WCED Budget: Committee Report

Education (WCPP)

24 July 2020
Chairperson: Ms L Botha (DA)
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Meeting Summary

Video: STANDING COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION, 24 JULY 2020, 14:15

In a virtual meeting, the Committee heard that part of the Department’s budget was cut by R151 million and this put a lot of pressure on an already ailing budget. The Department had to divert much of its budget to COVID-19. On the upside, the Department managed to resume the National Nutrition School Programme after some legal interventions.

Members asked about budgets for personal protective equipment, budget to build more classrooms, budget cuts for private schools, the national decision to close schools and budget spent on decontamination of schools.

There was concern that the mathematics, science and technology grant was reduced by R5m, that there was a reduction in the infrastructure grant and the reduction in human resources and Members asked if the Department had a plan to ensure this did not impact negatively on students.

The Committee resolved to identify schools with pressing infrastructure needs for consideration in the future programme of the Committee.

The Committee supported the Budget Vote. The ANC reserved its right.

Meeting report

Input by MEC and Department

The Western Cape MEC for Education, Ms Debbie Schafer, stated that COVID-19 put a lot of pressure on an already ailing budget. The Department had to divert much of its budget to COVID-19. On the upside, the Department managed to resume the National Nutrition School Programme after some legal interventions.

Mr Brian Schreuder, the Head of the Western Cape Education Department, informed the Committee that R151 million was reduced from its budget. Although this was erratically small in the context of the Department’s budget, the impact this had on the infrastructure development grant was hard to ignore.

Discussion

The Chairperson asked the Department to account for the R310 million it had budgeted for personal protective equipment. In view of the recent decision to close schools, there was a need to understand whether there are safety measures in place for the protection of PPE equipment stored in schools. Have all the schools received PPE equipment?

Mr Schreuder answered that the Department had already spent more than R310 million on PPE. It was important to bear in mind that the initial amount requested in the first adjustment budget was over a R1 billion. Treasury was looking into increasing the amount in the second adjustment budget. Also, all the schools have received PPE. The distribution/delivery of disinfections and handsanitisers was still in process.

On safety and security, the Department made sure not to deliver bulk PPE in all schools. Also, it procured extra security to be placed in schools located in crime hotspots. In addition, the Department made arrangements for regular patrols in these areas.

Mr K Sayed (ANC) asked whether the Department still had a budget for the building of more classrooms. The decision to close schools was concerning for many parents and it was important to know whether the Department was considering a legal route. Also, the Department needed to explain why private schools were not being affected by the budget cut.

Mr Schreuder and Mr Salie Abrahams, DDG: Education Planning, WCED, answered that there was no money left for the building of more classrooms. The expansion of classrooms was also impacted by the review that mobile classrooms were not suitable for the environment due to climate change.

On private schools not getting a budget cut, Mr Schreuder stated that these schools only get a subsidy according to the national formula.

Mr R Allen (DA) praised the Department for its victory on the feeding scheme. The reduction of the mathematics, science and technology grant by over R5 million was concerning and it was important to know whether the Department had a plan to ensure that this does not negatively impact students.  The reduction in human resource, as shown in the report, was concerning. It was important to know whether the Department has taken measures for the professional development of teachers in the face of COVID-19.

Mr Peter Beets, DDG: Curriculum and Assessment Management, WCED, said there was a 14.3% budget cut on the mathematics, science and technology grant. The approach of the Department was to relook its outputs from the approved budget allocation. After agreeing that the social distancing requirements due to COVID-19 had a direct impact on direct learner support and teacher professional development, the Department diverted the money set aside for this to the purchase of equipment in workshops and laboratories.

On teacher professional development, Mr Schreuder responded that teachers have undergone teacher professional development under the Department’s e-learning programme which started years ago.

Mr Beets added that the COVID-19 situation has forced teachers to revisit the training they received under the e-learning programme and also to sign up for online courses. For example, 1 600 teachers registered for an online course with CT Alliance. Teachers also participated in Webinars.

Mr M Kama (ANC) stated that the reduction of the education infrastructure was concerning especially considering the fact that there were many deferred projects. It was important for the Department to explain its infrastructure development plan going forward. How much of the R310 million budgeted for PPE has the Department spent on decontamination in schools where COVID19 cases were confirmed? It was important to get a full breakdown.

On deferred projects, Mr Abrahams answered that the Department had no intentions to cut these projects. However, due to the limited infrastructure budget, the Department cannot make any firmer decisions regarding these projects. The decision depended on future budget allocations. In view of the current budget, the Department was protecting and completing all projects started in the past year.

On decontamination, Mr Shreuder stated that the Department budgeted R21 million for that. The Department hoped not to use the entire R21 million.           

Mr F Christians (ACDP) asked whether the Department was giving special treatment to poor schools in respect of PPE.  

Mr Schreuder responded that the Department procured PPE for all schools. However, schools were advised to start budgeting for PPE in light of the fact that the global community will be dealing with COVID-19 for a very long time.

Mr R Mackenzie (DA) stated that national government’s decision to close schools did not carry legal effect since it was not yet published in the government gazette. It was important to know whether this decision was backed up by scientific evidence or data.

MEC Schafer informed the Committee that without publication in the government gazette, the decision to close the school appeared to be illegal. Also, scientific evidence suggested that it was better to keep children in school.

The Chairperson asked MEC Schafer and Mr Schreuder to make some closing remarks.

The Chairperson asked Members if there were any recommendations.

Mr Kama recommended that the Committee identify schools with pressing infrastructure needs for consideration in the future programme of the Committee.

The Committee supported the Budget Vote.

Meeting adjourned.

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