Zero Dropout Campaign: briefing & DBE response; with Deputy Minister

Basic Education

06 October 2020
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, (NA) 06 Oct 2020

The Zero Dropout Campaign shared its key research findings on the school dropout crisis in South Africa. The research highlighted how a coordinated approach to tackle disengagement and re-engage learners into schools is crucial. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the crisis and caused disruption likely to lead to more dropouts. It outlined strategic options to reduce school dropout. The campaign’s recommendations were to:
• Make dropout a key performance indicator (KPI) and set reduction targets.
• Improve data and monitoring by expediting the re-write of the South African School Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS), universalise it and link to Learner Unit Record Information and Tracking System (LURITS) to build an Early Warning System
• Provide psycho-social support linked to the Early Warning System.

Most of the discussion focused on the need for tracking learners moving in and out of the system to improve decision making based on real-time data. It was suggested a cause for dropout is that the current curriculum is not relevant to everyday demands. There was both support and opposition for the current progression policy. On the one hand, retention of learners is demotivating whilst, on the other hand, having learners progress without foundational knowledge does not bode well for strong outcomes. Members noted that female learners have performed better in matric than male learners and the problems of gangsterism and violence were raised. A request was made to have a special programme focusing on learners in child-headed households. Members discussed the challenge of the unavailability of data on dropouts but the definition of the dropout as an indicator has to be completely coherent.

Meeting report

Zero Dropout Campaign
Ms Merle Mansfield, Zero Dropout Campaign Programme Director, presented Spotlight on Dropout in South Africa. She provided an overview of key research findings and strategic options on how dropouts can be avoided, disengagement of learners reduced and improvement in learning outcomes.

She highlighted that dropouts should be seen as a process and therefore something that can be prevented. One of the aims of the research was to address definition anomalies, formalise indicators, and make dropout a KPI. Emphasis was on considering dropout holistically and a considerable amount of time was spent researching both global and national perspectives.

The key aim of the Zero Dropout Campaign is to work towards halving the rate of school dropouts by 2030 in line with the National Development Goals. This target is to be achieved in collaboration with NGOs in provinces across the country to test learner-level data tracking as well as psychosocial support.

Disengagement is a term used globally to describe “how learners are gradually affected by a process and interaction of factors and lose the ability to focus in school”. The presentation categorised the factors into push out and pull out factors. Push out factors act in the school space and include poor teaching and learning; poor learner outcomes which heighten a learner's disengagement. Pull out factors are linked to communities, family factors, inequalities, poverty, and experience of trauma which heighten disengagement. Disengagement is a term now being used globally to describe how learners are gradually affected by a process, and an interaction of factors, and lose the ability to focus in school. There are a number of factors. Most focus on the ‘push-out’ factors, such as poor attainment, failure and repetition, and poor teaching. There are a range of other factors – the ‘pull-out’ factors, which are generally within the family and community. These are issues such as the effects of poverty, inequality, and poor levels of child support.

It is thought that it is mainly learning-related issues that drive dropout. It was their finding that the problem is far more complex, and sits within the disengagement area, which is affected by more than just what is taking place, or not taking place at the school. Disengagement happens over a period of time so there is an opportunity to engage it and to re-engage learners before the eventual occurrence of dropout of learners.

Solving the dropout crisis lies in providing ongoing psychosocial support, with targeted support by monitoring and tracking learner-level data.

Of importance is the loop between teaching and learning, learner outcomes and disengagement. Currently, reviews are underway on teaching and learning interventions which are seen as pivotal in addressing disengagement. Disengagement is the root cause for dropping out and a range of other learner outcomes. The main recommendation is focusing on psychosocial support interventions, which are being championed globally to address disengagement. This tool can be used to target learners that have exited the school system and need to be re-engaged into the system.

Ms Mansfield presented an alarming statistic that 40% of learners who start school in Grade 1 will exit the school system before completing Grade 12. She noted:
• The education sector receives the lion’s share of the government budget
• Despite the investment, around 40% of learners who start school will not finish
• This has largely been a hidden crisis
• No proper data tracking and monitoring to accurately reflect the extent of the problem
• Despite the knock-on effect of dropout on unemployment and social spending, there is no national task team or coordinated effort to tackle the problem.

It is important that before dropout occurs, it is important to catch learners with interventions using early warning systems, proper data tracking and monitoring as well as psychosocial support. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified disruptions that lead to dropout.

Ms Ange Biden, Policy Consultant, elaborated on the campaign’s recommendations:


Building a resilient education system will be achieved by building learner-level data tracking. Research shows that one of the best ways to prevent dropout is through effective monitoring systems. Such systems will be used to track learner progress and to alert education officials when learners are at risk of dropping out. She highlighted the establishment of efficient referral systems which will be used to identify learners at risk earlier and hence the necessary support provided before disengagement.

• Make dropout reduction a KPI and set and set reduction targets.
• Improve data and monitoring: expedite the SA-SAMS re-write, universalise and link to LURITS to build an early warning system (EWS) and facilitate implementation of improved data practices
• Provide psycho-social support: have a national Psychosocial Support Strategy linked to the EWS.

Deputy Minister’s remarks
Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Reginah Mhaule, said that due to COVID 19, many learners in some provinces have not come back to school. She described the situation as a moving post which was dependent on the conditions on the ground, society and family. The Department appreciates partners it can work with. It is an issue that cannot be dealt with by the Education Department alone but needs civil society, moral regeneration, traditional leaders — it needs everyone. If everyone works together as a team, the dropout rate can reach zero.

Director-General’s remarks
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, Director-General, DBE, appreciated the presentation and invited them to a further engagement with a team of curriculum specialists and researchers in the Department. The Director- General commended the Unique Tracking Identifier system highlighted in the presentation and observed that the team should have also reflected on the limitations of their research finding. Psychosocial support is but one aspect/lens, and there are a myriad of dimensions. A linear approach to analysing the dropout rate in a system as big and complex as education is problematic. It is flawed to assume that all learners who have not reached the exit grade have dropped out. The biggest challenge in Basic Education is the failure and repetition rate. There is a strong correlation between failure, grade repetition and the dropout rate.

Analysis of Learner Dropout Rate
Dr Stephen Taylor, advisor and researcher in the Director-General's Office, presented an analysis of the dropout rate and measures taken to reduce this, especially in light of the COVID-19 disruptions in schooling.

The UNESCO official definition for dropout is grade-specific - the percentage of children in a particular grade in a particular year who do not manage to continue to the following grade nor repeat that year.

The presentation covered the problem with the “real matric pass rate” that is portrayed in the media which uses an approach that is often flawed or coupled with biases in calculations. There are other means of arriving at ‘what percentage of youth finish grade 12’. An analysis of matric completion rates measured using General Household Survey data revealed that at least 50% of youths complete grade 12, females are more likely to finish grade 12 than males. Whichever method is used in these analyses, there has been improvement over time.

What was important to note was that upper secondary education completion rates for South Africa were similar to other middle-income countries.

Findings from an analysis of self-reported reasons for dropping out in the General Household Survey include no money for fees, illness and disability, to mention a few. In other studies, often cited reasons for dropping out include female pregnancy. Other reasons include grade repetition which should be seen as a symptom of weak learning outcomes plus education system inefficiencies. Other international literature highlight causes in a development context such as poverty and income shocks, household need for labour and health problems.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a possible short-term and long-term impact anticipated though no data is yet provided. The pandemic is likely to lead to more disengagement. The COVID-19 school closures have meant large and unequal losses in learning. International studies show that these large learning losses are predictive of lifelong outcomes, including educational attainment and labour market performance.

Conclusions and recommendations:
• deal with the fundamental causes of dropout (weak learning foundations)
• now schools are open again, protect teaching time and keep schools open as far as possible
• continue to mitigate the triggers of dropout
• create alternative educational pathways (three-stream model, general education certificate).

It is recommended that the Committee discusses measures to be taken to reduce dropout, especially considering the COVID-19 disruption to schooling.

The Chairperson thanked the Zero Dropout Campaign and the Department for providing their perspectives.

Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) appreciated the Zero Dropout Campaign's recommendation to have key performance indicator (KPI) specifically for dropout and was keen to know DBE's response to this and if they would consider having a budget that goes with the target. Likewise, the individual learner tracking system seems like something that should be done. The majority have ID numbers and it is something for DBE to consider.

She agreed with the Director-General that the focus of the non-profit organisation (NPO) was how to determine the number of learners that are dropping out of the system more than focusing on what is causing the dropping out. But in the same breath she said that it is important to know how many learners have dropped out of the system. Up to now, DBE has not been able to provide an accurate percentage of learners who have been dropping out of the system.

For DBE to say they do not have the numbers of learners that have dropped out during COVID-19 is alarming because it will only be revealed when the matric results are out. The learner tracking system needs to be reported daily and a plan for tracking missing learners needs to be put in place. She emphasised the need to look at Early Childhood Development (ECD) and the Foundation Phase. It would be interesting to see the measures put in place during the pandemic and if it has been fruitful.

On the UNESCO report that “the upper completion of secondary school rate in South Africa is similar to that of middle-income countries”, she requested further details in comparison to the other countries. How is SA doing in terms of the dropout rate? On grade repetition, this repetition would mean that eventually the number of learners in a certain class would be high but that is not the case. For this reason, people are concluding that the dropout rate is high.

On policies put in place, there was a policy for multiple opportunity examinations that did not work. There is a need to have more policies to ensure the Foundation Phase works well. She asked both the Zero Dropout Campaign team and DBE to explain what policies can be put in place to ensure that our Foundation Phase assists in reducing the dropout rate

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) appreciated the presentations. Coming from the constituency period and visiting schools, it is clear to see the impact of the pandemic on attendance. A trend can be seen of what the country will be facing if no interventions to retain learners are put in place.

She posed questions to DBE about the importance of data to understand the full extent of the problem. Firstly, how much funding is put aside for research? She asked about the interventions to obtain data. She raised concern that teachers and administrators, specifically in poorer schools who cannot get the data for monitoring, are being asked to do too many things. We are putting a further burden on a system that is overwhelmed. She referred to the constituency visits she conducted where she noted principals overwhelmed by the amount of administration and feedback that they need to give in provinces.

Ms Sukers referred to the case study of Amy Lee, aged 21, in the presentation and said the need for a National Senior Certificate for Adults (NASCA) has been brought up previously. This programme should be looked at now because even more learners may not complete matric this year. It can be a programme equivalent to matric and caters to learners who have dropped out. She asked if it would be possible to fast-track the NASCA which is critical, and what the impact of implementing NASCA would be on ensuring that learners who dropped out can acquire matric.

It is often said that teachers cannot adequately attend to the needs of all learners due to the heavy workload and the pressures of the school calendar coupled with large class sizes and their administrative work. Learners that have learning difficulties such as ADD can affect the dropout rate since assistance from teachers does not come fast enough.

She highlighted the importance of having support systems or interventions for learners with learning difficulties. She asked the NGO how the COVID pandemic has affected the work that implementing agencies do. Lastly, she said the information presented by DBE is out of date spanning ten years. Does the DBE allocate enough funds for research? She emphasised that if you do not have the data you cannot respond properly to challenges.

Mr S Ngcobo (ANC) acknowledged the huge load teachers are confronted with due to Covid-19. There has to be ongoing assistance in assisting teachers in schools. It is important to note that at times the fault lies with provincial departments that do not respond in time, or in other cases, principals who are getting used to the pandemic. DBE must give assurance of assistance to those affected and most vulnerable. He commended DBE for its statement that it will try everything possible to protect time and keep teachers in school.

Ms C King (DA) agreed with the need for having an individual learner tracking identifier that can be linked to a system – an inter-sectoral reference strategy. The status quo, SA School Administration and Management System (SA‐SAMS), is not linked to the Health and Social Development Departments. Hence one is not able to keep track of those learners who have health and underlying conditions which can be a factor for their educational needs.

She suggested that the national progression policy needs to be reviewed. Currently, a child can repeat only once. This means that most of these learners although they have not mastered the content are pushed through to the next level.

The current curriculum is not relevant to everyday demands which then causes dropouts from school. This is because learners are unable to cope in the mainstream and fear being left behind as it does not cater to their specific needs. South Africa mostly focuses on the “academic child” or the “sports child” and we often forget that South Africa has mufti-faceted learners.

She noted that most learners are on social welfare with parents enrolling them in January but they drop out in October and November. This is done simply with the intention to have the social welfare payout. She questioned if DBE had done any research on this to look at which months most dropouts happen and linked the results to Social Development to discover the trends.

She noted the introduction of the General Education Certificate which would help. However, there is still a need for a tracking system to see that after learners have exited the basic education sphere that when they go onto college, they can still be tracked so they don’t fall part of the unemployment rate. She questioned if this was done.

Ms King expressed concern that the policy in White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education is clearly written but lacks consistency in its implementation where learners should have access to psychosocial support. She gave the example of the Western Cape where the district school-based teams are very effective when it comes to social support. However, most challenges faced are with the learning support advisors (LSAs). She asked if it is still effective to use LSAs at schools or look for different ways to provide psychosocial support to learners.

Lastly, Ms King agreed with the suggested KPI because what is not measured does not get done. Indicators can show different intervals where learners drop out and the type of support given and the interventions put in to enrol learners back into some form of education.

Ms N Shabalala (ANC) expressed her interest in the female child being more likely to pass matric than the male child. This is despite the challenge of teenage pregnancy tearing schools apart. She encouraged DBE to investigate child-headed households to see they are followed up as those learners are most affected in terms of dropping out. She requested DBE have a special programme focusing on child-headed households.

Ms N Mashabela (EFF) said that most learners do not dropout because of laziness or because they are disinterested in school. She says they conduct regular oversight giving them knowledge of what is happening on the ground. Challenges causing dropouts in South Africa are poor infrastructure and poor sanitation which DBE has failed to address for the past 25 years. Even during COVID-19 most schools are closed due to poor infrastructure, lack of water and sanitation which causes a lot of dropouts. There is a need for remedial educators in all schools to deal with slow learners and reduce grade repetition.

Mr E Siwela (ANC) indicated that the Zero Dropout Campaign placed an emphasis on learner tracking systems but the South African School Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS) and Learner Unit Record Information and Tracking System (LURITS) were designed to track learners and classroom attendance. These and quarterly registers are instruments to give feedback to DBE to track learner attendance. Emphasis should be on analyzing the information coming from the registers to determine attendance and to make proper follow up.

He asked for the contextual factors besides what the NGO has provided about push and pull factors. There is no mention of what these are and asked for more information to determine which are pull or push factors.

Seeing the emphasis placed on the learner tracking system, Mr Siwela asked if the SA-SAMS or LURITS was not designed to do that and asked about its effectiveness in tracking attendance at school.

Ms N Adoons (ANC) noted the presentations were silent on certain matters seriously affecting schools and communities. Research data was not provided showing the reality of life in South Africa. She gave the example of the criminal factor affecting young people, mostly young boys. Juvenile rehabilitation centres are always full of young people under the age of 18. What kind of support they get in those situations was missing in the presentations.

Secondly, there is the poverty challenge among the poorest in communities. Poverty causes dropouts as they are unable to focus due to hunger and have to find means to get food. Orphans face similar challenges. The School Nutrition programme has intervened in keeping learners in school by providing breakfast and lunch. This ought to be supported and continue to grow in all schools.

Both reports talk about failure and grade repetition as the causes for learner dropout which she supported and acknowledged. However, she asked how private schools are doing in terms of dropouts. What can public schools learn to assist in improving government schools?

Ms Adoons supported an individual learner tracking system especially from the Foundation Phase, from when a child is born to where they end up in the schooling system. How do we track the resources invested in a particular learner throughout the system to determine their impact?

It has been noted that some learners from other countries enrol in January and come and take the learning materials and then leave as they have to buy these in their own countries. This adds to the number of dropouts. She supported the recommendation that the tracking system be made a KPI for DBE

The Chairperson asked for clarity from the Zero Dropout Campaign having noticed that DBE is using SA-SAMS to track the data, she wanted to how data for dropouts is tracked?

The Chairperson referred to the slide showing the care and support provided in the school. She asked if this is being done in collaboration with DBE or if they consult DBE as DBE is having a social cohesion programme and she wondered if there is a link between the two. Dropouts has been there in the system and had been a concern for quite some time. Without disregarding the recommendations made, she noted the challenge with the country’s inability to track the dropouts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the near future, where they are and what they are doing, and its impact on the country.

Zero Dropout Campaign response
Ms Biden clarified that the NGO covered and studied the same studies as those featured in the DBE presentation. She says their work sought to understand dropout at each grade level; therefore their entire programme was aimed at monitoring school dropouts at the level of the class as based on the UNESCO definition. A challenge was the unavailability of this information although dropout should be captured. However, the nature of the dropout definition as an indicator has to be completely coherent. Currently, a learner moving from the Eastern Cape to Johannesburg may or may not be captured as a dropout. This shows the gaps in the system. The correct definition for UNESCO is key when it comes to classifying dropout.

She addressed Ms Marchesi on the question about early learning. The correlation between early learning and successful school completion is valid. However, dropout takes place even for very strong early learners. Dropouts are not a senior school problem that can simply be solved by plugging in teaching and learning at the Foundation Phase.

Addressing the disengagement problem means all teaching and learning interventions including early learning can get better traction. Strengthening data systems and the ability to assess how well children are doing will add value to the early learning and reading programmes. She acknowledged this to be a valid concern. The aim is to build a system enabling teachers to work smart and not hard. Support may be required at the transition period but the hopes are that sufficient data on learners would save the teachers the trouble of trial and error in diagnosing problems allowing them to stick to the business of teaching and learning.

On the role of the learner support agent (LSA), she recalled a case study example of the National Association of Child and Youth Care Workers (NACCW) in a district which had a model for coupling child and youth care workers and LSA in every school they worked in. This was successful when applied in the social development context. This coupling gave an extra element of human resources which enabled both parties to enrich their work. Child and Youth Care workers were involved in a one-on-one intervention that is deemed highly necessary. The support team would bring in enriching activities (sporting and fun after-school activities) which built morale and camaraderie and a sense of safety among the children.  She suggested that schools adopt a model that make use of a three-member team, including an administrator to handle the challenging data element, a child or youth care worker or someone from DSD (Department of Social Development).

The role of grade repetition hits on the problem of disengagement where you have poor teaching and poor learning outcomes and learners repeating. A study by JET found a strong correlation with grade repetition. There is a need to look into the progression policy. However, that will be a challenge until the problem of poor teaching and learning is resolved. Solving teaching and learning would be more easily achieved if they are to implement suggested strategies with highly engaged learners. The problem is the cycle of disengagement because of poor teaching and learning and repetition and low morale, self-esteem, and challenges in the home life.

On SA-SAMS and LURITS, Ms Biden replied that these instruments are excellent when it comes to education management information systems compared to other countries. South Africa is flying the flag in that regard. However, there is a need to work on 100% coherence which needs to be worked on to ensure that if a learner moves, DBE is aware and is able to track that learner. The software is developed for a specific purpose. They both function well for their purpose. Currently, they are at a stage where they need more functionality in the software as compared to the early days of using it. There is a need for a committee to step in to facilitate interoperability so that the different software between departments can better link up to achieve the 100% cohesion

On the contextual factors in the push-out and pull out factors, there is a research paper showing the different causes and their sources, grouped as family factors, individual factors and school factors. Access to the research would be provided.

On the violence element raised by Ms Adoons, this should be looked into in the long run – about the ways to bring in diverse datasets. However, there is complexity in that due to the sensitive nature of the data.

However, the question about violence raises the broader debate on violence against women and children There is a need to focus on data that can directly impact on learners – such as social and health development in the early stages – and look at gender violence in the long run and work on collaboration with the police and the Department of Justice.

The Campaign obtained data by putting in an informal request at district level to access the required data. The data came in different formats which made it hard to do a comprehensive analysis for the different provinces that process data differently.

Ms Biden noted that one challenge in the provision of data at provincial level is that collecting data from the district level means you are already too far removed from the learner level. This is because there is already data that they can only get at an aggregated level. You need to know the actual dates a learner missed school and although teachers have the register, it is never captured electronically, making it hard to figure out dropout levels from the gathered data.

There were also gaps in collecting data. A baseline study was conducted to get all the data for all classes in which NGOs were working. However, only some of the data was collected but not enough to figure out the dropout level even at the baseline level.

As to whether they engage with DBE, Ms Mansfield said the organisation wanted to build a strong relationship with the Department. They were encouraged to liaise with the districts in which they worked because they needed permission for access to be doing their work. They engaged with the provincial departments, the principals and the teachers. They are looking to develop a system for an ongoing engagement with DBE and to support in any way possible with the human resources available.

Dropping out is a broad challenge in the Western Cape due to gangsterism and disengagement which makes it difficult for the learners due to their difficult day-to-day challenges. Learners are unable to stay after school for psychological support activities because of the lack of safety. In the Eastern Cape, they have a different set of challenges such as the perceived low potential for success in general for learners and low learning outcomes. There are a lot of differences in the provinces. That is why the data approach provides a systematic way of understanding these differences as there is no one-size-fits-all solution but rather one deals with the specific challenges faced by each province.

She says that from her experience visiting schools, the problem is universal and that students are affected severely. Those learners with special needs and even the best learners can get pushed through the whole way to matric without actually ever passing a year.

Ms Mansfield replied to the question about matric exams for adults. They are working on a modelling research exercise with Dr Martin Gustafsson on the matric fringe. They are trying to model and review the previous success of the Second Chance Matric Programme. From on-the-ground experience, she noted the difficulty young people find to navigate that space in terms of access and their community challenges and accessing the appropriate mechanism of systems to be successful. She would be delighted to share the research and present it to Parliament once the research has been completed.

The impact of COVID-19 on their work required adaptation. It moved to being able to provide some form of connection with learners whilst schools were closed and to respond to the immediate needs that were arising for learners at risk in their home spaces. They continue to find and provide alternatives when learners are not able to come into the school space.

Home learning strategies were put in place such as in the Western Cape. They provide learning material but also work to protect the mental health of learners while they are at home, by helping them navigate the factors playing out within the household because these impacts were amplified by COVID-19. They supported schools by managing activities such as homework support, phone calls as follow-up to parents and learners who were identified as high-risk learners to ensure they are quickly engaged by schools.
Meaningful meeting programmes were shifted onto a WhatsApp platform that allows parents and learners to access literacy programmes.

Ms Mansfield replied about the how the curriculum plays into dropout and if there is a consideration for a curriculum update. There is a potential to predict and track dropouts once the data is collected at the learner level. They are uncovering in their work that even alternate mechanisms or pathways are still challenging for learners. Therefore deeper understanding would be important to strengthen that particular approach.

Ms Biden replied that DBE has noted how the girl child is more likely to pass matric. This gender difference is reflected in research on completion of schooling. The current knowledge is that the elements and factors impacting engagement by male and female children are different. Therefore the need arises to understand the factors at the individual level so that the interventions are successful.

She gave the example of their work in KwaZulu Natal with the NACCW where they found a high teenage pregnancy prevalence was causing dropout. They looked into education around safe sex and contraception but noted learners have challenges with access and do not see the relevance of clinic services. After working with the health sector a decline in pregnancy prevalence within the schools was seen. Therefore, more emphasis should be put on understanding what impacts learners at the learner's level based on gender and background context.

Ms Mansfield replied about the criminal factor that affects young people particularly boys. She said a data-driven system would allow them to respond in a way that pulls in various departments in addressing the interventions we need for our learners. She stressed that an opportunity exists to access children within the country, within the school space, and address and effect change at a societal level.

Ms Mansfield spoke about creating a caring environment with an informed response that is based on evidence. This comprehensive approach needs to be created so that learners can be engaged even in the face of secondary risk factors like crime.

Deputy Minister response
Deputy Minister Mhaule expressed her desire that the Zero Dropout Campaign had gone to DBE to share notes and expertise and practices before coming to the Portfolio Committee. She urged them to make an appointment with Dr Taylor who leads the Department research. She expressed concern to the Zero Dropout Campaign for the absence of their board.

She explained the dropout rate cannot have one solution because the reasons vary amongst the provinces and districts. This requires all stakeholders to work together if they are to win. There are both school-related and non-school reasons for dropouts such as drug abuse. Not all learners that disappear can be found by the school. Even if they went out to trace all learners involved in drug abuse and criminal activities, it would be very difficult.

On psychological support after COVID-19, she stated that they are currently in the pandemic and should continue to act like those at Lockdown Level 5, even in the schools, they should continue to see this as their new normal.

Director-General response
Mr Mweli mentioned how the data systems are undergoing major re-engineering as they are modernizing SA-SAMS using the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT). 2020 is the third year working on the modernization of SA-SAMS to have a system to be used by all nine provinces. A lot of government and private money has been invested which shows the value government places in the importance of data and its credibility. An advisory ICT committee is driving the process of modernizing SA-SAMS. The DG said he is willing to come back to the Committee to give an update on the project.

Explaining SA-SAMS and LURITS, this is indeed designed to track learners but learners are difficult to locate when outside the system as they have to synchronize with Home Affairs, Social Development, and Security allowing them to provide details of their learners in depth. The built interface is aimed to sync with other government systems that are out there. Mr Mweli assured them that DBE is paying attention to its information system to ensure it is up to date.

The Director-General expressed his unawareness of whether the dropout rate is considered as a KPI.  He explained there are other quality drivers such as the nature of the curriculum, assessment system, examination regime, quality of teachers and teaching, textbooks, and the dropout rate is inherent in them. These drivers are used in the system and the dropout rate is inherent in them.

The dropout rate due to COVID-19 was presented to the Portfolio Committee and data is being collected for learners unaccounted for since the reopening of schools and to improve the credibility of the data.

A lot is being done in ECD and the Foundation Phase to ensure learners can perform in the subject fundamentals such as by focusing on numeracy and literacy. What they may have to do is closer data analysis and move to digitize the register, the attendance rate and the easy availability of the information.

The President indicated that they will be appointing about 900 000 young people to the system, some of these will be used to check up these systems and collect data. This will give greater access to real-time data that is desperately needed. This job creation initiative is to cover sectors such as basic education. About 900 000 young people will be employed in education only.

On the increase of learners, Mr Mweli replied that the data was available for viewing that shows by grade the repetition rate. This allows for sound advice as to when a learner is to repeat. Some learners are under-aged and are illegally enrolled by schools when they come to Grade R or 1. Grade 2 and 3 experience inflation of numbers thus it is not advised to use that data because of lack of credibility as what comes out at the exit point of the system is highly questionable.

Mr Mweli replied about the multiple exam opportunities and the national progression policy that requires learners not spend more than four years per phase. The policy advice was given for a move away from a pass / failure system that other countries have moved from because it is outdated to a competency-based curriculum and competency-based assessment. This allows showing performance in different areas rather than simply declaring pass or fail. The retention of a learner seems to taint the learner's image which may forever affect performance due to the psychological effect.

Data is being collected on learners that are unaccounted for since COVID-19. Investments have been made into this collaboration with universities and NGOs to come to evidence-based decisions

He expressed the need to engage with the Zero Dropout Campaign but expressed his dissatisfaction about the manner in which it chose to share its information – as it went straight to the Portfolio Committee.

Ms Sukers was humbly corrected from saying “learners who experience difficulty in learning” to "learners with a variance in learning”. The Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support Policy (SIAS) is used to identify learning barriers. There are school, district, and provincial-based teams for implementation of SIAS.

He agreed with Mr Ngcobo, and mentioned his weekend visit to ten schools to see how principals and schools are supporting learners.

Automatic progression should be put in place as it is not the fault of the learners that they do not meet the requirements to proceed to the next grade. The fault is rather the system and the system ought to make learners meet the fundamental requirements. Foundation Phase may be used rather than grade repetition.

In terms of the proposal of the research and intervals that learners are enrolled with social development will be looked into by Dr. Taylor to see what work can be done there.

Colleagues from Zero Dropout Campaign had spoken about LSA. The Director-General asserted that they would be providing more support to LSAs to bring meaningful intervention and make a difference to learners.

Mr Mweli said that they were going to focus on child-headed families to see whether the challenge is more profound that seen in other households.

It is deemed that there are myriad reasons for dropouts and it ranges widely. He promised they would do their best to provide quality education and deal with the myriad factors to ensure the dropout rate is addressed.

He expressed concern on the nomenclature used as he did not see 'disengagement' to be a permanent condition. One spoke of completion rate, dropout rate and learner disengagement. It may be confusing to speak of disengagement as humans may disengage at a point but engage again later. Therefore, there was a need for a more consistent nomenclature.

Mr Mweli said DBE has a close relationship with those institutions that handle learners in conflict with the law by providing curriculum and workbooks throughout. LURITS includes tracking learners. However, it is being modernised to make real-time data easily accessible.

Concluding remarks
Mr Mweli said DBE would like to engage with all NGOs. However, they are very careful because some come to the Portfolio Committee to get a directive through the Portfolio Committee which is not right. They seek to control the Department by using the Portfolio Committee.

The Deputy Minister spoke about South African education being pro-poor. After research was conducted, it showed that hunger and lack of school fees caused learners to dropout. This is why the education system is pro-poor. The basic education strategy model is driving not only to push learners through the academic route but vocationally and technically.

The Chairperson urged an interaction take place between the Zero Dropout Campaign and DBE to improve communication and see how they can deal with reoccurring challenges.

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