The Departments of Basic Education in the Northern Cape and Gauteng presented their respective reports on the status and impact of COVID19 on the departments, and highlighted strategies implemented to assist in managing the virus in schools.
The Gauteng Education Department presented on the ddressed the phasing-in of learners, report on schooling as at 16 October 2020, covid case management in schools, co-morbidity applications, social distancing and re-engineering of schooling, PPE delivery and infrastructure, nutrition and transport as at 16 October 2020. The presentation also detailed supporting quality learning and special schools
The Northern Cape Department of Education presented on the state of readiness for the matric exams, provision of education for learners with profound intellectual disabilities, social distancing in classrooms and hostels, school infrastructure and the implementation of a differentiated timetable. The presentation then addressed water and sanitation at schools, screening, testing and tracing, learner transport, the national school nutrition programme, covid19 cases at schools and the procurement of covid PPE essentials.
The Committee was concerned by the number of learners that did not return to school and dropout rates – they emphasised more steps must be taken to ensure learners went back to school. The worry was that COVID 19 will have a more devastating impact on the number of learners dropping out especially as the virus was likely to still be around for years to come. Further questions probed the number of applications for homeschooling, the rise of new schools owning to covid19 using virtual systems, psychosocial support for educators and learners, vandalism and the state of infrastructure.
The Chairperson apologised for changing the time of the meeting. It was because of an urgent meeting with the Chief Whip’s office, which was scheduled at the same time as the previous allocated time of the Committee meeting.
Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr Reginah Mhaule, apologised on behalf of the Minister for her absence, and said the Gauteng MEC for Education, Mr Panyaza Lesufi, could also not attend the meeting.
Head of Department (HOD), Mr Edward Mosuwe, stood in for Mr Lesufi.
The MEC of Education in the Northern Cape, Mr Zolile Monakali, and HOD, Mr Tshepo Pharasi, were present at the meeting.
The Deputy Minister would only be present at the meeting until 3pm, due to travel arrangements en route to Kimberley.
Gauteng Provincial Education Department (PED) on the Status and Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown on Schooling
Mr Albert Chanee, Deputy Director-General: Strategic Planning Management, Gauteng Department of Education (GDE), took the Committee through the presentation. The GDE recovery plan focuses on curriculum and assessment recovery and other aspects related to covid19:
- Ensuring school functionality: Entailed the successful resumption of schooling in the designated Grades; managing and monitoring attendance of learners and educators; managing the high number of new COVID-19 positive cases and applications for concessions, or leave due to co-morbidities, as well as intervening where there are community disruptions.
- Providing infrastructure: Regarding infrastructure, in response to COVID-19, the Department prioritised emergency repairs and renovation due to burglaries, vandalism, and arson attacks; the supply of water and sanitation; the provision of mobiles to supply additional learning space for appropriate social distancing; and secure perimeter fencing. Critically, it had to ensure infrastructure issues: issues are addressed timeously to avoid disruption in safe schooling.
- Managing human resources: Regarding human resources, in response to COVID-19, it prioritised the placement of additional and substitute school-based staff (teachers and support staff), as well as office-based staff to support schools where functionality was at risk due to COVID-19 related illness or co-morbidities.
- Adjusting the curriculum and modalities for delivery: Due to schools being impacted by COVID-19 and the Regulations which ensued, the curriculum had to be adapted to make up for time lost during the lockdown periods. In response to COVID-19 it has: prioritised online teacher development and training; implemented a ‘trimmed’ curriculum; expanded Information and Communications Technology (ICT) integrated learning; promoted distance learning modalities; running incubation camps delivered through the Secondary Schools Improvement Programme (SSIP) for Grade 12 learners; and managing the merger of the June and November 2020 examinations in the sector.
- Delivering education support interventions: In response to COVID-19, it prioritised nutrition, transport, school, security health which is COVID-19 compliant, and promotes the required health protocols and controls.
The presentation addressed the phasing-in of learners, report on schooling as at 16 October 2020, covid case management in schools, co-morbidity applications, social distancing and re-engineering of schooling, PPE delivery and infrastructure, nutrition and transport as at 16 October 2020.
The presentation also detailed supporting quality learning and special schools
[please see presentation attached for details]
Northern Cape Provincial Education Department (PED) on the Status and Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown on Schooling
The Department spoke to the level of curriculum coverage as at 16 October 2020, curriculum support at the district level, projected learner drop-out and planned strategies for improvement of 2020 National Senior Certificate examinations.
Members were informed of the state of readiness for the matric exams, provision of education for learners with profound intellectual disabilities, social distancing in classrooms and hostels, school infrastructure and the implementation of a differentiated timetable. The presentation then addressed water and sanitation at schools, screening, testing and tracing, learner transport, the national school nutrition programme, covid19 cases at schools and the procurement of covid PPE essentials.
[please see presentation attached for details]
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) thanked the Chairperson and both provinces for the presentations. She said the figures relating to the number of students in grades 12 and lower , who did not return to school, were quite concerning. She said if learners start staying at home because of the COVID 19 pandemic, then learners would gradually drop out and become a big problem going forward.
She asked if there was anything the respective provinces were doing to ensure drop-outs decreased. More steps need to be taken to ensure learners go back to schools. Looking to parents is not sufficient.
Under normal circumstances prior to COVID 19, there were already large numbers of learners dropping out. The worry is COVID 19 will have a more devastating impact on the number of learners dropping out.
She urged the departments to find ways to ensure learners return, and asked what other steps the departments were taking throughout the country to ensure this.
She asked the Gauteng MEC if he knew how many Grade 12 learners were using virtual systems to complete the syllabus instead of attending school. There were incidences where parents wanted to home-school children for the entire duration of schooling years.
She asked how applications of homeschooling in both provinces were looking, as parents were saying they (parents) did not receive any response from the department regarding pending applications. Letitia Coetzee, a parent in Gauteng, applied for homeschooling for her child, and the department did not respond. It is six months since the parent applied.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi asked what the cause for the backlog was, and if there were any strategies in place to ensure at least a 30-day turnaround strategy to access applications.
Parents opting to use virtual systems and other alternative ways of educating children, was something the department was taking lightly. She said the period of COVID 19 gave everyone a lot of time to do research on various ways of educating differently. There is a possibility parents were looking at independent schools.
She said Ms Zodwa Victoria Mpithi approached a school to deregister her child and get a transfer certificate, but the school refused to provide such certificate. Ms Tarabella-Marchesi asked who parents approach for the assistance of tracing learners, and who in the Gauteng Province can be assigned to deal specifically with those issues.
She asked how many schools in Gauteng ‘came up’ since the COVID 19 period; and if there was any background research done on it. If there was, she asked if there is a trend the Department observed; and what it means for the Department of Basic Education if these schools were coming up with smaller classes and using more virtual systems of education. She asked the Department what forward thinking ways were utilised during the COVID 19 period.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) asked what the reasons were behind the dropout rate from both provinces, and how the Department targeted students who dropped out. She asked what the statistics were regarding the number of dropouts who returned, and what reasons were given for dropping out and not returning.
In the Northern Cape there were a number of boreholes in some schools, and it seems these very same schools also procured more water tanks and were in need of more water. She asked why the boreholes not sunk, were not in working condition. She asked if psychosocial support was for educators and learners alike; if it was outsourced or if there was an agreement with the Department of Social Development; and how the agreement was set out. She asked if the Department would not find it necessary to train, or employ, permanent psychosocial services support, to provide to learners and educators.
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) said the issue of dropout rates and water services, including psychosocial problems and the address of it, was exhausted by colleagues. Speaking to Gauteng province she said, it presented information on ensuring school functionality and delivery for all schools. There was a constant disruption at Lehlabile Secondary School in Mamelodi. The physical infrastructure of the school was psychologically worrying as there were dangerous cracks on the second floor of the school premises. She urged the Gauteng Department to try by all means necessary to attend to the infrastructure problem before it is too late.
She said lately the MEC was embarking on the closure of illegal schools in Ivory Park, which cater primarily to black students. She asked why closure was happening in this examination period, and what the reason is behind the selected schools. She said she personally asked the MEC to investigate the existence of Henley School, which some whistleblowers allege is operated illegally and controlled by a white head. It was not investigated. She asked why the concentration was only on schools in Ivory Park, and why now.
She asked the Northern Cape Department how many buildings required disinfecting with the result the Department spent R44 million.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) welcomed presentations and said she was satisfied with the information shared by both provinces, as it covered most of the concerns the Committee had. She thanked the departments, especially the MECs leading the respective departments, for making sure departments prepared thoroughly for reopening schools.
She said she had the same concerns as noted by other Members, and added vandalism as an issue affecting the entire country, not only in school facilities. She said it was a cancer killing the infrastructure in communities which were supposed to guard members in the respective constituencies. Vandalism requires all leaders in different leadership positions and stakeholders to address this matter because the Basic Education Department is one of the departments which lost a lot of funds repairing schools which are always vandalised. Vandalism should be addressed, as it constitutes a criminal offence, and should be addressed as such.
School dropout is a pressing issue. A presentation by the Zero Dropout Rate Programme shared important information with the department, and made recommendations. One recommendation was, in tracing learners, teachers could consult with parents to check the learners’ whereabouts, because when learners leave school premises, learners become the responsibility of parents. It is crucial both provinces consult parents to find out if children dropped out, or are staying home for reasons related to the COVID 19 pandemic, or opted to continue homeschooling.
Ms Adoorns asked the Department to shed light on the issue of homeschooling; if it could be done at provincial level; and if provinces have homeschooling applications, to indicate if it was approved. She said she would appreciate it if provinces shared information on questions asked. She expects the Committee will be welcomed by provinces when it does its oversight. The Committee is there to serve and to make sure learners are provided with education which empowers learners to contribute to the economy of South Africa, and the world at large.
The Chairperson commended both provinces. She said she was worried about the discontinuation of screeners throughout the country, as it looked like there were no plans to continue screening beyond the December holidays. This was worrying because COVID 19 would continue next year as well. She said Dr King said on the previous day, the Western Cape, Northern Cape, and Free State, were the provinces which would continually increase regarding infections. If there was a learner infected, hypothetically, during the exam period, the learner would need to quarantine for a period of ten days. She asked what would happen to a learner in this position; and if the Department has a plan in place to ensure if anything like this happened - learners would be given an opportunity to write exams well.
Regarding infrastructure, she asked if the Northern Cape would make use of mobile classrooms, so more learners have access to education. If so, she asked what the situation is relating to this.
Regarding provision of data, she asked if the Department offered data to kids who were at home in Gauteng, and how the Department handled the provision of data.
Deputy Minister Mhaule welcomed the feedback from Members. She said the Department should not respond to questions pertaining to specific figures and names of people, because the meeting was to address issues related to the COVID 19 response by the Department, and auditor general issues.
She said she understood there are problems of homeschooling, and parents who want to deregister children. She appreciated Ms Tarabella-Marchesi giving the names of individuals affected, as the departments could check on the status of such cases and report after.
On the issue of non-returning learners, it was not the first time such a question was asked. The return of learners depends on the relationship between the parent, the school, and the department. The Department continually announced in meetings held previously on various platforms such as the media, should parents feel afraid of bringing children back to schools, parents should be allowed to go to schools and inform such schools.
There were those who did so, and schools refused to deregister those children, but the Department encouraged parents to inform schools of the reason behind refusal to bring children back to school. It would be difficult for the Department to search for learners who did not return. She encouraged parents and schools to work together with teachers to address the challenges learners are facing. She encouraged the provinces to respond to other questions asked.
Mr Chanee replied to Ms Tarabella-Marchesi. He said in its presentation, the Department spoke about the issue of a survey it did, similar to the survey which dealt with the ten day statistics survey at the beginning of the year.
There was a delay because, post 31 August, when all grades returned to schools, the Department decided as a province, it needed to start going to each of the schools, with the hopes it would determine the exact total tally of the survey, and provide specific data in relation to the numbers of returning students.
The Department has the number of learners who applied for what would be called lockdown learning. He said there was a huge difference between lockdown learning and homeschooling. Lockdown learning would have been providing learning to learners with underlying conditions, with data, but due to underlying conditions, learners could not go to schools to interact and meet with peers. These learners still remained on the register of the schools. In remaining on the register of the schools, the Department had a 14 day cycle.
A school would provide learning material and assessments. Learners would have to complete it within 14 days and take it back to schools for teachers to mark and provide feedback.
Regarding homeschooling, the Department provided a time extension. Ordinarily there would be a period in which the Department closes every other year, but because this year it dealt with the COVID19 pandemic, it found there were many applications which came, but the Department had to make an assessment of individual cases.
The Executive Authority MEC gave an extension which resulted in there being no cut-off date, and as applications came in, the Department was able to process it. In this past week, the Department was able to approve an additional 220 applications. If the Department abided by legislation and regulations in place prior to COVID 19, these applications would not be approved. Given the legislation, the Department had to do so due to the pandemic. According to the Department’s records, there are no Grade 12 learners who were at home and opted to finish schooling at home. All Grade12 learners were able to return to school. Teaching these learners was through face to face contact, not virtual platforms. This is, unless an application arose the department was not aware of. On the question of how many schools ‘came up’ during lockdown due to lockdown learning, the Department warned parents and schools of the large number of sites growing, called Centres, providing online learning.
The Department has to be careful. There are only two forms of schools which can be provided for in the current context. It is either a registered public school, or an independent school, which is registered. Any other school, which falls outside the ambit provided by legislation, is subsequently not considered as a school. The Department is cautious about these Chief Tuition Centres which erupted. It would result in providing learning, and would not be considered as providing supplementary tuition, which is ordinarily what happens.
Mr Chanee replied to Ms Christians, saying he addressed the question relating to the survey.
Regarding psychosocial services, Gauteng works in conjunction with the Department of Social Development for psychosocial services, which is provided to learners, teachers, and all other employees. There is an additional Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) support programme, which runs through the Office of the Premier for all Government Department Employees (GDEs). Teachers are also included, so teachers have access to psychosocial services through the government programme. This is how services are provided.
Mr Chanee replied to Dr Thembekwayo regarding a school which has infrastructure problems. He said the Department had a ‘drie hoek’ challenge when the flag fell. The Department was able to identify and do an assessment of all schools in the province and assessed structural damages. Through an assessment of all these schools, the Department was in the process of getting and ensuring contractors have the required skill to deal with infrastructure.
Regarding the closure of schools, the Department’s view was, any illegal school which operates, suggests it does not meet the minimum requirements to be registered as such.
Many of these illegal schools have unqualified teachers, and do not meet the occupational health and safety standard. Those schools would be handed to law enforcement agencies, because the schools are operating outside legislation and would be dealt with accordingly.
When closing such schools, the Department ensures learners are placed in public schools which would accommodate learners. He provided a background on Henley School. He said the school was once closed due to low enrolment, but the community asked the Department to re-open the school, which was primarily focused on Grade R learners.
The MEC said the Department must re-purpose Henley School to become an early childhood development (ECD) side of the future. However, based on an evaluation done after the community approached the Department, this was how Henley was then re-established as a primary school. The Department was then able to appoint the necessary support for the school.
The Department took note of feedback from Ms Adoons regarding vandalising schools. The Department always realises vandalism matters. When the Department receives information, it shares such with law enforcement agencies.
During the week there was a school which parents torched in the Province. It included mobile classrooms which were given to help alleviate the burden. Parents are now expecting the Department to finance the school again. A mechanism has to be found to address the issue of vandalism. Communities, parents, and everyone, must take responsibility for these issues.
Ms Adoons point resonates with the department. He appreciated the advice Ms Adoons gave, and said parents would have to be held accountable.
The Department replied to Ms Tarabella-Marchesi regarding Grade R applications. Currently the policy in place is, a learner in Grade R cannot have automatic entry to Grade 1 in the same school the learner attends, because Grade R is privately funded in many institutes. The Department of Gauteng has a policy which states all learners must apply for Grade 1, and there are criteria learners have to meet to determine which learners are approved to continue to Grade 1 in the same school.
The policy in place is there to ensure people who do not fall within the feeder zone of the school, do not deprive parents who have children who do fall under the feeder zone, from attending schools near them. The Office of the Head of Department will be available to receive all matters related to admission. He said the challenges mentioned and questions raised, would be redirected so resolutions can be found.
Regarding the issues raised by the Chairperson on screening, the Department said it would be an extension of the COVID screeners until the end of the year. The Department was reconsidering, since the President announced the introduction of a new grant to assist with issues of employment, there will be an extension of the COVID screeners to create additional work opportunities. Data provision for learners at home will be dealt with in the same context as lockdown learning. Learners were always able to get information and work from school, complete it at home, and then return it to schools. There has not been provision made for data in this regard.
Mr Sandile Beuzana, Acting Head of Department, Northern Cape Education of Department, replied there were no private schools in the province. The process of private schools is, according to regulations, in place. The Department approves and disapproves according to the regulations. There were no issues regarding this. He said there were boreholes, but the province was hit hard by drought, and some of the boreholes became dry, which meant there had to be additional tanks to alleviate the problem of learners not having water.
Regarding psychosocial services, multiple services were used. He listed the services, which includes the Department of Social Development (DSD) which assists learners and teachers with all anxiety issues. He said a special arrangement was made for all over-age learners. Learners who progressed, and private individuals, are approached to assist those learners with study methods.
On the issue of screeners, the contracts are coming to a close at the end of the month of November. There is a scheduled discussion with the MEC to look into contract extension for screeners, for an additional six months. After such meeting took place, the Chairperson will be informed regarding decision and developments pertaining to it, if required.
He said Grade 12 learners who were infected with COVID during exams would have to quarantine for a period of ten days, and thereafter the learners will continue with remaining subjects. The subjects missed would be written the following year.
The Department was assisted by approaches taken by schools regarding differentiated timetabling. It includes alternate days and weeks. As a result there was no need to provide mobile data to learners. He said although there was a need for additional classes to be built in schools, the Department was currently building additional schools and classrooms for certain existing schools.
Dr Michelle Ishmael, Deputy Director-General: Curriculum, Examinations and Assessments, Northern Cape Department of Education, said 647 schools were disinfected, and the Department’s entire car fleet, which contributed to the R44 million. Schools which had repeat threat infections had to be disinfected again.
In the Pixley Ka Seme District there was an epicentre, and a breakout of fatalities in schools disinfected. The Department had to disinfect again. Regarding screener contracts, provision was made to extend screener services for an additional six months.
The Chairperson asked if there was any Member who felt a question was not adequately responded to. The Committee Members did not respond. The Chairperson thanked the officials, who were then excused.
Adoption of Committee Minutes dated 20 October 2020
The minutes were adopted.
It was announced the Committee’s next meeting will be on exam redress.
The meeting was adjourned.
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