In a virtual meeting, with the Deputy Minister in attendance, the Committee was briefed by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on the amended school calendar and the implementation of a risk-adjusted differentiated approach to curriculum and assessment planning
The Department conducted three presentations, starting with a detailed discussion on the amended school calendar, which indicated that schools would be closing on 15 December this year. Following this, in response to the challenges erupting due to COVID-19, it presented on the framework put together for curriculum recovery, which proposed a revised school calendar, curriculum reorganisation and trimming, as well as a revision of assessment requirements. Lastly, it presented a summary of the Department’s objectives regarding the directions to guide the school environment during the COVID-19 period. These included the provision of arrangements for a phased return of educators, officials, and learners to schools, hostels and offices, and provisions for the schools, hostels and offices to comply with their obligations in accordance with the regulations, directions and circulars issued by the Minister of Employment and Labour and the Department of Public Service and Administration, among others. The scope of these directions applied to all schools, hostels and offices, learners, officials, third parties, and governing bodies and school boards.
Members sought clarity from the Department on the amended dates for the closing of schools, as this was the same day learners would usually receive report cards. Some queried the justification behind the use of the risk-adjusted differentiated approach, seeing that COVID-19 cases were declining throughout the country. Concerns were raised over the challenges parents were encountering when attempting to register children for home schooling, as the administrative process seemed to be unfairly forcing learners to return to school. The Committee also queried the support the Department was providing to both learners and special needs learners who were at home, as well as the catch-up programmes needed for the teaching time lost. Members asked the Department to address the issues of co-morbidities and the process for replacing educators, as there was a shortage due to COVID-19. They were especially concerned over the trimming of the curriculum, as this may disadvantage students at a later stage.
The Chairperson welcomed the Members and governmental staff, and asked if there were any apologies.
The Committee Secretary said that no apologies had been received from Members of the Portfolio Committee, but the Select Committee would not be attending as there was an overlap with the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) plenary. Apologies had been received from Ms Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, as she had three prior commitments.
Dr Reginah Mhaule, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, thanked the Chairperson for giving the Department the opportunity to present their responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, specifically the new amended school calendar, the amended Departmental directions, the “State of Reopening of Schools,” along with providing updates regarding the risk-adjusted approach to curriculum and assessment planning.
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, Director General (DG): DBE, said that the Department had twice previously amended the school calendar due to the ever-changing conditions caused by COVID-19. He confirmed that while a handful of incidents had occurred due to miscommunication -- parents incorrectly bringing back pupils not scheduled to return to school -- schools across the nation had opened according to plan, with over 10 million pupils successfully returning.
DBE’s amended 2020 school calendar
Ms Simone Geyer, Chief Director: Education Human Resource Management, DBE, briefed the Committee on the Department’s new amended 2020 school calendar.
She said the Department had previously amended the 2020 school calendar on two previous occasions during the COVID period as a result of the national lockdown first implemented on 26 March. Following this, the President had announced a further easing of the lockdown, stating that a transition from Alert Level 4 to Alert Level 3 would occur from 1 June 2020, which allowed for the phased reopening of schools.
Under the first amendment to the 2020 school calendar, the Department had stated that schools would use the 1-5 June week for teachers and school management team (SMT) members to ensure compliance with the health, safety and social distancing requirements prior to classes resuming on 8 June. Under this amended school calendar, they were to be 173 school days for learners, and 180 days for teachers. (See presentation for more details).
However, on 23 July, addressing the nation on progress made with the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the President had announced a further closure of schools beginning on 27 July, with their planned reopening completed on 24 August. He had explained that Grade 12 pupils and teachers would take a one-week break and return to school on 3 August, followed by Grade 7 pupils and teachers, who would return on 11 August, with the remainder of pupils returning on 24 August.
Under the second amended school calendar, while still following a four-term calendar -- with a holiday between terms three and four from 24 October to 1 November -- there were 156 school days for pupils and 163 for teachers. (See presentation for more details).
Regarding examinations and assessments, Ms Geyer said that by the end of the academic year, 15 December, Grades R to 11 must have completed all school-based assessments outlined in the revised annual teaching plans (ATPs). Additionally, pupils must be issued with their school reports by 15 December, confirming their progression/promotion to the next grade, or their retention in their current grade.
The Grade 12 examination dates would commence on 5 November, and would conclude on 15 December. The provincial release -- by the Members of Executive Councils (MECs) and schools -- would be on 23 February 2021. As the marking process was scheduled to be completed between 4 and 22 January 2021, this may have an effect on the start of the 2021 academic year, currently scheduled for 18 January, resulting in a potential postponement of the start to the new academic year by a week, to 25 January 2021.
DBE’s approach to curriculum and assessment planning
Dr Mamiki Maboya, Deputy Director General: Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring, DBE, briefed the Committee on the Department’s risk-adjusted differentiated approach to curriculum and assessment planning.
She began by highlighting the unprecedented disruption to teaching, learning and assessment programmes brought about by COVID-19. In response to these challenges, the Department had put together a framework for curriculum recovery, which proposed a revised school calendar, curriculum reorganisation and trimming, as well as the revision of assessment requirements. Phase 1 of this response involved the compilation of revised annual teaching plans (ATPs), which included the repacking of content, concepts and skills due to the reduced amount of teaching time available. Following this, Phase 2 provided guidelines for teachers to address any challenge which may emerge, including how to adapt the ATPs for rotational/platooning timetables, along with how to adapt them when schools were required to close due to COVID-19 related incidents.
In formulating their response, the Department had had to acknowledge challenges such as the ongoing closure and opening of schools, the continued loss of teaching time resulting in a much reduced academic calendar, along with the additional four-week break from 27 July to 24 August, as pronounced by the President, all of which adversely affected curriculum coverage. As recommendations for mitigating these challenges, the Department had advocated the building of capacity to enable schools to exercise their professional judgment, the adoption of a multi-year approach regarding curriculum coverage, the use of risk-adjusted differentiated subject plans to determine and calculate the deficit in teaching time in weeks and hours, along with the identification of key competencies that would need to be addressed post 2020.
Dr Maboya said the Department, in collaboration with the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT), was in the process of developing subject plans with the objective of locating the subject planning process in the broader curriculum recovery strategy, and ensuring that curriculum recovery was contextualized at the school level, along with facilitating the adoption of multi-year curriculum recovery planning.
As schools were experiencing challenges and disruptions differently, the Department had identified three scenarios regarding the loss of teaching time:
- The ‘Low Road,’ where 60% or more of teaching hours had been lost by schools;
- The ‘Middle Road,’ where moderate disruptions between 30%-59% of teaching hours lost had occurred; and
- The ‘High Road,’ where minimal disruptions of less than 30% of teaching hours lost occurred. (See presentation for technical implementation details).
Dr Maboya said that revised subject lanes had already been constructed for mathematics, all home language subjects, along with English First Additional Language, with the rest currently being attended to.
Regarding the end of year assessments within the General Education & Training band (Grades 4-9), learners would be assessed only on work that had been covered, and all end-of-year exams would be replaced by formal class-based tests. With regard to grades 10 & 11, final examinations would also be replaced by a formal, class-based test. The Department was also discouraging the use of common tests. Lastly, for grade promotional purposes, a ratio of 80% school-based assessment to 20% final class tests would be used.
As Ms Geyer had already discussed the amended school calendar, Dr Maboya said that trial/mock examinations Grade 12 pupils would occur from September, and should end no later than the first week of October.
Adv Shalili Misser, Chief Director: Legal and Legislative Service, DBE, presented the directions published by the Department on 23 June, and the subsequent amendments, which began with the formal definitions of “official” and “third party” being provided.
She summarised the Departments objectives regarding the directions, which covered the provision of arrangements for a phased return of educators, officials, and learners to schools, hostels and offices, and provided for the schools, hostels and offices to comply with their obligations in accordance with the regulations, directions and circulars issued by the Minister of Employment and Labour and the Department of Public Service and Administration, among others. Specifically, the scope of these directions applied to all schools, hostels and offices, learners, officials, third parties, and school governing bodies and school boards.
Direction 4: Entry to School Premises
Adv Misser said that a clause existed regarding the entry to school premises. It stated that no person, other than a learner or official, may enter a school’s premises or hostel, unless that person obtains the permission of, and makes arrangements with, the principal or Head of Department in advance before entering the school premises or hostel.
Direction 5: Return to schools
The Member of the Executive Council (MEC) responsible for education in a province that was unable to comply with the based return of learners and officials to school must, at least seven days before the date identified for the return of the respective grades, submit a report to the Minister for concurrence or further determination. This report must include the reasons for the non-compliance, and a plan with the proposed dates for the phased return of learners and officials in the respective grades.
Adv Misser commented that only those schools and offices that had complied with the minimum health, safety and social distancing measures on COVID-19 would be allowed to open, and that additionally the Head of Department, or a person duly authorised by them, must continuously monitor and evaluate the phased return of schools and the maintenance of hygiene and safety standards for the duration of the national state of disaster. This person must report in writing every two weeks to the Department on the number of COVID-19 cases in the school. Any failure to meet the required minimum health, safety and social distancing measures on COVID-19, along with the Head of Department’s determination, would influence whether a school would be permitted to open.
While there was a responsibility for the Department and schools to ensure the adequate provision of learning materials and continued teaching to learners who were unable to attend school, an equal responsibility existed for parents to ensure that such materials were collected or accessed by students as per arrangement with the school without undue delay.
Additionally, the principal and the school management team must determine and implement a rotational leave plan to ensure that the principal and a member of the SMT, respectively, were allowed at least a five-day break during the first three weeks of the break.
Direction 6: School attendance
Regarding school attendance, a parent, caregiver or a designated family member may choose not to send a learner to school for reasons that may include:
- Any medical condition of the learner, including co-morbidities;
- Anxiety and fear relating to COVID-19, concern for family member over the age of 60, or concern for family members with co-morbidities;
- A preference for the learner receiving learning and teaching instruction through online or virtual platforms provided either by the school and/or an independent institution which was not related to the school that the child was registered at; or
- An application for home education and re-registration of a learner from the school.
Where a parent, caregiver or a designated family member of a learner applied to the Head of Department for full or partial exemption of the leaner from compulsory school attendance, and the Head of Department had not yet considered the application for exemption, the child would be considered as exempted from compulsory school attendance. Additionally, the Head of Department must consider and finalise the application for exemption within 30 days of receipt of the application.
Direction 7: Application for deviation from phased return of learners and officials to school
A school may only be permitted to deviate from the phased return to school, provided that they have complied with the minimum health, safety and social distancing measures and requirements on COVID-19, and they would then notify the Head of Department in writing, making a declaration applying for such a deviation.
Direction 8: Learners with special educational needs
The direction regarding learners with special educational needs would be amended, as the Department had reached an out of court settlement on 4 August, as it was felt that the directions did not adequately cover the issue of learners with special educational needs. The current direction covered learners who were autistic, blind, partially sighted or deaf, with the amendment also covering students with physical and intellectual disabilities, epilepsy, and severe to profound intellectual disabilities. It would also address the readiness of special school hostels for learners with special education needs. The directive also states that the provincial Department of Education must at a minimum provide learners with visual and hearing impairments with specialised personal protective equipment. Specifically, face shields must be provided to blind learners; cloth face masks must be provided to low vision learners, teachers and support staff; and face shields must also be provided to teachers, support staff and learners in schools for the deaf.
Direction 9: Opening of hostels
The directions regarding the opening of school hostels state that such hostels may be permitted to open only if they comply with the minimum health, safety and social distancing measures and requirements on Covid-19,
Direction 10: May/June and November/ December examinations
This had already been covered by Ms Geyer.
Direction 11: Issuing of permits and certificates
This was no longer relevant under Level 3 lockdown.
Direction 12: General safety measures at schools, hostels and offices for the duration of the national state of disaster
Adv Misser reiterated that the provincial Departments of Education were responsible for the procurement of personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 essentials for officials and learners, and for the provision thereof to public schools and hostels. This directive had been amended to state that it was the principal of a public school who was required to notify the provincial Department of Education of the school’s personal protective equipment (PPE) needs, and that the provincial Department must ensure that their procurement was done timeously.
Direction 13: Symptom screening
All persons entering any school premises, hostels, or offices must be screened at the entrance. The screening must be conducted by persons who had either been identified by the school or by the Head of Department, and in accordance with the Department of Health protocols, and section 5 of the DBE standard operating procedures and guidelines, and such persons must receive the relevant training.
Direction 14: Sanitisers, disinfectants and masks
Adv Misser asserted that under these directions, easily accessible and sufficient quantities of hand sanitisers, containing at least 70% alcohol, must be present, and that each provincial Department of Education must provide every official and learner with at least two cloth face masks or face shields. Additionally, all surfaces that were touched frequently by many people -- such as railings, lunch tables, sports equipment, door and window handles, toys, teaching and learning aids, etc.-- must be cleaned as frequently as feasible.
Direction 15: Social distancing and timetable models
Every school, hostel or office must comply with the social distancing requirements of at least 1.5 meters, and school facilities must operate at 50% or less of their capacity at any given time. In order for schools to achieve this, Adv Misser said that the Department had provided various timetable models that may be implemented. An additional amendment would be implemented for the social distancing directions regarding the limitation of public gatherings, to those consisting of fewer than 50 people. This limitation came from the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), but it was not really applicable to schools, as they should not be considered to be public gatherings. As such, the amendment stated that if a school possessed large enough facilities, such as large school halls, they did not have to change their traditional daily timetable models and were exempted from being limited in their capacity, strictly for education purposes, provided that they met the health, safety and social distancing requirements
The DG acknowledged that there was a lot of presentations to get through, and suggested that the draft amendments for special needs students and school nutrition programme be presented during next week’s meeting.
The Chairperson agreed, and asked Members if there were any questions arising.
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) raised four issues to be addressed.
Firstly, she expressed concern for the issues parents were experiencing over their choice to keep learners at home due to fears that classrooms were unsafe. As indicated in the presentation, the Department had noted that parents needed to fill out an application for this to be allowed. However, the Department needed to emphasise their position on the matter, as an overwhelming amount of complaints from parents had been received arguing that schools were forcing parents to return learners to school, even though they would prefer their children to remain at home. It was important for the Department to acknowledge the concerns and fears voiced by parents, as some learners did live among citizens with existing co-morbidities. Evidently, it seemed as if the Department was following an administrative process that would frustrate parents and thus force them to return learners to school. She asked if the Department could respond to this issue.
Secondly, there were concerns over the insufficient safety standards evident at certain schools, although she commended those which had managed to reopen with no issues arising. It was imperative that the Department recognise the schools having difficulty in adhering to the mandatory safety measures. A post circulating on Facebook within advocacy groups demanding the closure of schools, had captured evidence of a school hosting an orientation event with no social distancing measures being upheld. She asserted that the monitoring of safety standards at schools should be of utmost importance to ensure that schools remained open, especially those in vulnerable communities, and did not fall victim to the disturbances caused by the COVID-19 virus.
Referring to slide 38 of the presentation regarding the non-return of students with disabilities to school, Ms Sukers asked if the Head of Department had ensured that learners would be provided with all the necessary support material needed. She also sought clarity as to whether this applied to learners from special care centres. If not, what provisions had the DBE made for the continuation of learning, and therapeutic support for learners utilising the conditional ground outreach teams.
Lastly, she asked what could be done for the matriculants who had missed the registration dates to write their exams, and if they would be allowed to return to the schools they had previously registered at, to complete them. She also queried if provisions had been put in place for learners to write the exams in 2021 if they chose to defer.
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) asked if the DBE would be implementing a peer-revised adjustment strategy. She commented that the presentation had highlighted the areas impacted by COVID-19 and the Department’s solutions to overcome them, and asked if this would be done through the use of a risk-differentiated approach. As the COVID-19 cases were on the decline throughout the country, she voiced a level of uncertainty towards implementing such an approach, asking why the Department had chosen this direction and what the reasoning behind its use was. She said the risk-differentiated approach should have been utilised at the beginning stages of the decision-making processes in the provinces were the cases were low, but schools had remained closed in provinces such as Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
She asked if the DBE would be publishing a structural plan outlining both their and the provincial Education Departments’ support, to offer schools the choice to facilitate remote learning, and thus ensure that their support was provided throughout each province. Regarding the cases where learners had decided to remain at home, the Minister of the DBE had announced that schools would be sending books, but this had not happened. With schools re-opening, what plan was in place for those who would remain at home, and would schools create a catch-up programme for those who had not returned? As some learners had not received any education during the lockdown, she asked if there would be a compromise on the curriculum in order for this catch-up to be effective.
She asked what the Department’s views were on the belief that schools must not be closed, regardless of whether COVID-19 cases were increasing or decreasing. Could the statistics for the number of COVID-19 cases evident in private schools be made available? Considering that private schools were better equipped and resourced to effectively social distance and ensure safety measures were upheld, it could better inform Members on the impact such availability to resources had had on allowing these schools to remain open.
Lastly, she asked if there had been any teachers coming into the system from Funza Lushaka bursaries who needed to be replaced due to severe existing co-morbidities, and if so could the figures be provided. She also sought clarity on the arrangements made, if any, to guarantee that in-class teaching would continue in January, despite the shortage of teachers.
Ms C King (DA) asked which provinces had found it challenging for schools to adhere to the social distancing measures, as well as how they had been able to address these issues during the break. She asked if the provincial breakdown and statistics on how many schools remained closed due to structural challenges could be provided. In the Eastern Cape only this past Friday, a directive had been issued indicating the need for a teaching assistant, despite having the entire school break to remedy this issue. In agreement with Ms Tarabella-Marchesi, she said it would benefit the Committee if they had an indication of how many educators were needed within each province. She also asked what had been done to incorporate educators already on the Funza Lushaka bursary scheme into the system, but had not yet been placed.
In the Gauteng province, parents wanting to register their children for full-time home schooling had encountered various hurdles, some indicating that they had been trying to complete registration for five months. She therefore wanted to know if a department existed to deal with these specific issues, and what the deadline or turnaround dates would be for registration.
Regarding the support for special needs learners, Ms King said she had spoken with a few learners from Blind South Africa, who had expressed great discontentment as they had received no assistance from the Department. She asked if the Committee could receive a detailed account of which schools had been assisted, as well as how and when this had occurred. This would assist the Committee to establish an accurate account of events.
Regarding the multi-year approach on the curriculum, she queried if the curriculum had in fact been covered to fit into the year 2021, or rather shortened up until November and December 2020, when the learners were expected to write exams. She also raised concern about the consequences for the Grade 11s who would be examined only on fundamental subjects this year in order to progress to Grade 12. She asked if the Committee could receive a detailed plan as to how these Grade 11s would be assisted in moving into Grade 12 and ensure that they completed the proper Grade 12 assessment in 2021.
Ms King said she had noticed that schools had been utilising sanitisers with an alcohol base below the required 70%. After conducting scientific testing on these products, there had been concerns over the chemical ingredients found in the sanitisers, and the long term health effects they could have on learners. When questioning Parliament, she had received a generic response stating that all sanitisers had a 70% alcohol base. However, with the increase in demand, she was afraid that suppliers were not meeting the quality and health standards necessary to ensure that the sanitisers were safe for use, and instead were focused only on securing government tenders. She asked what instructions had been sent out to the suppliers.
Lastly, referring to the court case on the school feeding scheme, she said that no information had been provided on the way in which the DBE had communicated with MECs to ensure that the scheme was continuing, and that the court was regularly updated. She asked if both the directives from the Department and the MECs sent to schools could be made available to the Committee.
Ms N Mashabela (EFF) asked what preparatory work had been done with the institutions of higher education to ensure that the late release of Matric results in February 2021 did not inconvenience the enrolment of first year students. What measures had been put in place to support learners, especially those in matric, from schools that had closed due to not complying with COVID-19 regulations, with no budget to implement online teaching systems. As most schools in rural areas and townships were ill equipped to deal with controlling the spread of COVID-19 cases, she questioned why parents and the media had been barred from inspecting the conditions at these schools. This may be perceived by the public as hiding critical information regarding the readiness of schools by the Department.
Lastly, she asked what the reason was for allowing private schools to remain open while majority of public schools were closed, and how this would impact on the quality of education provision throughout the country. Furthermore, in the Western Cape both private and public schools had been exempt from enforcing the phased return of students, and had had the luxury of continuing with teaching while other parts of the country were closed. She wanted to know why the Western Cape had been allowed to operate undisturbed as if they were independent from South Africa, and how this would implicate the education system.
Dr W Boshoff (FF+) commended the work done by the DBE. Speaking on the closure of schools on 15 December 2020, he indicated that learners were supposed to be presented with their report cards on the same day. He therefore wanted to know when learners would stop writing exams so the educators had the necessary time to have the report cards ready before schools closed.
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) referred to the issue of certain principal and district directors who had been disapproving the applications of educators with co-morbidities, irrespective of them having submitted all the necessary supporting documents, and asked for clarity on this matter. Evidentially, information indicated that ten million learners had returned to school, with three million remaining at home. She asked the Department if a detailed report on this issue could be presented during the Committee meeting next week.
Regarding the trimming of the curriculum, she asked what accommodation had been made for situations where educators or learners were tested positive for COVID-19, especially for schools in rural areas where online schooling was not an available option. She asked if a “no road” approach could be included, where no teaching at all took place. Regarding the matter of home schooling and late registration, she asked what portion of the school fees parents were expected to pay, seeing that learners had not attended school. Who was paying the staff that had been dispatched to provide the COVID-19 screening at schools, as some staff members had not received any stipends yet?
She asked that specific follow-up questions regarding the non-payment of pensions for Ms Reginah Grabe and Mr Klappie be addressed.
Regarding the proposal sent to the DG on the matter of reopening early childhood development centres, considering that they were non-profit organisations (NPOs) and received their funding from parents, she voiced their request to receive funding from the DBE in order to pay staff members a stipend, and to purchase PPE. She had never received a response from the Department, and asked for the matter to be addressed.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said credit should continue to be given to the Department for its ability to adapt to the ongoing changes, as it was not an easy task. He asked if the matter of the school calendar could be clarified by the DG, as well as the meaning of the dates stipulated. Regarding the co-morbidities of educators, when the issue was previously addressed, the Committee had been presented with the option to employ substitute teachers to fill these vacancies, as online teaching was not a viable option in rural communities. He asked the Department for an update, as well as an indication if this was still a feasible solution. While sitting in the district command council in his area, it had become apparent that the Department required more information on the health of educators than doctors were willing to divulge due the doctor-patient confidentiality clause. In the Mopani district, 166 applications had been received, with only nine being granted concessions,18 applications were still being processed in the office of the Head of Department, and 103 had been returned for more details, which were protected by confidentiality. He asked if the Department could clarify on this issue of communication.
Ms D van der Walt (DA) asked if DG could provide percentages of the schools still not ready to reopen. As there were two grades being phased in from next week, the national and provincial statistics would be of great assistance. The school calendar stipulates that Matric exams would begin on 5 November and end by 15 November, but the South African Teachers Union (SATU) had issued a statement yesterday demanding that matric results be postponed. She asked what the Department’s reaction was to this, as schools could not be continuously disturbed. She also inquired if it was possible for the DG to provide provincial statistics specific to education, which outlined the infection rate as well the recovery time of educators and learners, as well as the unfortunate cases of death. Lastly, she asked what the implications were for schools, provinces or specific individuals who did not abide by the COVID-19 protocols, and what action was taken during such instances of non-compliance.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) apologised for her lateness as a result of technical difficulties, and said she had no questions but rather comments on various points. Regarding the fact that only 76 days remained for teaching, she hoped that the Department had preparations in place beyond this. Other than the continuous risk of COVID infections in classrooms, a month of teaching had been lost due to disruptions. She emphasised the need to be mindful that they were dealing with an invisible enemy, with no indication of when it would disappear. With lockdown levels being lowered and parents returning to work, schools staying open was a necessity. She argued for the need to intensify the monitoring and support from the Department, to ensure that learners were able to attend school and thus ease the anxiety and stresses educators and parents were experiencing. Furthermore, the resources available at these schools, such water supplies, should be available for use by all members within the communities where the water supplies were low.
Ms Adoons asserted that when faced with such challenges, the Department should call upon all stakeholders involved, as well as other departments, to create effective solutions. She also stressed the importance of ensuring that students were not left with the stigma of not being educated sufficiently as a result of the COVID-19 challenges.
The Chairperson commends the DM and the DG for the presentation, as well as for their leadership during these times of uncertainty. She sought clarity on the payment of school fees since learners had not been attending. Minister Motshekga had previously elaborated on the reasons why parents needed to keep paying the school fees, but due to the unfortunate loss of jobs, parents had been struggling financially and could not afford these costs. She asked if parents would be required to pay for the remaining months as learners returned to schools, or if they would be asked to pay fees from March, when the schools had been closed.
She expressed her displeasure towards some Members who had brought issues to the meeting which could have been telephonically resolved between the Department and the Member privately. The issues on individual cases, such as the need for pension payments, did not need to be addressed at the Committee, unless the DG and DM were non-responsive to Members.
She invited Deputy Minister Mhaule to lead the responses.
DM Mhaule began by responding to Ms Adoons comments. She explained that the Department was faced with many responsibilities which required the assistance of all departments collectively. When building schools in communities, that assistance was needed from Public Works, municipalities, Water and Sanitation and other stakeholders. However, when building a school in a community with no water and electricity, the DBE could not provide such resources. Although they were one integrated government, and could not escape the blame, if the building and maintenance of schools was not a core business of another department, it would not be seen as a priority.
Regarding the payment of school fees, she commented that over the last four weeks, schools had been on holiday and throughout all previous years, parents haf paid for every month of the school year.
For the benefit of South Africa, the Department felt that learners should not stay at home and instead come to school to be educated, as well as to sustain certain schools such as the independent and private schools. In certain instances, it was apparent that government could not provide sufficient schools in a specifc area, so private schools had been established to support the work of government. As such, it was in the interests of the government to ensure that these private schools were sustainable and did not close. This was why they had closed when the public schools were opened, as they had already been closed for a month prior. The Department had agreed that they could continue with teaching, as it would be unfair for them to close and if they took an extended break, parents would most likely refuse to pay the fees. It was imperative that fees continue to be paid as teachers were still working despite schools being closed.
On the issue of co-morbidities, she said that educators who applied with the necessary documents were granted the approval needed. The Department was not asking doctors to break confidentiality --they were aware of what information was needed for the concession to be approved.
The DM said she would not answer all the questions raised since she had brought a team of technocrats to assist, and the questions would be shared among them. She handed over to the DG.
Mr Mweli said that all the administrative glitches regarding parents’ decisions to keep learners at home would be removed. There was a joint responsibility in terms of the duty of care between the state and the guardians of learners. Although parents would have to live with the consequences if they decided to keep their children at home, they should not be punished for this. He indicated that the safety standards were being monitored, and the Department would receive more information on these matters and whether there had been compliance with the regulations from schools.
Regarding special needs learners, he said that support applied to them the same way it applies to those in schools. The Department would not disadvantage these learners because they were in the Department of Social Development.
Speaking on the matter of the matriculants who would not be writing their final exams this year, he explained that there would be another opportunity to write in May and June 2021. The Department had met with youth staff and the Forum for Universities of South Africa to inquire what had been done to ensure that these learners were not disadvantaged by receiving their results later, and they had reassured him that this would not be an issue. They would be meeting with other assessment bodies to negotiate the synchronisation of the releasing of the results.
Regarding the implementation of the risk approach, he asserted that the country was not out of the woods yet and there was the possibility of a second wave, so this approach had been considered to ensure future preparedness. This would allow for schools to remain open in different provinces.
The information regarding the support provinces provided to learners was collected on a weekly basis. He applauded the Committee for their patience, and said that this information would be presented at the next meeting. He added that a catch-up programme had been created for all matriculants, and that Dr Maboya would elaborate on what had been conducted for the other grades.
He argued that schools needed to remain open for as long as possible, and pointed out that in some countries, schools had not closed at all. The World Health Organisation had stipulated that only if the infection rate was high should schools be closed in order to protect the safety of learners. The risk-adjusted approach was used as a means to assess if schools were too dangerous to remain open. He said that Members and the Department must remain patient with the nation whilst such information was being shared.
Regarding the concessions for co-morbidities, he said that out of the 27 000 applications received, 22 000 had been approved based upon the information made available. If an individual required assistance, it was imperative for all the necessary information to be provided. He referred Members to the Disaster Management Act, which outlined which rights and privileges applied, and said the right to life was paramount during a pandemic and trumped the rest, including the right to privacy. Those who refused to give the information required, needed to read the Disaster Management Act.
On the matter of marking, he said that teachers would not be marking up until March because results would be finalised in January, and were scheduled to be released on 23 February. After the results were finalised, there would be a standardisation process up until their release.
The Department met every single morning at 6am to check up on which schools had not re-opened as a result of the unavailability of water and sanitation, and so far all nine provinces had guaranteed that no school would remain closed. Furthermore, no school would remain closed due to health and structural implications. The DG said the officials would meet from tomorrow till Friday to discuss these issues, and would deliver all the necessary information to Members next week.
With 22 000 educators granted concessions, not all provinces had been able to fill all the vacancies. He drew Members’ attention to new information, noting that the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) was developing a remote framework which would raise the education environment to medium risk, which might require teachers with co-morbidities to return to work.
He said the time frame to register for home schooling was 30 days, as outlined on the Departmental website.
The DBE met with organisations such as the Deaf Education Principals’ Association of South Africa (DEPASA), which represents learners with disabilities, on a weekly basis and they had not raised any issues. They had also met with Blind South Africa, but they would follow-up and inquire about the issues brought to the meeting.
The DG said that a breakdown of the support provided to schools would be discussed at the next meeting. The quality of the sanitisers and PPE provided to schools would also be updated next week, as well as the non-compliance with COVID regulations. The directive sent to suppliers had been done by Treasury, which had specified the appropriate safety conditions for these products.
Regarding parents and the media conducting inspections at schools, Mr Mweli said he would love for this to take place, but experts had expressed their concern that this could increase the risk of infections in schools. The Department was strict on the number of visits allowed to schools, as they did not want to put learners and educators at risk.
Regarding the opening of private schools, he said that they had never gone on a break at the same time as public schools. Their schools calendars were independent to those of public schools. He added that the Western Cape was not the only province that had applied for a deviation to allow grades to return. There had been requests from many other provinces, but this information would be presented and discussed at next week’s meeting.
The amendment to the school calendar had been made to allow for more teaching days, and usually learners left before the school’s management. Regarding the three million students who did not return to school, the Government Gazette explains that Grades eight and five would be returning on 31 August according to the phased-in approach.
Regarding deregistration, he explained that it was up to parents to register their children for home schooling. If they did not attend school for 30 days, they were automatically deregistered.
He said the screeners appointed at schools had been dispatched through the DBE, the community, development work programmes, as well as Public Works. Some provinces have been delayed in paying staff, but if Members asked employees who employed them, the Department could inquire on the matter. The same could be done on the issue of pensions not being paid. The Department could assist, although it might take some time.
Regarding the NPO early childhood development centres, they applied to the Solidarity Fund and had been given the information of how to do this so that assistance could be provided.
Lastly, Mr Mweli said that the COVID-19 statistics specifically relating to education would be collected over the week and made available during next week’s presentation. When there was non-compliance the Department usually sought out the legal route for assistance.
On the issue of learners not having two masks and the correct PPE, he said that the directions had been published to ensure that students received them and that schools adhered to these regulations. He asked Members to bring these matters to his attention if this was not the case.
He thanked Ms Adoons for her comments, as well as for continuing to inspire the Department.
Dr Mabayo responded to the scenarios presented, and voiced her appreciation for the comments directed towards them. Regarding the suggested “no road” approach, she commented that this was in fact included in the “low road,” which speaks on the situation where 60 percent of teaching time was lost. It was unlikely that the country would experience a 100 percent loss of teaching time, as schools had been operational during the first quarter, so the “no road” was already accommodated. She explained that the objective of these scenarios was to assist schools with their ability to identify the risks as early as possible and to establish measures which mitigated these risks.
Speaking on the support for the Grade 11s, she said that they were a priority especially with regard to the identification of key competencies for 2020, and those which needed to be covered in 2021. Although all grades were of equal importance, special attention was being given to the Grade 11s, as they were the matric class of 2021. All other grades would be assessed through the use of class tests, but for the Grade 11s, provision had been made for schools to administer exams for the fundamental subjects such as the languages, mathematics and maths literacy. For all other elective subjects, class tests could be administered.
Ms Geyer clarified the matter on the school calendar, explaining that it had been created in such a way that would maximise the remaining 16 weeks of teaching. In order for the curriculum to be covered successfully, the date for the closure of schools had been postponed to 15 December. Like every other previous school year, learners would leave three days before schools closed to allow teachers the time to prepare their reports. The only slight difference was that this process was taking place later in the year than usual.
Mr Paddy Padayachee, Deputy Director General: Planning, Information and Assessment, DBE, referred to the co-morbidities of educators, and said that as these individuals were not currently sick but rather at higher risk of fatalities if exposed to the virus, there was still the expectation that they would continue to work. As the DG had indicated, within the DPSA framework these matters needed to be managed correctly, and to do this individuals needed to report to work, which was also stipulated in the agreement itself. Furthermore, the co-morbidities listed as acceptable for concessions had come from the Department of Health. However, within various provinces there were applicants with health issues outside of those stated, which had been taken to the health risk managers and health practitioners for review. Thus, there was leniency towards what was considered as grounds for concession. If there was a disagreement about the rejection of an application, the employee had the right to declare a dispute and undertake the necessary process to resolve the matter. It was preferred if doctors were able to assist and provide the necessary information, subject to the confidentiality clause which could be shared with the doctors employed by the provincial Departments.
The DBE had recently discovered that when the concessions were introduced in June, many educators above 60 who were about to retire had withdrawn their applications, and those who qualified had decided to retire. He elaborated that when looking for a substitute, it was imperative to employ a like-for-like for key subjects, so if there were fewer grades needing this assistance, there was little pressure on the matter. This would change over the coming days, but it was also dependent on numerous variables. Some schools may not have all learners returning, as some parents had decided to home school their children. There were also instances where schools could rearrange the ways in which teaching was conducted, but they would need to employ a substitute. Education assistants had been introduced in certain provinces who acted as a link between the teachers working from home and the classroom. Currently, over 800 young people had been employed in this position.
Mr Padayachee said that applications had been received for marking matric exams from educators who had been granted concessions from teaching in classrooms. He explained that legal council was being used to assist in dealing with the matter, as some educators found marking venues and shopping malls to be safer than classrooms. Referring back to the substitutes, he highlighted that no person over the age of 60 may apply for the position, and it was compulsory that medical reports be submitted indicating that they had no existing co-morbidities. If the Department utilised a like-for-like employment strategy, it would cost over R6 billion rand for a six month period, which was not feasible, as employees in the public service also needed to be compensated. With this issue, there was the need to ensure that work was being conducted from home by educators, as well as to ensure the safety of classrooms. Since June, the Department had discovered a number of innovations in this regard, where a large number of qualified professionals from the private sector who had lost their jobs due to COVID were applying to be employed as replacements.
Regarding the Funza Lushaka bursary programme, he said that since 2014 over 21 000 educators had been available as replacements, with over 19 000 already being placed at schools. At the start of 2020, 2 500 individuals were available for employment, but evidence from July indicated that 1 114 had already been employed as replacements at schools, leaving 1 387 available. From the graduating cohort from 2019, 4 294 were eligible by June, with just under 60% (2 561) already employed, leaving 1 743 available. There were currently 4 500 students in their final year who would be undergoing their teaching practicals in September and October of this year, to ensure that they could be of assistance to replace educators at schools.
Adoption of minutes
The Chairperson took Members through the draft minutes.
Dr Thembekwayo asked for her credentials to be corrected in the minutes.
Ms Shabalala moved the adoption of the minutes, and was second by Mr Moroatshehla.
The meeting was adjourned.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.