The Committee was briefed by the Department of Basic Education on the state of readiness for the reopening of schools, following a two-month break due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The first phase of reopening began with the return to school of Grades 7 and 12 in early June. More grades are expected to go back to school during the next phase, which would happen between 1 and 6 July.
DBE’s plan of reopening schools involves different models which will ensure that only 50% learner enrolment is present, to allow social distancing in class. The different models include a situation where learners attend bi-weekly (week one, 50% of learners, and week 2, the other learners who did not attend in week 1), or learners rotating to be present at school every second day. The other model is where two groups of learners of up to 50% attend on platoon basis (one group in the morning, and the other in the afternoon).
The Committee welcomed DBE’s readiness and commitment to ensure that all health and safety protocols are observed, as well as its commitment to provide personal protective equipment. They commended DBE for the hard work in achieving phase 1 of school reopening. Committee Members were, however, concerned about the number of teachers and learners who tested positive for COVID-19, as well as teachers who were over 60 years who could be at risk due to underlying co-morbidities. There was a question about the possibility of changing the Grade 12 examination paper, to which the Deputy Minister responded that Grade 12 is an FET phase that starts in Grade 10, which would make altering the paper difficult. Members asked about the monies paid over to Rand Water for the provision of water to schools that did not have running water with the installation of JoJo tanks at schools. There were concerns about providing sufficient transport and readiness for phase 2. Committee members will, as part of their parliamentary oversight responsibilities, continue to monitor the situation at schools to ensure that all the necessary regulations are adhered to.
The Deputy Minister was welcomed. Apologies were noted from Minister and the Select Committee which was attending a NCOP plenary session.
Deputy Minister’s Opening Remarks
Deputy Minister for Basic Education, Reginah Mhaule, welcomed the opportunity to the Department to present its “progress report” on the reopening of schools. Schools opened on 1 June, and learners returned on 8 June. At that time, schools were at almost 95% attendance. Some schools were not open due to water and sanitation issues, vandalism of infrastructure, COVID-19 essentials not being delivered to schools. DBE has been working on that. It is still facing challenges. In the Eastern Cape, 583 schools could not open. In the Free State, all schools were open. In Gauteng, of the 2 162 schools, 1 997 opened. In KwaZulu-Natal, only 48 schools were not ready; in Limpopo, 42 were not ready; in Mpumalanga 88 were not ready; in the Northern Cape 54 were not ready; in North West, 60 were not ready; and in the Western Cape 3 were not ready due to vandalism and destruction of the electrical and water reticulation systems.
After opening, schools were affected by COVID-19. In the Eastern Cape, 154 schools closed temporarily due to COVID-19. In the Free State, 12 schools closed temporarily; in Gauteng, 176 closed; in KwaZulu-Natal 63 closed; in Mpumalanga ten closed; in Limpopo, three closed; in the Northern Cape, 11 closed; in North West, 14 closed; and in the Western Cape, 332 were affected. The schools are temporarily closed and once the health protocols are done, the schools reopen. The Director-General would expand on schools being vandalised, water and sanitation, COVID-19 essentials, the teachers and learners affected by COVID-19, as well as the differentiated time table.
There were people who had claimed to be representing communities, who stated schools must be closed. There was a communique from SANCO (South African National Civic Organisation), COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions), and SADTU (South African Democratic Teachers Union) from the Eastern Cape disassociating themselves from such sentiments. These organisations were for schools opening. DBE was “happy to hear” the official structures denounce those who said schools must be closed. School nutrition, scholar transport, and the monitoring by DBE would also be covered in the presentation.
State of Readiness on Reopening of Schools
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, DBE Director-General, said the Department had presented the sector plan on the reopening of schools to the Committee on 29 April. That plan has evolved over time. When DBE presented the plan to the Committee and other forums, the plan was applauded as being comprehensive. The factor that caused some consternation was the reopening dates, which were old. On 29 April, the new dates were awaiting the approval of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), and could not be shared in that meeting. DBE presented a plan, and has implemented the plan.
This presentation would, firstly, give an update on how far it has gone in implementing the first phase with the two grades that went back to school (Grades 7 and 12) and, secondly, preparations for the next group of returning learners. The presentation would also reflect on the impact of COVID-19 on schooling, and its likely impact in the future. DBE collects information from global organisations such as UNESCO, World Bank, UNICEF and the World Food Programme. It uses this information in its decisions and in policies to mitigate adverse effects. The headings in the presentation were as follows:
• Schools which could not Reopen
• Management of COVID-19 cases
• Management of Comorbidities
• Differentiated Timetabling
• School Hostels
• Key Learning programmes for Grade 12 Learners
• National School Nutrition programme (NSNP)
• COVID-19 Essentials
• Emergency Water Supply
• Update on Directions
• Challenges and Remedial Measures
Why Reopen Schools?
“Disruptions to instructional time in the classroom can have a severe impact on a child’s ability to learn. The longer marginalized children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. Children from the poorest households are already almost five times more likely to be out of primary school than those from the richest. Being out of school also increases the risk of teenage pregnancy, sexual exploitation, child marriage, violence and other threats. Further, prolonged closures disrupt essential school-based services such as immunization, school feeding, and mental health and psychosocial support, and can cause stress and anxiety due to the loss of peer interaction and disrupted routines...” (Framework for Reopening of Schools, UNESCO, UNICEF, WFP).
Impacts of COVID-19 School Closures on Schooling and Learning
A quotation from the Policy Research Working Paper 9284, World Bank Group: Education Global Practice, June 2020 detailed the likely effects of COVID-19 school closures. Learners from this cohort could face an average reduction of $872 in yearly earnings if remedial action is not taken.
HOD report to DBE every two weeks on the number of COVID-19 cases, any failure to meet health, safety, social distancing measures and the HOD determination when the school will be permitted to open.
HOD is responsible to formulate a plan for a school not meeting health, safety, social distancing measures. It must include problem scope, measures to address it and challenges experienced in solving problem.
HOD is required to make arrangements with schools for the provision of teaching and learning material to learners unable to attend due to a comorbidity or quarantined or closure of a school.
Parents have the responsibility to collect the teaching and learning materials.
Caters for the opening of aftercare facilities.
Schools Which Could Not Reopen
Tables on slides 10 to 11 gave the number of schools not opening, the reasons, and progress to date.
There was a shortage of COVID-19 essentials. There were some local business people who said if delivery of COVID-19 essentials or water was not assigned to someone from the area, then one is not allowed to proceed. The number of schools that could not reopen has since decreased to 42 schools.
Only two schools did not reopen. A water leak behind the school toilets was fixed by the municipality.
Community disruptions linking to contracts for COVID19 and infrastructure, including business fora.
Student formations disruptions – COSAS demands testing of learners and teachers.
Communities resisting deployment of brigades from other communities.
Health sector intervention on school closure protocols.
The infrastructure-related challenges and other challenges are currently being addressed.
Both KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo had water and sanitation challenges. Of the 42 schools that did not reopen in Limpopo, that number has been reduced to four.
A total of 88 schools could not open.
Public protests obstructed a smooth reopening of some schools.
Water, sanitation and infrastructure challenges.
There was a school in Mpumalanga where parents and learners arrived, but were locked out by local business people who were upset because they did not get the school cleaning work.
Both the Northern Cape and North West had water and sanitation challenges
All schools were ready to receive learners, and three schools were affected by water challenges due to vandalism. Vandalism is a problem; it is a drawback to the system, and many schools have suffered from problems with electricity and water reticulation because of vandalism.
Management of COVID-19 Cases
These guidelines included the directive that if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19, then the school is required to contact the district for decontamination assistance. DBE is using the Integrated Health Programme, which links every school to a health facility and to a health practitioner who will come in immediately when symptoms are picked up.
In the Eastern Cape, 154 schools were affected, 270 learners were affected, and 271 staff were affected. In Gauteng, 176 schools were affected, 58 learners were affected, and 188 staff were affected. In the Western Cape, 332 schools were affected, 134 learners were affected, and 557 staff were affected. Health experts indicate that the cases are likely community transmissions and the cases are picked up in school screenings.
Management of Co-Morbidities and Protocols Followed
On 30 May 2020, Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) Collective Agreement 1 of 2020: Concession process to follow for employees with a comorbidity (COVID-19) was signed and issued. The only challenge in this area is with turnaround time it takes for DBE to indicate to an educator if permission has been granted for a request to work outside the school environment. “Working from home for teaching does not work”. One can “beam lessons from outside the classroom, but it requires equipment that is expensive. Or you can prepare lessons, but someone would have to deliver those lessons on your behalf, and you can mark the work at home”. However, it presents logistical challenges which many schools might not be able to meet. DBE is shortening the turnaround time for processing applications to a maximum of ten days, so that educators can be replaced if necessary. There is no point in saying that learners must go back to school when you find some do not have educators in certain subjects because of educator co-morbidities.
Information on Educators Aged 60 And Above and Educators That Declared Comorbidities
A table provided numbers with the highest number of people 60 and above in Gauteng, but the highest number of co-morbidities was in the Eastern Cape. The source of the data was reporting by provincial education departments (PEDs). Data on educators that declared co-morbidities is not final as it is being collected and verified. Substitute educators were filling posts such as Funza Lushaka bursary graduates. DBE uses its database of qualified but unemployed teachers. It also uses fourth-year Funza Lushaka students who are doing practicals. It also uses circuit and district officers to provide educators.
Differentiated Time Tabling
“Social media experts never imagined that [DBE] would be able to meet the health, safety and physical distancing requirements with the numbers that we have”. DBE is using differentiated time tabling, which means that schools will not run in the same way as before. Learners and staff have to observe a 1.5m distance between themselves in the classroom and on the school premises. Schools will be used at 50% or less capacity. Schools will opt for a bi-weekly rotational system in their timetables. Others are going to opt for going to school every day, but rotating the number of days, to keep the school at 50% occupancy level. There is also a technique called platooning, where there is one session in the morning, and another from midday until late afternoon. There is also a hybrid model that could be used. There are five models that could be used (slides 21-27). DBE presented these models to the five teacher unions and other stakeholders. It also presented to NGOs and civic organisations. This is the only way to adhere to health, safety, and social distancing requirements.
In the bi-weekly model, Grade 12 is a common denominator (while other grades rotate in) since the curriculum will not be trimmed. Grade 12 learners might write examinations up to 22 December; marking will start immediately after that, and learners might get their results towards the end of January 2021. With the daily rotation model, Grade 12 is again a common denominator. With the platoon model, learners are present on a daily basis, and there is a morning session from 07:30 to 11:30; the afternoon session is from 12:00 to 16:00. Schools need to take all advantages and disadvantages of the different models into account. These models are a “bottom-up project”. Schools must choose a model that fits their contextual realities. The feedback that the DG has received shows that this has happened. While DBE has planned to have 52% of learners at a school at a given time, it is not fixed in this plan. DBE has heard that community infections are flaring up. DBE’s plan is extremely flexible; it is not just going to push for 52% of learners to come in if there is danger in doing that. The community infections that are happening might spill over to schools; DBE is very cautious about that. DBE will have a very flexible plan for any eventuality, so that the plan can adapt, and ensure that it not only looks at its capacity to run the system, but also is mindful of the capacity of the health sector to deal with the flaring up of community infections. DBE is working with the Department of Health (DoH). The Minister is in constant interaction with the Health Minister to heed his advice.
All nine provinces did an audit of school hostels. In some hostels, there was enough space to observe physical distancing; in others, there was a need to bring in additional facilities, and many have done so already. Some hostels can be helped by the weekly rotational system, because some learners occupy hostels on a weekly basis.
DBE Support Programmes for Grade 12 Learners
Such programmes are being provided via digital online materials, virtual classrooms, TV broadcast, and radio broadcast. These programmes are “fairly accessible to a large number of learners”; for example, community radio stations have a large reach. DBE has received “amazing feedback” from the public and individuals, who thanked DBE for the materials and platforms provided for learners to continue learning while they are still at home. PEDs have also provided platforms and materials through which learners are supported. PED support programmes were covered in the presentation. Some teachers used WhatsApp to support learners; HODs were able to indicate that cell phone penetration ranges between 80% to100% in some communities.
National School Nutrition Programme
One of the reasons for reopening schools is to ensure that young people are given access – 9.7 million learners benefit from the National School Nutrition Programme. NGOs such as Equal Education were writing to DBE before and after lockdown raising concerns about the inability of young people to access school nutrition programmes. Since schools have reopened, DBE has extended feeding programmes to learners who are still at home. All nine provinces have made arrangements for learners who are at home to collect food from the school. For those learners far away, DBE has arranged food parcels. DBE has been getting regular feedback from the provinces on progress with feeding arrangements.
Procurement Of COVID-19 Essentials: Current Group
Many critics said DBE will not be able to provide COVID-19 essentials because in the past it failed to provide textbooks and stationery. The DG has not come across widespread complaints about unavailability of COVID-19 essentials, which means that DBE team “has done exceptionally well”. All PEDs were able to provide necessary COVID 19 essentials to the majority of Grade 7 and 12 learners. In schools where there were delays, these have now been addressed. DBE has been meeting with provinces on a weekly basis to give it an update, and other meetings are starting from 1 July 2020. DBE is meeting with all nine provinces individually, going through the orders placed, checking deliveries and addressing “glitches”.
Next cohort 6 July
PEDs at different stages of readiness.
COVID-19 essentials have been procured for the incoming cohort of learners.
COVID19 essentials kept at warehouses and JIT (just-in-time) delivery to schools to mitigate against theft.
Emergency Water Supply
Two hundred schools were vandalised in the Eastern Cape, 47 in Mpumalanga, 17 in Gauteng, 72 in the Free State, 467 in KwaZulu-Natal, 124 in Limpopo, 101 in the Northern Cape, 129 in North-West, and 250 in the Western Cape.
In anticipation of the re-opening of schools 3 500 schools with water supply challenges were identified. This number was subsequently reduced to 3 335. Gauteng, Northern Cape and Western Cape were not included in this number, because those provinces indicated that they have the capacity to deal with their challenges.
DBE initiated an Emergency Water Supply programme appointed Rand Water as the implementing agent to assist provinces to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection in schools.
Rand Water is busy with Phase 1 – temporary installation of tanks to ensure that each school on the list has at least 1 tank.
DBE transferred only R200m to Rand Water as a first tranche. Currently no expenditure beyond that.
Rand Water procured tanks from 40 different suppliers.
Average cost for a 5 000-litre tank is R5 020 and average cost for a 10 000-litre tank is R9 551.
Savings were achieved by simplifying the temporary tank installation. Installations were budgeted at an average cost of R18 460 but the simplified installation is now at an average cost of R3 312. In Phase 2, further expenditure will add R400 million. DBE has identified R600 million in total to deal with emergency water and sanitation. In the Eastern Cape, DBE reduced the over 700 schools that did not have water to all being provided with water.
There were challenges with water and sanitation in Limpopo, where water tankers on the way to delivering water to schools were stopped because communities said that they needed it more than schools. In other instances, communities went to schools and used the water that was provided to schools. DBE has seen such things happening in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.
Water Supply: Long-Term Solutions
DBE has put together a team from DBE, COGTA, MISA and SALGA and between with their DG and CEOs. There is a team at operational level to ensure that DBE gets municipalities as water authorities to take over the responsibility of providing water. DBE is aware of municipalities that have collapsed due to revenue not coming in; DBE has encouraged its schools to pay for municipal services and bills, so that schools get a regular supply of water. In Zululand, 501 schools which did not have water now have a water supply. In uMgungundlovu and other areas of KwaZulu-Natal, many schools there now have water.
Sanitation – to provide basic sanitation to:
1 363 schools in two provinces, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo
- Implementing agent: DBSA and Mvula Trust
- Phase 1: R30 million (4 mobile toilets per school)
- Phase 2: R25 million (pilot project for 600 ABT toilets at 100 schools)
- Phase 3: Accelerated SAFE implementation (eradication of pit latrines)
In the Eastern Cape, there were local business people who said that only they will deliver mobile toilet units. These units were of poor quality; the schools rejected them. DBE had to terminate the contracts of many of these service providers who presented mobile units that were of a “despicable quality”.
The DG emphasised that municipalities have to take over as providers of water services.
Update on Directions
DBE consulted with all stakeholders in basic education, such as NGOs, teacher unions in working on the most recent comprehensive set of directions. Thus far, the directions have not been challenged in court. This is probably because DBE asked stakeholders how they wanted to formulate certain provisions which affect the education sector. The stakeholders made presentations and advised DBE on what to change.
• The Directions were published on 23 June 2020.
• The Directions include a new sub direction 4 on Entry to school premises: No person, other than a learner or official, may enter a school premises or hostel.
• Direction 6 provides for an exemption application in terms of s4 of SA Schools Act (SASA) and that should a parent choose home education, compliance with s51 must be adhered to.
• Direction 7 caters for the deviation from the phased return to school by notification and a declaration. It provides for an inspection of schools that have deviated and revocation. HOD will close the school in terms of s16 of the SASA. It sets out an appeal process to the MEC where the HOD has closed the school.
• Direction 8 addresses learners with special needs.
• Direction 9 addresses the opening of school hostels through a notification process and a signed declaration. The declaration of independent schools expressly indemnifies DBE from any liability.
• Direction 10 refers to the May/June exams and November/December exams
• Direction 11 aligns the issuing of permits and certificates.
• Direction 12 addresses general safety measures and explicitly provides that a parent must not send a learner to school where the learner displays any of observable symptoms related to COVID-19.
• Direction 13 deals with symptom screening at the entrance of a school, hostel or office.
• Direction 14 addresses the provision of sanitisers, disinfectants and masks.
• Directions 15 refer to the social distancing and timetable models.
• Directions 16 clarifies curriculum trimming and re-organization.
• Direction 17 clarifies the annual financial statements.
• Direction 18 withdraws all other Directions published.
• Direction 19 is the short title and commencement.
Challenges and Remedial Measures
This section detailed the nature of the challenge, its impact (low, medium, high), frequency (rare or often), and the remedial measures:
• COVID-19 cases (where the challenge was the perception created that infections happen in schools). There are schools that have opened and closed more than once, especially where community infections have increased.
• Co-morbidities of educators.
• Co-morbidities of learners (there has been a PED update on the number of learners with co-morbidities).
• Organisations such as COSAS (disruption of schooling and undermining DBE’s efforts; there have been ongoing engagements with such organisations and law enforcement agencies).
• Parents who are against reopening of schools (some parents were unaware they had the option of keeping learners at home). There are three options available: Register children for home education; apply to the head of school to keep the child at home while still being registered at the school (learning materials would be collected from the school); and doing online learning.
• Litigation threats by NGOs and civil society organisations and other groupings. In all five cases DBE appeared in court on the matter of reopening schools, the decisions were in DBE’s favour.
• Divergent views on the reopening of schools between Teacher Unions and School Governing Body Associations. Teacher Unions were for the reopening of schools. While SGB Associations were also for reopening, they cautioned against some of the things that DBE has started to pay attention to.
• Personal attack against the Minister (where the challenge was the creation of an impression that the decision to open schools was made by the Minister alone or arbitrarily).
• Leaking of DBE documents still in discussion.
• Sustainable provision of water and sanitation.
• Conditions and facilities provision of special schools. DBE has completed an online dashboard that focuses only on special schools and the status of readiness of these special schools. Nine documents on special schools were sent to Portfolio Committee.
• Cost and quality of COVID-19 essentials.
• Visits by individuals and organisations to schools.
The Deputy Minister noted that the presentation covered why schools should reopen, the challenges, and went beyond the reopening of schools and spoke to the other grades being phased in.
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) asked about teachers who have contracted COVID-19. Did any of these teachers have co-morbidities? She had been to a school where some teachers were still at school despite being over 60 and having underlying conditions. What happens if a teacher is above 60? Does that teacher still go to school and teach, or do they have to be both above 60 and have co-morbidities? Of those learners and teachers who contracted COVID-19, was psychological intervention provided? For learners going to school via transport, would there will be social distancing in buses and taxis? The taxi drivers said that they are moving to full capacity – would that affect learners travelling by taxi, and what will be done about that?
There are schools that have more than 60 learners in a classroom; what will be done to ensure that there is social distancing? Do they go beyond the 1.5m social distancing rule? What happens if a school reached its capacity, despite differentiated time-tabling? What arrangements has DBE made for that?
Ms D van der Walt (DA) thanked DBE, teachers, learners, principals and unions for thus far playing their part in a very difficult situation. She asked about the 1.5m distance in classrooms. If there are challenges with that, then what plans are in place? Has DBE been in contact with the private sector to provide space? She asked about virtual classrooms and using TVs. There was a tender through Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) for televisions for over 100 000 learners. If that tender only closes on 2 July, then how will these TVs be purchased, delivered and installed for Grade 12s. By the time these TVs are received, matrics will be starting with exams. There were a lot of questions surrounding that tender. She was glad to hear that the water tank images circulating on social media were not the deliveries to schools. She also valued the input on tanks that got lost or were taken. It shows how desperate people are, but DBE cannot allow that to happen. On the R600 million that DBE passed on to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) – who is the responsible office, DBE or DWS? There seems to be confusion and the Committee would like to know who is the accountable minister for water provision to schools.
Ms C King (DA) thanked all those involved so far, and thanked the DG for the clarity given to the Committee. She asked about special needs education. The Committee is aware that for special needs, staff will need additional personal protective equipment (PPE). Will the PPE for staff members be bought from the conditional grant? The standard operating procedures, in most cases, are not clear on health and safety measures for staff. When one deals with an autistic learner, such a learner will need physical touch in most cases, and DBE might have challenges with this. She was thus very glad when the DG said that DBE would be monitoring special schools closely, and also deal with advocacy groups who knew more and would give DBE advice on how to use the standard operating procedures.
Ms King noted the presentation said that 18 791 teachers are over 60. Are there plans in place to ensure that DBE gives them an option for retirement, so DBE can get a younger base of teachers to fill these positions? How many teachers actually need to be medically boarded? There were 20 140 teachers who indicated that they have co-morbidities. How many teachers are still teaching all these years waiting to be medically boarded? Ms King had spoken to two people who had been waiting four years to be medically boarded.
On school nutrition, Ms King said that on 22 June, all schools should have at least tried to give food to all learners, not only to Grades 7 and 12. This is commendable, because earlier a question was asked about why by the end of May, only 382 518 food parcels were handed out by the Department of Social Development (DSD). DBE has given DSD the mandate to take over the role so that most of those 9 million learners who do not have food have access to it. Members did ask the Committee Chairperson to call the DSD together with DBE to discuss how these departments will ensure that most learners actually have access to a nutritious meal each day. She wanted to say that the Committee should retract its media statement where it chastises the Western Cape government for providing food as the Committee saw that DSD could not provide that. This is something that the Committee will be monitoring.
On infrastructure, Ms King asked about fencing, and how numerous schools have dogs and people walking around the school. She gave to examples in East London. Such schools have applied for fencing for many years; they have even gone to the newspapers in desperation. How far is DBE with the fencing of schools? How will not fencing schools have an impact on the spread of COVID-19 in schools? She wanted to know when the trial exam date for Grade 12s would be. Is DBE confident that the syllabus will be completed in all schools to write the trial exams with full content? In the Eastern Cape, there are cases where some of the schools, especially in the Mdantsane area, have embarked on matric camps. What is DBE’s view on the camps in view of the COVID-19 pandemic? Many municipalities do not have water and sanitation funding. In the Eastern Cape municipalities, it was a shock to read today in the Daily Maverick that we have 14 municipalities that are completely bankrupt. These are big municipalities that provide water to most of the rural areas in the Eastern Cape. Yet DBE said that the municipalities should be asked to take care of the water situation. If the bankruptcy of municipalities is not dealt with, she feared the spread will be even wider in schools because proper sanitation is not going to be adhered to.
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) appreciated the hard work that all in the education sector have done to ensure that schools open. There are many challenges but a lot of hard work went into this. She commented that “all is not equal across the country”. In the Western Cape, many schools felt that they were not ready to open. “We need to debunk the notion that all is perfect when it comes to the Western Cape; that is not the case”. She noted a concern with 52% occupancy requirement. She asked if buildings such as churches and community centres could be used to accommodate more students. The need for extra teachers had also been highlighted in Ms Sukers’ constituency, specifically. The stakeholder engagement referenced by the DG is very commendable. There is a need, however, for engagement at the community level. On 2 July 2020, in the northern suburbs of the Western Cape and in the city, there will be protests, because people feel that the spread of the virus endangers children. The options that parents have are not communicated to them nor is it filtered down. She was sure that DBE was aware that there were about 250 000 people on one social media group where there was a call for schools to close down. Many of the people on those groups do not know the options available to them. There have been reports of matric camps being planned; what alternatives is DBE looking at to prepare matriculants for their exams?
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) thanked DBE for the presentation. She referred to Makibe Primary School in Mpumalanga, the most dilapidated school in South Africa as reported in the media. She asked if the 20 mobile classrooms mentioned donated by a local mine are in operation? Have those classrooms been delivered to the school, because the school is set to receive another grade in its school. She referred to Ramotsabi Secondary School and Rammutla Primary School in Limpopo where two girls were raped this month. There is a comment by the Limpopo MEC that the denseness of the forest will be reduced. This is not about the denseness of the forest; it is about the shortage of transport for learners. Is there a contingency plan to supply extra transport for the learners, so that these unforeseen circumstances can be avoided?
It was reported that more than 200 people tested positive for COVID-19 at Makaula Senior Secondary School in the Eastern Cape. One of the problems at this school is that there is no electricity; it was damaged in the lockdown period, so the school does not have hot water. The DG has spoken with the MEC – how far are they in solving this problem? How far are the MECs with the supply of PPE? One of the major problems is that the school did not adhere to the COVID-19 requirements due to the non-supply of PPE. She asked about the distribution of 400 mobile classrooms – where were those 400 classrooms distributed?
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) appreciated the report from DBE. He praised the “energy, the passion, and the enthusiasm of the DG”. He commented on disruptive elements within communities. One will always find concerned groups in any part of society. The best way to address concerned groups is to consult, and to consult sufficiently. When one consults at any level, one reduces, in a way, the number of concerned groups. Even where people would think of constituting a concerned group, such people would find that one has overtaken them through consultation. He encouraged the education sector at all levels (school, district, province and national) to have sufficient consultation on new provisions.
Mr Moroatshehla said there was confusion about co-morbidities. Some teachers even go to doctors and get put off attending school for almost 30 days. We should not be victims of “the cobra effect”. In the process of correcting the problem, we find ourselves exacerbating it. He thanked DBE for reducing the turnaround time for co-morbidity concessions. He praised the innovative approach to the attendance models. However, consultation comes into the picture again. If DBE goes the route of platooning, then this will call for an in-depth consultation. DBE will find itself in conflict with stakeholders as some teacher unions might disagree with the platooning model. Stakeholders must be consulted sufficiently.
Mr Moroatshehla said that he is a member of the District COVID-19 Command Council in his area in Limpopo. The whole province has agreed on the alternative days model, because it is not disruptive, or interfering with anybody. Teachers will go to school on all five days, but learners come to school on different days. He asked if the Rand Water contributions will be sustainable during the COVID-19 pandemic and after the pandemic. “The answer is no”. If it is not going to be sustainable, then it is about time that we encourage all the water boards in all the provinces to apply themselves and be found equal to the task. Will water still be supplied to those schools post-COVID-19? COVID-19 will pass but the challenges at schools will remain. Who will continue putting water into those JoJo tanks? The answer is questionable; it is a problem. Does DBE have an memorandum of understanding with Rand Water? In some instances, JoJo tanks are just dumped in the schools, and not mounted. When the Committee asked, the Rand Water CEO replied that it is the responsibility of DBE and the municipality to mount the JoJos. Who is actually responsible here?
Ms N Mashabela (EFF) remarked that DBE has a serious problem with the level of readiness and preparedness. The fact that many schools did not reopen on 8 June as the non-negotiables for school reopening had not been met is a clear indication that DBE is not ready to reopen schools. Yet, DBE is pushing other grades to go back to school. There are Grade 7 and 12 learners who are three weeks behind, but they are expected to write a full examination at the end of the year, and DBE has not even produced a plan. DBE did not commit itself on Phase 2 deadlines for the delivery of PPE, classrooms, toilets, scholar transport and additional teachers to deal with overcrowding, which means that DBE is not ready at all. Some schools which reopened on 8 June are still using pit toilets and dilapidated buildings without water for regular hand-washing. There are teachers who are teaching subjects they never taught before which is a major problem. DBE wants to employ additional teachers – when will these posts be advertised, and how soon will these teachers start working? Learners are still walking long distances to and from school. On 12 June, a 17-year-old Grade 12 learner from Ramotsabi Secondary School in Limpopo was raped on her way home. She is walking 7km to and 7km from school. The decision to reopen schools in winter is merely an attempt to loot millions of Rands in the name of COVID-19. For her, the report was not a true reflection of what was happening in schools.
Mr W Boshoff (FF+) welcomed the presentation. DBE should be commended for opening the schools when there was a lot of resistance to this. The previous speaker said DBE plans to appoint more teachers, but according to the information he had, DBE is not appointing more teachers. He noted the plight of SGB employees, many of whom are now unemployed, because many schools had a large income reduction when parents were unable to pay fees during lockdown. Some of the teachers were let go, and these people are now available. If there were different shifts, one will have to deal with teacher fatigue within a short time.
Mr Boshoff noted the DG said he did not know where R170 000 per water tank comes from. The Minister replied to the Committee’s written question that R600 million was paid to Rand Water to provide water to 3 500 schools. If one divides R600 million by 3 500, one gets to R171 000. The Committee requested more information on that. Now, the DG has said in this presentation that R200 million was paid to Rand Water. If one takes R200 million, and divides that between the 3 335 schools which had been assisted, it is R59 970 per school. If one used the cheaper installation that Rand Water managed to devise, it means that it should cost R12 863 per school. That would mean approximately R43 million in total. Mr Boshoff did not know where the rest of the R200 million went.
Ms N Shabalala (ANC) congratulated DBE for a well-presented and well-balanced report in terms of the information the Committee required. This was a good step forward, because when DBE was going to reopen schools, there was a lot of noise. “The doomsayers were trying to prevent us from opening schools”. Now that schools have opened and DBE is looking forward to the next group returning in July, Ms Shabalala was very happy with what DBE had presented. Hopefully the consultation has taken place, especially engaging the teacher unions and all other stakeholders involved in education.
Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) noted that schools are opening at a time when there are infections of about 523 learners and 169 teachers, and it is winter. He did not think it was a good idea to phase in more learners. Given there will be more learners, spacing will be problematic, despite the promised plans. Models such as platooning come with their own problems. "We are dealing with a very abnormal situation”. Grade 12s will be answering exam papers set before COVID-19. The Minister was clear in saying that the Grade 12s will write those set exam papers. There will be no alterations or adjustments. That is problematic; one wonders how that can happen. One is talking about an examination set for a normal year, whereas this is an abnormal year. One wonders how Umalusi will handle this in terms of the quality and value of the certificate Grade 12s receive.
Mr Ngcobo said that teachers above 60 are vulnerable. It is good that such teachers can work from home or be able to retire. There are too many of them in terms of the figures given by the DG. The DG said that arrangements are in place “to replace people who need to be replaced”. There are Funza Lushaka teachers, and other sources of new teachers. He did not think that DBE would be able to replace teachers over 60 because of the fatalities that the sector is likely to suffer. The COVID-19 fatality rate is rising, and this must be taken into consideration because it is winter and more learners are going to be phased in.
Mr Ngcobo said there are schools which did not have running water and had to be supplied with water tanks filled by tankers. He was concerned about the formula for washing hands: One uses a basin, and another learner will wash their hands using the same basin. That is not hygienic. If you use a running tap, then water will run dry very quickly. He did not know how practical this would be with tankers providing water. His suspicion was that there will be problems and DBE needs to think ahead, especially given the number of learners that are now going to be at school.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi asked about schools in the Free State, in Bloemfontein, which had new administration blocks that needed to be opened. She had heard that some of these blocks do not have electricity. Could the DG intervene and assist those schools to open those administration blocks. She did not know if this was happening throughout the province, but she found about four schools which had administration blocks that were not open. She asked when were the Funza Lushaka teachers employed; were they already in the system? Of those coming to replace teachers with co-morbidities, is it on a contract basis or are they coming in full-time? With those over 60 who decide to retire, is there a plan to replace them with other teachers?
Ms Sukers had a question on home-schooling. There have been reports from parents who attempted to register for home-schooling but they are not getting a response. Could the DG indicate how many officials per province are dedicated to processing applications for home education? Could the Committee get an accurate number of home-schooling applications received and the time taken to process the applications? There are many parents who are awaiting a DBE response. The current policy is for a home visit before home-schooling applications are approved but there are concerns about such a visit during the pandemic. Will DBE waive this requirement for home visits? Part of the protests in the Western Cape have to do with not only anxiety for winter, but also the lack of PPE at some schools, especially with the new grades being integrated, together with the fact that a lot of deaths are happening in the Western Cape. On the psychosocial support for schools, the Committee must emphasise that in the last two weeks, ten people died in one community alone. That is what is fuelling the anxiety of many parents.
Mr Ngcobo asked about electricity in rural areas. There seemed to be very little that DBE could do about that, but how is that challenge being accommodated? Even if there is electricity, the signal is very poor in most rural areas. Members of Parliament have witnessed this. He raised this due to the three forms of learning that will be used to supplement in-person teaching.
Ms Shabalala noted that DBE was taken to court three times and won the cases. It is not the issue that DBE has to wait until it has been taken to court; DBE has to consult as necessary with all stakeholders, and has to satisfy every individual who talks to it. DBE has three other options for parents; DBE needs to encourage people who think that taking their child to school means that DBE wants children to get COVID-19. The fact of the matter is that COVID-19 is in communities, and learners go to schools with it already.
Ms van der Walt saw that there was no mention of the provision in the directions to provide for the HOD to exempt a learner whose parents do not want to go to school. The criteria, the process and the form are not mentioned and how long this can be for.
Mr E Siwela (ANC) asked about a high school in Bushbuckridge with 734 learners with only 12 classrooms. The differentiated time tabling, including platooning, may not work. Could DBE provide clarity on that?
The Chairperson appreciated the report. It clarified uncertainties and questions that Members had. She raised concerns about the hybrid technology that DBE was using. Microsoft Teams was not working very well for the Committee. She thought that Members had done well in the first phase of reopening by revisiting schools and doing oversight, and ensuring that the schools met the requirements for COVID-19 safety measures. She said that that made things easier, not only as Members, but also as communities when they see Members as leaders on the ground, and ensuring that whatever people raise, Members see with their own two eyes. She appreciated DBE’s prompt response to challenges.
The Committee cannot shy away from the reality that, whether it is on TV or in communities, this period of the lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic has divided society. Some will agree that children need to be in school; others will disagree, saying that children will catch the virus. The Committee has seen that there was a positive response on 8 June with many schools reopening, and learners and teachers participating in going back to school.
On the challenges, Members have spoken at length about these such as transport. The Committee raised concern that when the regulations are relaxed, many people will go back to work, and there is a lot of movement around the country. The Committee expects to see many positive cases recorded in the next two weeks; that has started happening. It will affect the second phase of reopening, when many teachers and learners have to go back to school. She asked if DBE would look into considering changing the Grade 12 exam papers because “we are not in a normal time". The country is faced with a pandemic, and perhaps DBE must consider changing the exam papers. This is one of the burning issues that has been raised by student movements, especially COSAS.
The Chairperson said that Members were in agreement with the second phase of reopening of schools. Reopening has worked, and where there are challenges, especially where schools are not meeting requirements; they would not have been able to open. The Committee visited some of the schools, and saw in the first week that some did not do well, but those schools ensured they met the requirements for reopening. The Committee is confident that DBE is working very hard to ensure that no learners or teachers will be in danger. Members must continue to visit and monitor schools as DBE moves into the second phase of reopening. Members visiting schools did benefit their communities.
Deputy Minister response
Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule said that Members were giving inputs that would enhance DBE's work. Members had raised serious questions on co-morbidities, teachers 60 years and above, psychosocial support, and Grade 12 examinations. The Grade 12 papers are set and ready; DBE would not tamper with the curriculum. Grade 12 is an FET phase; it starts from Grade 10, so it is not easy to say that DBE can re-work the curriculum. If DBE were to restructure the exam, learners would have to write sometime next year, because it is a process to set a paper for Grade 12.
She noted that the increased number of infections was a matter affecting the whole world. Yesterday the President said that he was a bit disappointed with where South Africa ranked globally in new infections; it seemed South Africa is moving at speed, even though citizens were given instructions on social distancing, wearing face masks and washing hands. It seemed that some South Africans are “acting extremely irresponsibly”, and that was why the number was increasing. The number was not increasing because schools have reopened; most of the teachers and learners who are positive were not infected at school. People came from the community, came to school, and when tested, they found that they are positive.
The Deputy Minister said that DBE will report back to Members on the specific schools mentioned, such as the Bushbuckridge school The Makibe Primary School learners were relocated to another school. The municipality has given the school land; they are going to build a new school. It is true that a mining company has donated mobile classrooms but the classrooms are not yet on-site; putting in electricity, water and fencing is still in progress.
Mr Mweli replied about the number of teachers testing positive for COVID-19 who had co-morbidities, that he could find out from the Department of Health. The DBE does not collect that information.
On why DBE was not offering retirement to teachers over 60 years, Mr Mweli replied that people are at liberty to retire from age 55. At 60, one can retire with no penalty. The legal provision for retirement age in South Africa is 60 years. With many of the people who stay on until 65, DBE suspects that some left the system at some point to cash their bonuses so they could get money to pay for the education of their children, especially those children deemed to be the “missing middle”, who are not poor enough to get a government bursary. In sum, people may retire at age 55, but the law allows them to stay on until age 65.
On 52% capacity and transport: The timetable models help to reduce the number of transport users by 50% or less. DBE is concerned with what is currently happening in the transport industry with full loads. The Minister will be in constant interaction with the Minister of Transport to ensure that DBE does not suffer from spill-over effects that might happen in the transport industry.
On the schools which require electricity in their administration blocks: DBE will follow up with the Free State.
On using other facilities for classrooms: Some schools plan to use church halls, community halls, mobile units will also be brought in to provide more space to schools that cannot fully implement the models provided in the directions.
On the tender closing on 2 July for providing TVs: The Department of Communications is dealing with this. DBE will work with Department of Communication to ensure that learners benefit from this.
On who is responsible for water and sanitation: There is an MOU between DBE, DWS and Rand Water. The MOU involves three entities. The DBE DG signed the MOU with DWS as the entities which control the source of water fall under DWS. DBE and DWS signed with Rand Water as it is the implementing agent. The R600 million was allocated to DBE and it has to account for every cent of the R600 million. The MOU was signed before DBE sent the first tranche of R200 million, and R400 million is still with DBE. Before DBE transfers the next tranche, it has to satisfy itself that the R200 million can be fully accounted for.
On PPE for schools for special education needs: Provinces have provided for that, especially in instances where learners are going to be touching educators; such educators will be fully-cladded in PPE.
Mr Mweli replied about the Western Cape providing food to learners throughout lockdown although regulations did not allow it to do so. In hindsight, the Western Cape did something good which should be commended but it does not make what people did regular; it was irregular, because the law did not allow it.
On fencing: DBE could get this information and provide it to the Committee.
On trial exams: The Grade 12 trial exam will still happen. The intention is that the final exams must begin in November and end around 22 December.
On matric camps: Health, safety, physical distancing requirements must be adhered to at all times. It is in DBE’s directions for schools.
On the capacity of municipalities: The DG did not know the magnitude of the water and sanitation problem. He had “woken up to that reality” and his view was that it was a serious problem. The Minister has taken it up with the President. He agreed with Ms Sukers that “not all is equal across the country”. There is more engagement happening about the use of community halls.
Mobile classrooms are intended to add to the five time-tabling models. The problem is that, more often than not, something that does not exist in physical form does not mean it will never exist in physical form. It is an idea; some of which DBE has the burden of pushing ideas through.
DBE had heard about the two girls who were raped this month and it is very unfortunate. It should not happen, especially because of unavailability of transport. DBE has taken up the transport issue with the Department of Education in Limpopo.
On consultation: DBE has neglected to establish Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign (QLTC) structures from the bottom, from district level, to take into account all stakeholders. The success of South Africa’s democratic dispensation in education can be traced back to the ability of civil society to participate. People used to talk about people-centred education. The DG thought that DBE’s QLTCs had not lived up to that example. DBE has appointed a new director for this. One of the new tasks is to ensure that civil society is involved right from the beginning so that processes become a bottom-up, and not top-down, approach. Even with differentiated time tables, it must be bottom-up; it must be teachers, school management teams, and SGBs who say that a particular model will work for a particular school.
Mr Mweli replied that it is a bit unreasonable to expect Rand Water to cover the whole country when other water boards are there, and they should take that responsibility.
On the COVID-19 money spent, the Auditor-General is already auditing every expense linked to COVID-19.
The DG agreed that consultation was the only way; DBE was where it was today because of broad consultation. DBE is a product of broad consultation as a democratic dispensation.
On increased COVID-19 infection in winter, medical experts are saying that this does not exist in the literature. It only exists on social media and in social gatherings. Medical experts say winter will not exacerbate the spread of the virus. DBE will balance public opinion "informed by fear and anxiety” with what DBE needs to do. It is very flexible in its plans. One can see that the Minister and MECs have taken all of these variables into account.
On the formula for washing hands: The hand-washing basins DBE uses now are designed in such a way that children wash their hands, and the water drains immediately.
The DG said that he had taken note of the names of schools Ms Adoons had given to DBE.
On changing the Grade 12 exam paper, the National Senior Certificate (NSC) has to remain sacrosanct. One does not want to have a child in one’s house who will perpetually carry the stigma of being “the matric group of 2020", who was treated differently. DBE is preparing these children for South Africa, for the continent, and for the world. DBE believes that these children are the best, and should be able to compete with the best in the world. These children must be taken through the same standards. DBE will not lower standards for the Grade 12 exams.
Mr Dawid van der Westhuijzen, DBE Deputy Director-General, replied about the water tanks. The 3 335 schools consist of 711 schools with existing tanks and 2 624 schools need new tanks. Under the Rand Water contract, DBE had to supply those tanks. To supply the 5 000-litre tanks to the 2 624 schools, Rand Water procured these tanks from 40 different suppliers. The average price DBE paid for those tanks was R519.72. That adds up to approximately R13 million. Those tanks are then available at the supplier depot and one needs to transport the tanks via truck. Some tanks travel hundreds of kilometres from the depot. DBE then spent a further R8 million on transporting tanks to schools. That takes the cost to about R21 million. Initially DBE planned to have proper tank stands but it ran out of time. The agreement was that DBE split this into phases, where the first is a temporary stand at ground level, which is very basic. A tank with a basic stand costs about R3 300. That brings the cost to about R30 million for the whole installation, including transport.
The missing part of the calculation by the Member is the cost of the water and its delivery. The 3 335 schools represent about 1.5 million learners. If one works on 5 litres per person per day that is bought from municipalities at about R20 per kilolitre, that adds another R6 million to the cost over a two-month period. The delivery of the water is “the big bucks”. Putting water on a truck and driving it to a destination instead of delivering water through a pipeline is very expensive. R96 million allocated to water delivery. That gives a total of R131 million. Rand Water is paid an implementing agent fee of 5%. Rand Water appointed service providers for local content, local economic development and local labour. These social facilitators get paid a fee of 3.5% and then DBE made allowance for disbursements of 1.5%. That brings the total to R145 million. On top of that, due to uncertainties about data accuracy, access routes, and availability of materials, DBE allowed a 20% contingency but that contingency remains under DBE control. There is a R29 million contingency, which takes the total to R174 million. If one puts VAT on top of that, one comes to R200 million. It is the only money that is currently being dealt with. The R400 million is untouched; it has not been transferred to anybody. DBE will wrap up phase 1 before it implements phase 2.
Ms Sukers asked if DBE could respond on home schooling. It is a very serious matter. It is serious for parents that they get answers to questions around home schooling.
The DG replied that any school information that Members come across, they can refer these matters to the DG. His contact details were available to the Members. DBE has started to address these matters with provinces. If parents are battling, they can be referred to the DG. He can be reached via WhatsApp, SMS or email. He will forward the application and follow through to ensure that parents are assisted.
The Chairperson said that she had received a communique from the province about how to apply for home schooling, and how the province could assist with the application. She advised Members to be specific in communicating about home-schooling. The Committee was in agreement on supporting the reopening of schools, and the Committee must ensure that it monitors all of the schools in each of their constituency areas to ensure they comply and no child or teacher will be at risk in the phases of reopening.
The Extended Committee Programme will start on 30 June and end on 14 July because the Committee needs to deal with the DBE special adjustment budget before it went to recess. The Committee made some date changes and approved the programme.
The Committee adopted the meeting minutes of 19 May 2020.
The Chairperson said the Committee will be faced with the challenge of the second phase of reopening schools. South Africa has another pandemic – gender-based violence; there will be a debate on the scourge of gender-based violence against women and femicide in the National Assembly today (Tuesday 30 June 2020). Society needs to come together to deal with that pandemic.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Media Statement: Education Committee Briefed on Schools Reopening Plans
- DBE - State of Readiness on Reopening of Schools
- DBE Guidelines for Timetabling for re-opening of Schools during COVID-19
- Covid-19 Guidelines for Schools for Blind and Partially-Sighted Learners
- Covid-19 Guidelines for Schools with Autistic Learners Returning To School
- Disaster Management Act (57/2002)
- Extended and Adjusted Committee Programme Framework (Draft)
- ELRC - Collective Agreement 1 of 2020
Mbinqo-Gigaba, Ms BP
Adoons, Ms NG
Boshoff, Dr WJ
King, Ms C
Malatji, Mr T
Mashabela, Ms N
Mhaule, Dr R
Moroatshehla, Mr PR
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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