The Council for Quality Assurance and Training (Umalusi) presented its annual performance plan, strategic plan and budget, and told the committees it was continuing to engage the DBE on strategies to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, quality assurance would not be compromised by revising the National Senior Certificate examinations set for Grade 12s. The question papers had been finalised, and they were not going to be reviewed. Learners would not be called upon to do anything that was sub-standard. There were plans by the Department to do catch-up, to finish the syllabus and help the students, so that nobody could point fingers at them and say they had not finished the syllabus, and that the curriculum had been watered down for them to pass. From a quality assurance perspective, Umalusi could not do that. It highlighted the importance of maintaining educational standards, and said Umalusi would not allow learners to be stigmatised for not having covered the full scope of work.
Members asked what confidence the Department had that Grade 12 learners would complete the curriculum, and were advised that they would have lost 42 teaching days if they returned on 1 June, which was nearly two months. The DBE had worked out that it needed to reduce the June and September holidays, and extend the fourth quarter. It believed that the June examinations would be cancelled if learners went back on 1 June, and if one put all of these adjustments together, the Department would make up close to 40 days. The committees advised Umalusi to take cognisance of the psychological impact of COVID-19 on learners, and their ability to adjust during this period.
Umalusi said it had completed the quality assurance of South African Sign Language as a home language. Members asked if the situation with COVID-19 would change the way that examinations on this subject would be administered, but Umalusi gave an assurance that nothing would change. It was also in the process of doing quality assurance for the National Senior Certificate for Adults. There was a particular process of quality assurance to follow, which was why the qualification was still in the process of being finalised.
The meeting heard that Umalusi had experienced a budget cut of 2% over the medium-term expenditure framework period in December 2019, which meant that there was a shortfall of R7.07 million in its baseline allocation. It was currently looking at alternative funding models with the Department of Basic Education (DBE). Members raised concerns about its under-funding, and agreed that it needed to return to the committees with a firm plan to enable it to continue with its essential quality assurance work. The committees were concerned by Umalusi’s high staff turnover and the fact that it was unable to retain the high level of skills it needed. Members were told that staff moved to departments and entities that were able to offer more competitive salaries, as well as a lower workload.
Members asked about the reasons for delays in the provision and verification of certificates. Umalusi responded that it was currently consulting the education departments about allowing certain functions, such as the verification and processing of certificates, to be allowed under lockdown level 4.
The committees were of the opinion that special attention should be given to outdated National Technical Education (NATED) programmes, which needed to be revised. Attention should also be directed towards the shortage of education professionals required for the new qualifications, especially the new General Education Certificate, which was still to be rolled out.
Co-Chairperson Nchabeleng said that the committees were meeting to review and analyse the Annual Performance Plan (APP) and budget of the Council for Quality Assurance and Training (Umalus), which was an entity of the Department of Basic Education (DBE). As the quality council, it played a critical role in quality assurance of the curriculum provided in schools, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, and adult education centres. Its role included monitoring, moderation and verification of the exit assessment, and certification of learners’ achievement in matric. Umalusi had made both committees proud, because it had received its 18th unqualified audit opinion since 2001 in the 2018/2019 financial year. However, there were some issues that were recurring, particularly when it cames to delays in releasing blocked results due to irregularities.
Ms Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, said Umalusi would be presenting a pre-COVID-19 plan. In time, the plans would be able to align with the COVID-19 circumstances. Its current plan was on what it had planned to do. She had to have consultations with the Deputy Minister, student bodies, school governing bodies (SGBs) and teachers, so that there could be press briefing in the afternoon on the opening of schools. She asked to be excused at 10 AM.
Umalusi: 5-year strategic plan, annual performance plan and budget
Professor John Volmink, Chairperson: Umalusi, introduced the Umalusi delegation:
Dr Mafu Rakometsi, Chief Executive Officer;
Ms Zodwa Modimakwane, Executive Manager for Quality Assurance and Monitoring;
Mr Emmanuel Sibanda, Executive Manager for Qualifications and Research;
Mr Ben Keet, Acting Chief Financial Officer;
Ms Stella Mosimege, Senior Manager, Strategy and Governance;
Mr Lucky Ditaunyane, Senior Manager, Public Relations; and
Mr Dumisani Maluleke, Senior Manager, Finance and Supply Chain Management.
Professor Volmink said that he was honoured to lead the Umalusi delegation in presenting the Umalusi five-year strategic plan, the 2020/2021 APP, and the medium-term expenditure framework budget to the Members of both Parliamentary committees.
Umalusi management had engaged in the process of reviewing the past five years very carefully in order to focus on the future of the organisation, and the impact it intended to have in and on the education system in line with the objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP). Today’s presentation was the culmination of a long discussion within the organisation, which had been aimed at outlining the direction Umalusi intended to take in the coming five years. It was his “sincere and humble view” that Umalusi occupied a very important space in the education sector in South Africa. For that reason, Umalusi had a moral duty to fulfil its mandate in the best interests of the learners in South Africa, who were the beneficiaries of the educational endeavour. To achieve this, Umalusi would strive to become more innovative, proactive, efficient, and effective in carrying out its mandates.
The strategic plan outlined the priorities that would be implemented to realise Umalusi’s outcomes and impact, and the annual performance plan (APP) had been developed in keeping with these priorities. It was cognisant of the fact that the current scourge of COVID-19 had the potential to have a negative impact on some of the projected targets of the APP. He had no doubt that in the attempt to achieve the targets set in the APP, the management of Umalusi, under the leadership of Dr Rakometsi, would try to overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19. It was in the remit of the Council’s fiduciary responsibility to support and hold management accountable for the attainment of the targets and outputs outlined in the 2020/21 APP.
Dr Rakometsi, CEO: Umalusi presented Section 1 (Background), which consisted of the background and legislative mandate, the role of Umalusi, and a summary of the mandate.
He said that Umalusi collaborated with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and other quality councils (QCs), the QC for Trades and Occupations -- for qualifications obtained through the sector education and training authorities (SETAs) -- and the Council for Higher Education, for qualifications obtained through universities.
Ms Mosimege presented Section 2 (Strategic Plan) and Section 3 (Annual Performance Plan).
The strategic pan included the situational analysis; stakeholder Analysis; strategic intent (vision, mission, values); strategic priorities; delivery on priorities; measuring performance -- impact, outcomes; outcome targets; and risk management.
The situational analysis focused on the external and internal factors that Umalusi needed to reflect on so that it could contextualise how it was going forward as an organisation. The organisation’s strengths and weaknesses were presented. An example of a strength was housing a qualification -- the National Senior Certificate (NSC) -- that was in high demand in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. Umalusi had also been able to quality assure South African Sign Language as a home language, which was a “landmark achievement” for the organisation.
An example of a weakness was the loss of staff, especially Umalusi’s education professionals. Those who moved were looking for better opportunities elsewhere. Umalusi had outdated National Accredited Technical Education Diploma (NATED) programmes. There was a dependence on contract workers, such as for the moderation, verification and external moderation of question papers, etc. It also had an inadequate budget, which was a weakness at the moment because Umalusi had not been able to come up with an alternative funding model, although it had started the process
Ms Mosimege detailed the opportunities and threats to the organisation. An example of a threat was the expanded mandate, which now included a focus on the curriculum. Sometimes the budget did not allow Umalusi to do what it wanted to do, to the best of its ability. If one looked at the amended National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Act, one would see that the verification task had been given to SAQA. In that case, Umalusi could lose a critical source of revenue. Umalusi interacted with the media on a number of occasions, especially around the release of matric results.
Umalusi had various strategic priorities for the five-year plan, so that it could be aligned with the National Development Plan (NDP), the Sustainable Development Goal 4, and its own medium-term strategic framework. One such priority was evaluating and appraising new qualifications, and Umalusi was currently working on the appraisal of the General Education Certificate (GEC) and the related curricula attached to that qualification. Seeking an alternative funding model was one of the key things that Umalusi intended to do.
To measure its performance, it aimed to follow a results-based model, based on the new strategic planning framework developed by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME). Its overall outcome would be an enhanced educational standard. For impact, Umalusi wanted relevant and credible qualifications, and a learner who emerged from the NQF level 4 qualification as one who could stand alone. Whether the learners went on to tertiary education or not, their qualification should be relevant to what they could do, and relevant to the economic needs of the country. Outcome targets were presented in relation to the medium-term strategic framework (MTSF) priority 2 (Education, skills and health). The risks were then laid out.
Annual Performance Plan
Programme 1: Administration
The programme had five sub-programmes, such as public relations and communications (PR & COMS), and finance and supply chain management (F&SCM). The presentation of this programme covered the four outputs, four output indicators, annual targets and quarterly targets.
Programme 2: Qualifications and Research
There were two sub-programmes, -- qualifications, curriculum and certification (QCC), and statistical information and research (SIR). There was a standardisation took place at the end of the year, and Umalusi used data that came from this unit.
Programme 3: Quality Assurance and Monitoring
There were two separate sub-programmes for school and post-school qualifications, and a third sub-programme for evaluation and accreditation. The programme had seven outputs and indicators. An example was “Published QAA reports,” with the indicator, “Number of quality assurance of assessment reports published for qualifications registered on the GFETQSF (General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Sub-framework)”. With approved question papers, Umalusi aimed to have 100% of question papers approved per qualification when it did external moderation. The target of 84 for “number of subjects for which verification of marking was conducted,” could change due to the lockdown.
Umalusi had looked at the impact of COVID-19 on the APP, so that if it was required to re-table the APP soon, it had made an analysis of the indicators which would be affected. Out of 15 indicators, eight (53%) had been affected by the indications to work from home, because Umalusi could not go out to the public, or do the things that it usually did. Management had revised its targets; Umalusi was still keeping the document. It was worried about quarters 1 and 2, because implementation was taking place before the revision of the APP. If Umalusi was given the go-ahead by the DPME, the DBE, Parliament and the National Treasury, then it would review the APP.
Budget 2020/21 – 2022/23
Mr Maluleke presented this section. The outline included budget cuts; revenue; expenditure; surplus funds; expenditure per programme; cost drivers; estimated changes (COVID-19); and legal cases.
As part of the general savings process of the budget, a cut of 2.0% had been implemented over the MTEF period in December 2019. There had also been a R7.07 million cut in the budget allocation from the DBE. In total, the increase in the allocation for 2020/21 was only 3.3%. With the increase in the number of question papers, new qualifications and curricula, the budget under great pressure.
The APP would have to be adjusted to cater for the budget cuts.
Under revenue, it was shown that Umalusi received R134 million in 2019/20, and for 2020/21 it anticipated receiving R139 million. That amounted to a 3.7% increase in the government allocation. The government allocation accounted for 80% of the revenue that Umalusi was currently expecting in this financial year. The total budget was R176 million for the 2020/21 financial year, and it was expecting R184 million in 2021/22, then R192 million in 2022/23. Umalusi was “heavily funded” by the DBE. Other revenue came from accreditation fees, as well as the certification fees. It was expecting certification fees to slow down because of the impact of COVID-19, since it was not currently printing any certificates. Verification fees were around R11 million, which was expected to decrease if the verification function was transferred to SAQA.
The increase in expenses was unsustainable. The revenue of Umalusi was increasing below the inflation rate, whereas expenses were increasing above the inflation rate. This was unsustainable. Bar graphs clearly showed that the majority of Umalusi’s revenue portion came from the DBE; all other revenue came from certification fees, accreditation fees, verification services and other income. The latter included the rental from the building next door to Umalusi, and the interest from the investment that Umalusi had with the Reserve Bank.
Under expenditure, it was shown that R81 million was spend on compensation of employees (CoE) in 2019/20, while it was projected to be approximately R84 million for 2020/21, R89 million in 2021/22, and R93 million in 2022/23. These amounts were in line with inflation rates -- Umalusi strives to increase salaries in line with inflation rates, as targeted by the National Treasury. Goods and services were estimated to be at R104 million in 2020/21. The downward trend in goods and services was because of COVID-19 -- Umalusi had been saving on some expenses during the past two months. Capital expenditure was at R3.5 million for 2019/20, but was expected to slow down
National Treasury and the DBE had approved Umalusi’s request to retain surpluses for the following projects:
Renovations of the purchased building;
Enterprise content management system.
The balance of the surplus funds had been used to balance the budget shortfall.
The pie chart on expenditure per programme (p34) showed that 35% went to administration (the largest portion), which were the expenses incurred to support the APP and the core functions of Umalusi in quality assurance. These expenses included rates, water, insurance, maintenance, electricity, as well as communication and information technology (IT)-related expenditure. Quality assurance of assessment for schools, which includes moderation of question papers and verification of marking, accounted for 20%, while 15% went to evaluation and accreditation, and 13% to quality assurance of assessment for post-schools. 10% went to qualification, curriculum and certification, which was related to ensuring that the quality of the certificate given to learners was at the highest levels, and ensuring that the currency of the certificate was not compromised, by ensuring strong security features, and 7% went to statistical information and research.
The three biggest costs drivers (p 35) at Umalusi were CoE (35%), honoraria and consultants (25%), and travel and subsistence (15%). Consultant payments were related to the core mandate of Umalusi, wherein it hires subject specialists on a seasonal basis to make sure that question papers were moderated, and to make sure that the verification process runs smoothly. Moderators had to travel to various schools in different provinces, and make sure that the environment was conducive for learning. For communication (2%), Umalusi made sure that it does advocacy, and visits various schools and universities, and that it communicates about the work of Umalusi. Computer services (5%) were related to access to the mainframe that was hosted by SETA, where Umalusi pays fees to access the database for the learners, and to make sure that the credibility of the results was maintained on the system.
Estimated changes: COVID-19
Umalusi was expecting certification revenue to drop by approximately R2.1 million as a result of being in lockdown for the past two months. Umalusi could not print certificates for the learners due to the lockdown. For verification of certificates, the revenue would drop by R3.8 million -- Umalusi had been unable to verify the learners’ reports, which they would need to seek employment opportunities. Umalusi was expecting rental income to drop, because of the tenants next door asking for relief (due to the COVID-19 impact).
Expenses would also be impacted by COVID-19. Traveling expenses – in this case, accommodation costs – for various committee members were expected to drop by R54 000. Umalusi would not be flying committee members to institutions, and there would be no need to accommodate members. Catering for internal activities would also decrease. Umalusi was expecting communication expenses to increase a little bit because of audio-visual meetings that it was currently conducting, and the cost of data. Computer services, which includes the buying and replacing of equipment, was likely to decrease somewhat. Travel and subsistence was related to transporting monitors to various schools to do site visits and monitoring to maintain quality standards. In the past two months, air travel to provinces had been halted, so such expenses were expected to drop as well. Venues and facility costs would also decrease; Umalusi usually booked venues to train moderators, and make sure that quality was maintained. Honorarium costs were also likely to decrease -- it expected a drop of approximately R5.9 million in these expenses. Umalusi was expecting to spend approximately R1.5 million more on personal protective equipment (PPE) so that its employees were kept safe when it reopened. The amount for PPE included buying equipment such as masks, gloves and sanitisers.
Dr Rakometsi presented slides on these cases. The first case, Umalusi vs Kabini Joint Venture (JV) had been reported to the Portfolio Committee (PC) on numerous occasions. The case was related to renovations on a new building in the 2018/19 financial year. Umalusi had issued summons against the JV for repayment of funds, as the JV had been illegal. Umalusi had claimed back R10 million. Ultimately, all parties agreed to arbitration. The matter was then referred to arbitration. The arbitration agreement had been signed, and an arbitrator had been appointed. The decision of the arbitrator was going to be binding. Umalusi was awaiting the date of the arbitration hearing and was looking forward to winning this case so that it could claim the taxpayers’ money back into the fiscus.
The second case involved the Independent Examinations Board (IEB). Umalusi had issued summons against the IEB for non-payment of assessment fees amounting to R 2.9 million. The IEB in turn had issued an action to review the charging of these fees. Umalusi had two cases in the High Court in Pretoria, and the parties had agreed to combine the cases under one judge. The cases were set down for hearing in July 2020, where Umalusi would be claiming the R2.9 million.
Other private assessment bodies had paid Umalusi what was owed to it, such as the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute, and the Benchmark Assessment Agency.
The senior executive managers of Umalusi had signed a pledge with the CEO to obtain a clean audit. Achievement of the APP targets was part of the senior management service (SMS) members’ performance agreements. Performance outputs were verified on a quarterly basis through an Umalusi body known as the performance information verification committee (PIVC), monitored at quarterly review meetings, and reported to oversight structures, such as the audit and risk committee, the Executive Committee of Council, and Council. Executive management would monitor the implementation of the APP and delivery of service and the utilisation of the budget within the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, and report to the Umalusi Council accordingly during the year.
The Chairperson advised the meeting that he had missed some of the presentation (due to connectivity problems), particularly the COVID-19 interventions Umalusi had given. How would COVID-19 affect the functions of Umalusi? This year, the academic year would continue into next year -- how was Umalusi going to cope with this? How much did the COVID-19 reprioritization affect Umalusi’s budget, and how much had been taken from the budget? How much of the R500 billion allocated towards COVID-19 had Umalusi received?
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) said that when Professor Volmink was introducing his staff, he had said that there was an acting CFO. Why an ‘acting’ CFO? This position was crucial within the sector of Umalusi. How long had this position been vacant? How quickly was the CFO position going to be filled? Her second question was based on the weaknesses (including the threats) given in the presentation. There were lots of things listed as weaknesses. The reason given for the loss of staff was that they were looking for better opportunities elsewhere. Why were these positions not created to be better ones, so that staff could be retained for sustainability of the mastery of the principles applied within Umalusi? There was a shortage of educational professionals able to handle new qualifications – why was this? There were problems at Umalusi in retaining staff, inclusive of education professionals, and there was inadequate staffing to carry out the mandate. Did Umalusi do research to see what was causing the staff shortage? Referring to the re-marking of scripts, she said there were learners who were unsatisfied with the results, but the turnaround time to get the results of the re-marking was too long, which was a disadvantage to learners wishing to apply for positions with their preferred qualifications. What could Umalusi do to make the turnaround time shorter?
Ms C King (DA) asked that, considering the COVID-19 pandemic, how would Umalusi and other assessment bodies assure that a proper assessment took place during end-of-year exams? What plans did Umalusi have in place for grade 12s who were writing their final examinations? How would Umalusi do assessments for South African sign language? What plans were in place to accommodate those learners? She wanted to know about the Waldorf homeschooling curriculum, and it would be helpful if Umalusi could supply the committees with details of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), so that the committees could see what alternative curricula were available to South Africans.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) wanted to know if Umalusi had had an opportunity to quality assure the general education certificate (GEC) qualification, and whether this qualification had been registered yet. If not, what was the projected date? Could Umalusi give the committees an indication of the progress of discussions with the DBE on the quality assurance approach to the early childhood development (ECD) programme? This programme would be migrated from the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the DBE – what was the progress on the quality assurance approach that Umalusi would take? What was Umalusi’ role in the renewal of the outdated NATED programmes? In the next few years, would Umalusi be willing to come and quality assess and certify qualifications, in light of the outdated curriculum, knowing very well that the business studies programmes at TVET colleges in particular were outdated by as much as 15 years?
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KwaZulu-Natal) wanted to know if Umalusi had filled its vacancies that it has. If not, would that not lead to an overload of work for the staff, and to Umalusi outsourcing some functions? With the budget cuts, how would that affect Umalusi’s functions?
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) said Umalusi had referred to a drop in being able to provide verification of learners’ qualifications. What plans did it have going forward, since COVID-19 would be around for a while? How would Umalusi ensure that it speeded up certification and verification? “The last thing we need is for learners not getting their qualifications in time for them to go to university, or to seek job opportunities,” she commented. There was an examination that was scheduled for June, and there was a budget for that. What did it mean, given that learners would be writing sometime between November and December? How would Umalusi ensure that it could manage the capacity requirements? Normally there would be fewer learners writing, but now there would be “a million learners writing at once.” Would it have the capacity to handle that? Given that time had been lost, and that more time might be lost, there would be an impact on the curriculum of matrics. What does that mean to Umalusi – did it need plans to be able to deal with the curriculum possibly being reduced, or changed in various ways? It already had a problem of staff retention because of the salary packages it offered, and now it would be faced with budget cuts. Did it foresee a loss of staff? How would it ensure that it could fill those positions if such a scenario arose?
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) asked what progress had been made with the NSC for adults. What was Umalusi’s role in ensuring that this important programme was available? How long had this programme been under consideration? One of the issues that the committees had continuously highlighted was the need for further education for those people who had fallen out of the system. It would be good for Umalusi to give an indication of what its role was to ensure the further education of adults specifically, because it played such a huge role in getting people economically viable.
Umalusi had been criticised for conducting input assessments for independent schools, but not providing sufficient assistance on how to improve. How could it further assist independent schools to grow and become more compliant, specifically with the current COVID-19 pandemic? How would these schools change when the children returned to school? What role would Umalusi play to assist the independent tutor schools that the Department had continually said were not compliant? She asked for its response to the Centre for Enterprise Development reports which were critical of Umalusi for being outcomes-based, rather than inputs and process-based, and not empowering of independent schools.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said it was very clear that the role and importance of Umalusi in the South African education system could not be undermined, especially when came to quality assurance. However, Umalusi kept on complaining about an inadequate budget. He knew that Umalusi was not the only one affected by cuts -- in this case, a cut of 2%, amounting to R7 million -- and now it was raising issues of an increased workload and staffing. In the main, it sourced its budget from the DBE, so what could the DBE do to address this “continual outcry?” He asked Umalusi about the appointment of markers and the issue of their having to undergo competency tests before being appointed.
Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) commended Umalusi’s continuing good audit reports. However, he was worried about the inadequate staffing and the when it came to issuing certificates. A point had been raised in the Portfolio Committee (PC) that all learners need to be given certificates, and both Umalusi and the Department had made an undertaking to consider awarding certificates to everybody, regardless of whether the learner had requested a certificate or not. He suggested Umalusi should devise other ways of recruiting, as South Africa had lots unemployed people, and maybe it was a question of locating those people who qualified to render the services it needed. In light of COVID-19, would Umalusi be ready to proceed with its work without any glitches?
His next question was on the impact that Umalusi was likely to suffer from with a 2% cut – how bad was the impact going to be?
Umalusi said it had very strong security features, but there was illicit selling of NSC certificates – was the selling happening from within Umalusi, or from the outside? If it was happening from outside, that contradicted its claim that it had strong security features. If it was something that happened from within, then dealing with it might be difficult. The committees needed an assurance that such selling would not happen.
Dr W Boshoff (FF+) commented that he was glad that the NSC was popular in the SADC region, and said the Department should be commended for that. He asked about the alternative curricula, commenting that when the new NSC was introduced, the offering of subjects would be sliced and there would be fewer subjects offered. It was said that South Africa had too many subjects. He saw that subjects had been added one by one, and he wondered if subjects would continuously be added until somebody decided that there were too many, and the subjects would be sliced again. How did Umalusi respond to the problem that there were too many subjects about ten years ago, and now subjects were being added again? Where did staff who leave Umalusi go? Thy must be highly qualified people, and who else had jobs for them? Such people were also highly specialised.
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) asked about the reorganisation of the academic year, especially the impact on matric students. In the presentation of the APP, a point had been made that more than 50% of the targets would be affected by the challenges of COVID-19, so when could the committees expect a revised APP?
Mr E Siwela (ANC) said that when one walked around in a community, one would find a lot of qualified teachers who were unemployed. Umalusi was saying that it had a shortage of professional staff – was it looking for teachers with specific experience, or was it just any teacher? If Umalusi was looking for teachers, surely it could get the ones who had qualified and were sitting at home unemployed? For some time now, the committees had been hearing about the legal dispute over the joint venture that had been nullified – when was that case going to be concluded? The committees got updates, but did not know for certain when the case would be concluded, and when all the money would be recovered. He referred to the Grade 12s who were supposed to sit for exams at the end of the year, and asked how Umalusi would deal with the psychological effect of a long stay at home, given that the question papers had long been set? The learners would be expected to sit for the examination, yet they had lost considerable time.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) asked how long evaluating and appraising new qualifications took. Umalusi had indicated that 53% of the APP indicators would be impacted by COVID-19, so would they be reprioritized when it dealt with the adjustment of the strategic plan? Mathematics and science had been prioritised, and now commercial subjects had been taken away – what was the rule of Umalusi in trying to balance these subjects, and making sure that there was a consistency in teaching and in those subjects? The case involving the R10 million had been dragging on for a long time, and she wanted to know the cost implication of paying the legal fees, and if Umalusi would eventually get any value for money. Did Umalusi have plans to ensure that quality assurance would not be compromised when the examinations were written, or when it prepared for such examinations to be written, and when qualifications were issued.
The Chairperson commented that the Department would need to respond to some of the questions because there was some information that might not be furnished in the next hour. Umalusi would answer some of the questions, and those that were not answered would be followed up in writing.
Mr Rakometsi responded to the question as to how Umalusi would be affected by COVID-19, and said Umalusi’s guess was as good as anybody else’s. It was having regular meetings with executive and senior management to look at the trends, and how it could position itself so that its functions were not compromised. It was doing that on a continuous basis. On how Umalusi’s budget was affected, there were some areas where it had saved money, and there were some areas where it had had to spend money that was not budgeted for in order to get PPE, to clean the building, and the screening of staff when they returned. It had saved on travel and accommodation.
Umalusi had not had an indication yet how much of the DBE’s R5 billion budget cut would be taken from it. Its acting CFO was in discussion with the DBE CFO on how to reprioritise, and how to keep the budget intact, etc. The situation had not been finalised yet. The acting CFO would be making changes in consultation with Treasury.
The previous CFO had been with Umalusi from 2016 to 2019, and had resigned in September 2019 to join another organisation. Mr Keets had been its acting CFO from September 2019 until January of this year. In January this year, it had appointed a new CFO, who had stayed at Umalusi for only three months and then left because Umalusi was “not competitive in terms of salaries because of the budget that we have.” Staff were getting attracted to other organisations. Umalusi had looked at its structure, and had made a presentation to the Executive Committee on how it could improve it so that it could retain its CFO. It was something that Umalusi was strategising on, and it was going to be advertising the post soon. Umalusi had been overtaken by COVID-19, because when the CFO resigned at the end of March, advertising at that time would have been futile because of the confusion that the pandemic had thrown everyone into.
Umalusi was losing staff to the DBE, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) at head office, and to the provincial head offices. Umalusi had very well-trained staff members. Its recruitment processes were very rigorous. Those who worked for Umalusi had to be “very good.” Once they were employed at Umalusi, with its limited budget, they were poached by organisations with the means to pay a higher salary. These people were in quality assurance, and they knew the system, which was why they got poached. This was not sustainable, because as soon as a staff member gained experience in quality assurance and became an expert in the field, he or she got poached, and left the organisation. Umalusi then lost institutional memory.
Another contributing factor to loss of staff was the overload on the staff. Umalusi was under-funded, but its mandate had been expanded. There had been additional subjects added to its quality assurance regime, and there were additional qualifications coming on board. Umalusi struggled to keep people when they were overloaded. They did not switch off their lights at four o’clock. People worked long hours, and sometimes they even took annual leave to work from home. This was because of the under-funding with an expanded mandate. It was very painful what they were experiencing in the organization.
The question on the results of the re-marking taking a long time would be answered by the DBE, because that was its competency.
On the contingency plan for COVID-19, Umalusi was continuously looking at the situation, and re-strategising its approach to say, should this happen, what would Umalusi do? Unfortunately, the situation was fluid. Umalusi was in continuous consultation with the DBE on COVID-19, and the messages, decisions and advice went through to the Minister. It had had a number of virtual discussion sessions with the DG.
Umalusi had started with the quality assurance of the General Education Certificate (GEC). A committee of councils would be meeting, which was the qualification standards committee. Once the committee was ready, it would submit a report to Council, and while the report was being approved by Council, it would go to SAQA for the qualification to be registered. Only then would Umalusi be able to give advice to the Minister on the outcome of the registration of the qualification. It would be the same process for ECD qualifications. When the Department was ready, it would indicate this and submit them to Umalusi.
There were currently six vacancies at Umalusi, and that constituted 4% of the organisation.
Mr Rakometsi said quality assurance was “going to bleed” if they continued having further budget cuts. Quality assurance would be compromised. If one looked at the system within which Umalusi did quality assurance countrywide, and if one looked at its budget, the budget just would not meet the obligations of quality assurance for the organisation.
Regarding the decrease in certifications and verifications, this area had suffered a lot in April -- and even now it was still suffering. Umalusi had requested Council and the Minister to allow it to reopen some functions of Umalusi in May under level 4 lockdown, so that it could start removing the backlogs in the area of certification and verification. That was the plan that it had moving forward. Even if South Africa did not move to level 3, there would be some staff members who would go back to the office to perform those functions.
Merging the May/June examinations with the November examinations would require Umalusi to increase its monitoring. The number of candidates writing at the same time had grown from approximately 700 000 to more than a million. Umalusi would increase its verifiers. It was going to have to increase its capacity, so that it did proper quality assurance of the examinations.
He said that reducing the curriculum that the NSC students would be tested on would “make the students suffer for the rest of their lives” -- if they passed an NSC which did not carry the full scope of work. It would stigmatise students to say that the cohort of learners of 2020 was a group that did not complete the syllabus. South Africa was competing in a global village, and it was important that it maintained standards so that learners left the school system with the same level of knowledge that other students had learned in the past.
There were mechanisms that would absorb the shock. For example, in April and May, school-based assessments had not been happening. Umalusi had met with the Department to agree how this could be mitigated. It would be mitigated in such a way that quality assurance was not compromised. The standardisation process, when Umalusi was looking at the results, would involve looking at the norm, and saying that “the students who wrote in 2020 should not be disadvantaged by the year in which they were born, that necessitates them writing examinations in 2020.” There would be a norm that Umalusi would work on, to ensure that students got what they were supposed to get in terms of marks. As for the curriculum being reduced, and cutting out some of the work, that would not happen for Grade 12s, as those students would be condemned for the rest of their lives.
The Ministry for Higher Education had given serious thought to the GEC, and there would be a pilot that was scheduled for 2021. The pilot for the NSC for adults would happen in 2022.
Umalusi did not assist independent schools to get accredited. It was a quality assurance body, and it had to maintain its independence. If it assisted independent schools, it would be conflicted, and it would not be able to adjudicate on such schools’ standing in terms of their qualifying to get accreditation. Umalusi provided quality assurance and did oversight, so it could not play any role in assisting independent schools to get accreditation. Umalusi could wait until the lockdown had been lifted so that its people could travel and go and evaluate independent schools according to the same standards, but not to coach them. If Umalusi coached or assisted in any way, it was disqualified from adjudicating on a school’s standing in relation to accreditation.
The question of Umalusi’s budget needed to be addressed, otherwise the organisation would not be sustainable. The budget had been set before the start of COVID-19. Umalusi was currently looking at the funding model with the Department. The processes were still at the infant stage, so he could not share anything with the committees because nothing had crystallized yet in relation to improving its funding model.
The appointment of markers was a question that had to be dealt with by the DBE with regard to the competency standards. Umalusi quality assures what has been determined as policy. If competency tests were policy, then Umalusi would do its quality assurance based on the policy that said that competency tests must be there. As it stood, Umalusi was doing its quality assurance work based on the personnel administrative measures (PAM) of the Department. It checks that its quality assurance adhere to the PAM. Policy on the appointment of markers was determined by the Department. Umalusi quality assured whether markers were carrying out their work according to policy.
Mr Rakometsi said the question papers had been finalised, and they were not going to be reviewed. Learners would not be called upon to do anything that was sub-standard. There were plans by the Department to do catch-up, to finish the syllabus and help the students, so that nobody could point fingers at them and say they had not finished the syllabus, and the curriculum had been watered down for them to pass. From a quality assurance perspective, Umalusi could not do that.
Umalusi was looking at the GEC, and took seriously the comment about everyone getting a certificate after completing this qualification. He was inclined to believe that the advice given on certificates would be effected -- that everyone who completed an NSC qualification had to get a certificate, whether leaving the school system, or going to a Further Education and Training (FET) institution.
Expansion of the system with the GEC was “very painful” without an additional budget. How were the staff at Umalusi, who were already overstressed, going to cope with an additional qualification? When Umalusi approved this qualification, it had sent a letter through Council to the Minister, indicating that it would be able to take up the qualification in terms of quality assurance only when the budget was increased. It would then be able to indicate how much money it would need in order to take up the qualification.
He referred to the quality staff members at Umalusi who got poached, and the suggestion that it should replace them from the ranks of teachers who were unemployed, and said it depended on what qualifications such teachers had. One could not do quality assurance when one was fresh from university -- it was not taught. The process of appointment was rigorous, because people had to meet a particular standard to do quality assurance -- it could not be everybody with a teacher’s certificate.
Umalusi was ready to deal with COVID-19, depending on the shape that the pandemic was going to take. The staff was dedicated to looking continuously at the situation, to ensure that Umalusi was ready to face whatever situation it was confronted with.
The fraudulent certificates did not come from Umalusi – they “come from spaza shops somewhere in downtown Johannesburg”. As and when Umalusi gets a tip-off, it advises the police, gives the particulars and goes and testifies in court to state that this was not an Umalusi certificate. When looking at a fraudulent qualification, the quality of it would tell one that it was fraudulent. If someone was selling fraudulent certificates in Umalusi, they would be fired immediately.
Referring to the comment on there being too many subjects, Mr Rakometsi’s sense was that if the economy developed, and as the country developed, there was a need for additional subjects to be introduced. The needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution had to be answered. If additional subjects were not added as the situation changed in South Africa and globally, then South Africa would be found wanting and stagnating, and the country would regress. When the curriculum section of the Department made a request to Umalusi to expand the curriculum, it would be because of those factors. South Africa had to remain relevant, and continue to compete globally.
The NSC question papers were already in place, and Umalusi was now resuming the standardisation processes, which took care of fluctuations from one year to the other.
The APP targets would be revised as soon as the DPME, the DBE and Treasury gave Umalusi advice and guidance on how to revise them. The areas that were going to be revised had been identified in the presentation. The situation was still fluid, but when it had crystallized a bit and Umalusi knew what the future held for it, it would be ready to come to the PC or the Select Committee provide the details.
The joint venture case had started in 2018. Court processes take very long, which was why Umalusi took the advice of lawyers that said it go the arbitration route, because there would be a quick turnaround time. Umalusi had a hearing date in July for this matter to be resolved. Legal matters were difficult to predict, such as whether it would get the money back or not. However, what annoys Mr Rakometsi when looking at situations like that was that Government was usually “taken for a ride” by service providers. These people had stolen the taxpayers’ money, and they must be pursued whether Umalusi won or lost the case, so that Umalusi sends a message that people were not going to get off scot free when they had taken money in this manner. He felt very strongly that it was worth Umalusi’s while to pursue the case.
Mr Rakometsi agreed that students were traumatised, as were all South Africans and people all over world. This would be addressed through Umalusi’s “tried and tested” systems of quality assurance, but it would not compromise standards. Doing catch-up programmes would also take care of the above-mentioned factors. In the meeting with the DG, the Department said that it would also have psychosocial support for the students in the system.
The process of evaluating and appraising new qualifications took a long time, because Umalusi had to get specialists on curricula in teams to look at a new qualification, and to give a view against set criteria from Umalusi. Once a team had done that, it would make a submission to a committee of Council, called the Qualifications Standards Committee. Once this committee, made up of experts, was satisfied that the qualification and the subjects met the criteria, it makes a submission to the Council of Umalusi, and the Chairperson, Professor Volmink. Once Council was happy, it then takes the matter as a recommendation to SAQA, which had its own quality assurance regime. The qualification must also go through SAQA before it is placed on the National Qualifications Framework.
There would a reprioritisation of the strategic plan. Mathematics and science were being prioritised at the moment, but Umalusi did not have to lose the balance with the other subjects, because there was still a need for social workers, psychologists, plumbers, etc. One could not focus on just maths and science.
Regarding whether Umalusi would get any value for money from contesting the legal cases, Mr Rakometsi said he would follow up because it was government money, and he “felt the pain when people take government institutions for a ride.” In this instance, he had advised Council that it had to be followed up “to the bitter end” so that it got its money back, and the people involved in the case did not continue “taking Umalusi for a ride.”
Lastly, quality assurance processes could not be compromised. If one compromised on quality assurance processes, one might as well forget about education in South Africa. The quality assurance of any system was the last line of defence for any education system. COVID-19 or no COVID-19, Umalusi could not afford to compromise its standards in any way.
Professor Volmink addressed the question of South African sign language, and the Waldorf curriculum.
The exam on South African sign language would proceed in exactly the same way. There were concerns about social distancing, but the format of the exam would not be affected, as far as he understood how it would be done in light of the COVID-19 conditions.
Umalusi had been working with the DHET on the outdated NATED programmes, and had asked for its undertaking that these programmes would be attended to.
COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time, considering the need to conduct credible examinations at the end of the year. Various Members had raised issues of psychological effects on learners sitting for the NSC examinations, and Umalusi was having a special meeting on 22 May to consider the conduct of the examinations, given that COVID-19 had thrown a lot of Umalusi’s original plans into disarray. It would have to rethink, and would have to give a report to the PC and others, to give a reassurance that it was ready to conduct the examinations. A constraint that Umalusi had was that it had set the exam, and it took 18 months to set it. Umalusi did not have 18 months between now and the end of the year to re-set the exam, and it was not re-ordering the curriculum for the Grade 12s. Professor Volmink added that he was not trying to underestimate the challenges ahead, but Umalusi would do its best to deliver a quality examination, as it had done in the past.
Department of Basic Education’s response
Mr Patrick Khunoe, Chief Financial Officer (CFO): DBE said that he was in the meeting with Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director: National Assessment and Public Examinations, and asked if they could both add to the responses.
Mr Ngcobo asked if he could make a short observation. He said that there had been a problem for some time, and which needed attention -- that Umalusi was “seriously under-funded” -- yet it was “the lifeline of the nation”, given that the qualifications of the country could be charged only by the accredited entity, which was Umalusi. He asked both Chairpersons to assist in giving direction on how Umalusi could move forward.
In the brief absence of Mr Nchabeleng (due to connectivity problems), co-Chairperson Mbinqo-Gigaba said that the DBE could have five minutes to make a reflection.
Mr Khunoe acknowledged that the Department was in talks with Umalusi with regard to reviewing its budget. It was doing this under the very difficult conditions where, due to COVID-19, budgets had to be cut, and the Department had been directed by Treasury that it had to contribute R130 billion to departments which were at the frontline of the response to COVID-19 -- Health, Social Welfare, the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Defence. It had been directed to cut R5 billion from the budget of the DBE, so it may be very difficult to allocate more money to Umalusi. However, it was working with Umalusi to see how the latter could reprioritize, given the fact that due to COVID-19, a lot of plans would be realigned.
Dr Poliah, referred to the re-marking of scripts and the turnaround time, which was a DBE responsibility. The Department had reduced the amount of time allowed for applications. Previously it was two weeks, but now it had given learners three weeks. The DBE had also tried to improve the turnaround time for marking and outcomes. Over the last two years, there may have been a delay in the re-marking outcomes in selected cases, because Umalusi had gone into an online application system. Some of the learners had applied online, and were under the impression that the application had gone through, but had not completed the application because they had not pressed the final application button. Those were some of the learners where the turnaround time would have taken longer than scheduled. The DBE was improving on the online process. It was also embarking on advocacy to make sure that the process was done correctly, so that it minimised the turnaround time, and learners had the opportunity to continue with their programme of study, or to enter into work as required.
The matric paper had been set, but what confidence did the Department have that these learners would complete the curriculum? He wanted to add that learners would have lost 42 teaching days if Grade 12s returned on 1 June, which was nearly two months. The DBE had worked out that it needed to reduce the June and September holidays, and extend the fourth quarter. It believed that the June examinations would be cancelled if learners went back on 1 June, and if one put all of these adjustments together, the Department would make up close to 40 days.
Understandably, the Department could not expect learners to function at an optimum level, given the psychosocial impact. Therefore, it was saying that it would look at the curriculum -- not that it would trim the Grade 12 curriculum, but instead look at certain topics that could either be clustered, or certain topics that may have been done in Grade 11, and so did not need as much time. Such changes would be minimal. The Department wanted to make sure that its learners got full exposure in terms of being prepared for this exam. It was in liaison with the DHET to look at what their programme was, because it was talking about possibly extending the academic year, and the DBE would work in conjunction with higher education. It thought that it could get its learners to write until late in December, and release the results later in the New Year, so that it made sure that learners had adequate time to cover the required and essential content.
With the combined exam, the Department would be moving from accommodating 800 000 learners to over 1.1 million learners. That was a challenge, but the Department was faced with no other alternative, given that learners could not write the exam in June, and it had to give learners an opportunity to write in November. One of its challenges would be writing space, so it would use community halls and even primary schools to make sure that it accommodated all the learners, especially given the social distancing that the Department had to comply with. It had done its calculations and knew exactly how many additional classrooms were needed, and the heads of exams were hard at work. There were meetings every Friday with the heads of exams, to make sure that in terms of writing space, learners were accommodated.
Over the years, there had been a shortage of markers, and if there was not an increased budget, there would possibly be an increased shortage of markers. The Department would accommodate the shortage of markers by extending the marking time. Normally, marking took the Department between 10 to 12 days. It had now worked out a plan whereby it would increase the marking duration to 14 days, and to a maximum of 18 days in the case of larger provinces, to make sure that it completed the marking, and to make sure that it did not compromise the standards that were required. Umalusi would be there every step of the way to quality assure the marking and all other processes related to the exam.
The National Senior Certificate for Adults (NASCA) had been extended from 2008 up to 2020 to accommodate those adult learners who did not have an alternative qualification. The DBE did not support a delay in NASCA, and Dr Poliah wanted to assure Members that adult learners were being accommodated.
Competency tests were not the only mechanism for ensuring quality of marking. Currently, one of the provinces did administer competency tests. The Department had done a comparison in terms of re-marking outcomes, and had found that there was not much of a difference between those who took the province-administered competency test and those who did not. It was still pursuing the issue of a competency test. Dr Poliah wanted to assure Members that the Department had put in place other quality assurance mechanisms, particularly in the area of moderation where, for example, the Department had brought in a “tolerance range”, where every marker had his or her script moderated, and if the tolerance range was exceeded, then the entire batch of scripts was sent back.
The Department also had a system of authorisation of markers, so that nobody could mark if they were not authorised. It also had intensive training, where markers were given live scripts, and these live scripts were then marked. The live script was given to all markers, and the Department looked at the deviation amongst markers. All of this had improved the Department’s quality of marking, but the Department was looking at testing markers. This would be done in conjunction with training and support.
The DBE was putting in place an extensive programme which would allow psychosocial support to be provided to learners. It was not underestimating the likelihood that learners would come back with “serious issues.”
Dr Poliah also commented on the reduction in subjects, and the subsequent recent increase. The Department had to have subjects in place that catered for the public need. The reason that it had had to abolish some of the subjects was because those subjects had become irrelevant. There were subjects such as book-keeping and mercantile law. The Department was making sure that the subjects that were replacing the previous ones were relevant and suitable for the learner, and would prepare the learner for the 21st century. The number of subjects was not being increased for the sake of increasing. The Department reviewed subjects as the need arose, and made sure that its learners were better-prepared for the new environment.
Co-Chairperson Mbingo-Gigaba thanked the delegations from Umalusi and the Department. She said that the questions had been properly responded to. She asked if there was any Member who felt that his or her question had not been answered.
Mr Moroatshehla wanted to add to what Mr Ngcobo had said. The committees’ oversight roles could be meaningful at the end of the day, only if what had been raised as concerns were addressed. On the issue of the outcry by Umalusi over its budget limitations, it had made a proposal, and nothing so far had been crystallised. He asked that at its next presentation with the Department, Umalusi bring something that could stop the outcry. What was concerning about the Umalusi budget was that it could not be expected to perform its work as per expectations until the issues had been addressed. It needed to come with a crystallised position on its budget, because this could affect the entire education system.
Co-Chairperson Mbingo-Gigaba said that the Department had taken note of the issues that had been raised regarding the budget of Umalusi, and the fact that it was under-funded. She hoped that despite all the budget cuts, the Department would find a way to assist Umalusi.
Adoption of Minutes
The co-Chairperson clarified that the PC had received a letter from the House to say that although the PC had conducted the budget process together with the Select Committee of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), the PC would have to have a separate meeting to adopt the budget. In the current meeting, the committees would adopt the minutes as a true reflection. There must then be another meeting, probably next week, to adopt the minutes from today’s Umalusi meeting. After that, it would adopt the budget process, but the PC would do that separately. The NCOP would have its own process.
She read out the minutes from 29 April, which had “caused the country to be in havoc” because of the dates for schools re-opening that were in the presentation. The Department had been asked to submit a presentation to the committees that would provide an updated schedule of the proposed re-opening of the schools, on the unavailability of workbooks in certain areas, and other issues. The Minister would still be having a briefing today (19 May), and part of the reason that she had left the meeting early was that she was still consulting with stakeholders.
She called for Members to adopt the minutes from 29 April 2020, or to make a correction.
Mr Ngcobo moved for the minutes to be adopted, and Mr Moroatshehla seconded.
The minutes of the meeting of 5 May covered the briefing by the Department on Budget Vote 16: Basic Education, including its APP and strategic plan. At this meeting, the Secretariat was going circulate the legal opinion on the adoption of the budget, which the committees would deal with during the meeting on 12 May. Dr Thembekwayo made a correction to say that her initials were not recognised on the attendance list for the meetings on 29 April and 5 May, and this was corrected.
Mr Malatji moved to adopt the minutes, and Mr Siwela seconded.
The minutes of 12 May dealt with the meeting with the South African Council on Education (SACE), in which the committees had deliberation on the legal opinion. The Members agreed that the process would have to be adopted, based on the legal opinion that had been received from Parliament. The co-Chairperson noted that Dr Thembekwayo’s initials would have to be corrected on the attendance list.
Ms N Shabalala (ANC) moved to adopt the minutes, and Mr Moroatshehla seconded.
The meeting was adjourned.
Mbinqo-Gigaba, Ms BP
Nchabeleng, Mr ME
Adoons, Ms NG
Bara, Mr M R
Boshoff, Dr WJ
Christians, Ms DC
Gillion, Ms M
King, Ms C
Lehihi, Ms SB
Luthuli, Ms SA
Malatji, Mr T
Maleka, Ms AD
Moroatshehla, Mr PR
Motshekga, Ms MA
Ndongeni, Ms N
Ngcobo, Mr S
Shabalala, Ms NF
Siwela, Mr EK
Sukers, Ms ME
Tarabella - Marchesi, Ms NI
Thembekwayo, Dr S
Van Der Walt, Ms D
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