amend.

In reply to Ms van der Walt, the Minister said that what the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) said to DBE last week is that it should rework plan, and give detail to it. It will not be possible to give details on something that DBE has not been able to start working on. DBE is working closely with the provinces; the documents before the Committees is still valid until such time as something extra or different is completed by DBE. The Department had only gone back to work yesterday, after we presented to you last week”. She hoped that the Committees would invite DBE when it was ready to give the full plans. She did not agree with the Member who said that Parliament would not be helpful. Parliament “is going to be even more relevant, because we need its monitoring and capacity role to make sure that we don’t go wrong as a Department”. The role of Parliament is even more important in the current environment, because there needs to be proper evaluation and monitoring. It is not only a question of making a mistake. It is about lives, it is about the country, it is about individuals. For her, there would be a big role for Parliament.

On graduate teachers who have not been employed, DBE will employ people whether they are Funza Lushaka or not, and on the basis of the skills that people have. The Minister was not sure if she could commit to employing everybody. What she was certain of was that with the new requirements, DBE would need more teachers due to the need to have spacing and classes with fewer learners. Also according to health advice, people with comorbidities should not be exposed. What should be done with them, and with those over 60 who were still assisting? DBE will work with unions to ask how to handle educators with comorbidities and teachers who are above 60 and still remain in the system. The Minister hoped that as DBE dealt with those matters, there would be more spaces opening for young people, without necessarily saying that everybody who is unemployed will be employed now.

On schools that had been burned down, there were not 400 schools burned down; the last count was [inaudible 1:28:16.9] schools burned, with 41 in one township. That is why opening the sector is important; if managers go to schools, that might help DBE. In some instances, people are breaking in because they want food, but they did not go to kitchens; they burned classrooms. People might have wanted to steal computers, but they went to centres that did not have computers. DBE has try to manage such spaces, and to understand what it is confronting. While sitting in a teleconference, DBE does not know what is happening in that space. That is why it is important for the system to open and get managers to go to schools.

On ICTs, as much as DBE desperately needs to ensure that it can resource its schools adequately, the Minister did not want to be dishonest and say that because there is COVID-19, DBE “has a bigger cloth”. It will be forced to cut its jacket according to the size of the cloth. If the cloth “allows for a coat, then DBE “will come with a coat”. The Minister could not say that when schools open, every child will have a laptop, or ICTs. DBE did need to come up with a plan to mitigate the challenges it faces by strengthening its position.

The employment of teachers is informed by the needs of the schools. Reporting on Funza Lushaka is a reporting requirement, not an employment requirement. Funza Lushaka is paid for by DBE, therefore it is expected to report on it to parliamentary Committees. Schools do not employ on the basis of whether teachers were trained via Funza Lushaka; it would be very unfair. Schools employ people for the skills they want. If they want a maths teacher, then the teacher educated through parents’ fees would be hired. It would make no sense to take, for example, an English teacher who had come through Funza Lushaka.

On SGBs, DBE has advised schools to work with very closely with SGBs, because the COVID-19 situation needs everybody on board. If DBE opens schools, it does not want parents to think they can send their children to school without masks that were given to the children, and then expect DBE to take responsibility. DBE has to ensure that everybody, even parents, takes responsibility. If parents use private transport to take children to school, there is “no way” that Government can see if the cars have been sanitised, because those are not cars that government has hired. DBE is expecting parents to assist in this COVID-19 situation, and support the work it does. DBE needs to have everybody on board.

On infrastructure challenges, the infrastructure budget will change because DBE needs extra space, and there need to be more classes. When it comes to going to the Treasury, DBE would have to convince it that the budget does not fit the new plan. The budget will be redirected to priorities that the NCCC team has mentioned such as spacing, sanitation and health. DBE is going to look at the current school infrastructure budget, and ask how it responds to the COVID-19 requirements in terms of spacing. If by September, DBE is able to phase in all learners, there will not be space, so it is already looking at churches and halls. It might even have to pitch tents in some places just to manage the health requirements. Health will be a priority, and will govern everything that DBE does. When DBE comes back to the Committees, the infrastructure budget would have changed. DBE has to provide new plans to Treasury. The three principles given are that schools must not spread the virus; that everybody is safe; and protect the academic year as much as possible. Those three principles will guide DBE budgeting. When DBE comes back with a revised budget, even the scholar transport budget might be different. If it perhaps phases in Grades 7 and 12 until the end of July, what happens to scholar transport; there must be fewer children in the busses which must be fumigated all the time. If the grades are phased in September, then it will be different scholar transport, and a different environment. DBE has to work with the Department of Transport so that a bus that carries 60 learners, can only carry 30 or 40. Thus, the budget of the scholar transport will change; it will create new dynamics. DBE might be expected to provide more transport; it does not know, but that is what might happen.

The Minister said that she was looking forward to the stage when DBE could present the final report. Everything that DBE does under the state of disaster has to be approved by the NCCC, which then works with experts to look at the risk factors. DBE is working on the details of the proposal given last week; it will give an interim report to the NCCC on 18 May, and the NCCC will scrutinise DBE plans. Only when the NCCC has given its approval will DBE be able to come back to the Committees. The discussion on social media on schools has also helped in giving DBE a sense of what parents’ concerns are.

On Western Cape feeding scheme, DBE has noted this and has been engaging with the province. DBE will continue to engage with the Western Cape MEC so that the sector can find synergy, and work together “most of the time”. The Minister said that DBE was complying with what Parliament requires; it tabled a budget. "The world is very different, and the budget will be different”. Her concern is how to amend what one does not have on the table as adopted. She heard that Members were saying that they would "note" the budget. She was not sure if "noting" allowed Members to amend what they had not adopted; maybe it was a legal issue to be dealt with.

Deputy Minister Mhaule noted that the Minister's response had “covered everything and beyond”.

Director General's response
Mr Mweli emphasised the Minister's point that one cannot report on something different from what was tabled on 11 March. DBE’s report was “tailor-made” for what was tabled on 11 March. One cannot come with something from that, so that one is fulfilling the law. Perhaps the legal team could advise the Committees whether they could "note" the budget and plan or if they are supposed to "approve" the documents.

On the 2020/21 budget cuts, the DBE budget was cut. DBE does not qualify for the R500 billion relief package for those under stress. The Department has lost R135 billion over the MTEF. DBE “is losing as a sector”. The DBE and Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology have lost R135 billion. Money has been taken from the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) to buy COVID-19 essentials. There is no other allocation, except for the EIG, which is about R11 billion. The EIG money will not be used to build infrastructure, but will instead be used to buy sanitisers and all the other things required for DBE to comply with COVID-19 regulations. To provide water and sanitation, DBE will need about R600 million, for 3 400 schools that do not have water and sanitation. Those schools will not be able to open unless they have water and sanitation. DBE is taking the R600 million from the infrastructure projects, to ensure that schools have water and sanitation. DBE is working with National Treasury on that.

DBE is not saying that learners must go back to school, and then be monitored only virtually. DBE is limiting physical interaction, as required by the conditions of the Lockdown Risk Adjusted Strategy, which says that South Africa is at Level 4. Therefore, physical interaction must be limited; that is why there are curfews and restrictions in place. DBE will be visiting schools at some point, but these will have to be limited. Even parliamentary oversight is done virtually now. With the way that things will be done in future, DBE is definitely going to invest in other means of monitoring; as a Member suggested, DBE could invest in strengthening virtual monitoring. Since DBE operations will not be the same, it is investing in other means of monitoring. DBE did indicate on certain slides how it would amend its activities to comply with COVID-19 regulations. It could already give some information on the work it had amended. It could not give Parliament what was not yet part of the plan. It could only give a report on the activities and indicators in the APP and this was merely a legal requirement. DBE was “caught in that conundrum” of fulfilling the legal requirements, which were not speaking to the current reality.

[Meeting audio cut out from 1:45:45.6 - 1:46:36.8]

Further questions
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi noted that last week the Minister announced timelines for schools to reopen; however, the Committees had not seen the dates being gazetted. The Minister needs to indicate when she will gazette those dates, because this is creating a lot of uncertainty in the sector. The Minister said that the heads of staff are supposed to go back this week, including the school senior management teams, and teachers the week after. At the moment, there is nothing that shows what DBE is doing. Teachers and parents want to know the measures put in place to protect themselves and the children. There needs to be clarity on what is required by the health experts so no school can open until measures are in place. Parents need information on the protocols in the event that there is a case in a school.

Chairperson Mbinqo-Gigaba asked that Members not “derail the meeting to COVID-19 issues”. She asked if the Minister could respond on when the dates for schools reopening would be gazetted. The Committees would return to COVID-19 at a later time.

The Minister replied that the DBE framework was submitted to the NCCC which accepted it and said that DBE must work on the details. Under the Disaster Management Act, before the framework goes to Cabinet, it has to go to the NCCC, which says that it has been scrutinised for the three main principles. DBE is supposed to go back to the NCCC by 18 May and give it details of its plans. DBE could not give answers to Ms Tarabella-Marchesi's questions because the plans can only be implemented once approved. DBE had given its original plan only a week ago. DBE will be able to give details with certainty only once the plan is approved by the NCCC and Cabinet.

The Minister urged the public to wait for the Ministry to come to the public and say that “these are the measures we have put in place; therefore, we are definitely going to open on 1 June”. DBE put 1 June as a date to work from. DBE could end up opening in the middle of July, for example, if it was not able to get the ordered measures put in place. DBE will only be able to gazette the date when the NCCC has given its approval on the health and safety measures put in place. DBE had spoken to the teachers, who had given it the conditions under which they would return; these were acceptable to DBE. The only small difficulty was that after DBE presented to the Committees, there was a miscommunication that the Department was ignoring these conditions. It had to go back to the teachers and say that the NCCC would not allow DBE to operate until it could convince the NCCC that indeed the non-negotiables are “hard non-negotiables”. They would not be allowed to teach until the NCCC was satisfied that those conditions had been met. DBE does not yet have approval on a fixed date, but it has approval on preparing towards a fixed date. She would not be able to say with certainty yet that ECD centres would be opening in September. There were mothers who were very concerned that if the economy opened, then who would look after their children? As DBE consults with the public and the Committees, it might have to add new things to the plan that it did not expect.

Ms Mbinqo-Gigaba noted that no one from the parliamentary legal adviser team was present in the meeting.

Ms van der Walt said as far as she understood the process of tabling for adoption or notice, the Department  must table the APP by a certain date. DBE had done that and the Committees can note it on the basis that the Committees will look at adoption once the amended APP and budget is tabled again.

The Minister thought that DBE would need legal advice, because it was using the budget that it had tabled. It might be that DBE is using the budget “illegally”, if the Committees do not adopt it. That was why the Parliamentary Legal Office and Treasury would have to tell DBE what the way forward is. Her hunch was that DBE could end up spending a budget which had not been approved. She speculated that under the state of disaster conditions, DBE could be allowed some deviation.

The Chairperson agreed with the Minister that the Committees needed to adopt the budget. The budget needed to be adopted so that DBE could spend money legally.

The DG suggested that the Committees get full legal advice. He knew that there are conditions under which the Committees "note" and there are also conditions under which the Committees "approve". Those two sets of conditions are different, and the lawyers will explain those conditions, and advise how to take the process forward. His understanding was that the Committees did not necessarily need to take that decision in this meeting. The Committees could take the decision in a future meeting.

Chairperson Mbinqo-Gigaba confirmed that the original committee programme had meetings with the South African Council of Educators (SACE) on 12 May and with Umalusi on 19 May. She suggested that the Committees get legal advice and arrange to have the legal advisor in the next meeting. SACE and Umalusi need to present before the Committees adopted the entire budget. “As for this meeting, we note the budget tabled by the DBE, and understand the conditions that we are faced with globally".

The two-hour meeting was adjourned.


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