In a virtual meeting, and in the presence of the Deputy Minister, the Portfolio and Select Committees were briefed by the Free State Department of Basic Education and the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education on the status and impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on schools.
Members heard that the Free State Department of Basic Education registered a serious note of concern because the Grade 11s did not receive enough support from the Department during the lockdown. The challenges regarding Covid -19 in the province were: writing their exams, the movement of teachers and learners; the lack of updated information in schools; marches that were held by the Congress of South African Students (COSAS); school fee payments by parents; the implementation and effects of social distancing in schools and the repairs to damaged school property.
The Free State Department asserted that despite the challenges most matriculants will write their final examinations and the curriculum will be completed before this time for all learners in every grade. Members asked for clarity on how many grade 12 learners did not return to school during the reopening of schools; if the food distribution was a true reflection that learners are attending school and are not at home receiving food parcels; whether the province had other plans to complete the curriculum; whether the disputes with COSAS have been resolved and what the issues were; and whether plans are in place to get the learners to return to school. Members commended the Department for using substitute teachers during this period and asked what the future plans were regarding these substitute teachers, and how the youth employment is achieved through the strategy of the substitute teachers.
Members asked how prepared the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education was for the potential second wave of COVID-19 given that the Department faced multiple challenges during the first wave; who will be held accountable and responsible for the illegitimate device contract which was awarded and if the illegitimacy of the contract will affect students who have benefited from it and whether the provincial Department has measures in place to monitor the dropout rates; if recent research has been conducted by the provincial Department on the figures provided and whether the national Department will be providing assistance and monitoring the quality of data in the provincial Department; and the school dropout rate that has been identified by the provincial Department and highlighted that 15%-25% of learners from grade 0-12 in the province have not returned to or are not attending school.
Members were concerned that in the Eastern Cape, the Auditor-General highlighted overpayments and payment discrepancies by the Department and asked for the Departments opinion on the matter. Members questioned the quality of the data that has been provided to the Committee which was evident in the Eastern Cape presentation and asked for clarity on the contradiction between the average attendance rates of 83.4%-97.3% as stated in the presentation and the comments made by the Eastern Cape department that 20%-30% of learners were not attending school. Members asked further how much money was allocated to the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education for COVID-19 and how the supply chain division procured the PPEs for the provincial department. Members also felt that the reasons for the pending investigations by the provincial department were not clear.
Members raised concerns about the increasing potential drop-out rates of the two provinces and questioned whether enough was done by the provincial departments to ensure that learners are adequately supported to complete the curriculum and write examinations. The capabilities of the programmes and support structures that were provided by the Department were also questioned as being effective for learners who could not come back to school.
Briefing by the Free State Department of Basic Education
Mr Tate Makgoe, MEC of Education: Free State, introduced the Free State Department of Basic Education delegation and said that there is concern for the Class of 2021 because Grade 11’s did not receive enough support from the Department during the lockdown.
Adv Tsoarelo Malakoane, Head of Department: Basic Education, Free State, outlined the number schools in the province and the number of learners. He said that the science stream learners in the province faced the challenges of writing their exams, the movement of teachers and learners as well as the lack of updated information in schools. Other challenges faced included marches that were held by the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), school fee payments by parents, the implementation and effects of social distancing in schools and the repairs to damaged school property. He reported on the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to schools, the buffer stocks available for schools in need, the support provided to female learners and special needs learners. Some school subjects had to be excluded and vandalism is a concern in the province, but the Department is addressing the issue of the damaged infrastructure. He presented on the background of the presentation and the findings by the Auditor General.
Briefing by the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education
Mr Gade Fundile, MEC of Education: Eastern Cape, introduced the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education delegation.
Mr Soyisile Nuku, Acting DDG: Institutional Operations Management, Department of Basic Education, Eastern Cape, said that adjustments were made to the previous presentation by the province based on the concerns raised by Members. He outlined how the situation of the impact of the reopening of schools during the lockdown involved vandalism of school property, water and sanitation supply and the increasing COVID-19 infections in schools. He reported on the financial implications of the COVID-19 on the Department and the availability of resources for learners. The impact of COVID-19 on the delivery of the curriculum was outlined as well as the support that was provided to learners during the lockdown. He highlighted the adjustments that were made by the Department from the previous presentation to the Committee which included the emergency water supply to schools, the breakdown, repair and installation of the water tank, and the status of schools.
Ms C King (DA) asked how prepared the Eastern Cape Department of Education was for the potential second wave of COVID-19 given that the Department faced multiple challenges during the first wave. On eLearning in the province, she asked who will be held accountable and responsible for the illegitimate device contract which was awarded and if the illegitimacy of the contract will affect students who have benefited from it. To the Free State Department of Education, she asked for clarity on how many grade 12 learners did not return to school during the reopening of schools and noted that the presentation by the Department stated that learners received food through the school nutrition programme at school meaning that there are no learners at home. She asked if the food distribution was a true reflection that learners are attending school and are not at home receiving food parcels.
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) asked about the school dropout rates and non-returning learners in the Eastern Cape and whether the provincial Department has measures in place to monitor the dropout rates. She also asked if recent research has been conducted by the provincial department on the figures provided and whether the national Department will be providing assistance and monitoring the quality of data in the provincial Department considering that boys are more likely to dropout of school than girls. She also questioned the quality of the data that has been provided to the Committee which is evident in the Eastern Cape presentation and asked for clarity on the contradiction between the average attendance rate of 83.4%-97.3% as stated in the presentation and the comments made by the Eastern Cape Department that 20%-30% of learners are not attending school. She asked about the data verification initiatives that are in place to ensure quality and accurate data. To the Free State Department of Education, she asked about the school dropout rate that has been identified by the provincial department and highlighted that 15%-25% of learners from grade 0-12 in the province have not returned to or are not attending school. She asked about the research and reporting initiatives by the provincial department to track and understand the issue and when feedback with accurate figures will be provided to the national Department.
Mr E Siwela (ANC) thanked the provincial departments for the presentations. To the Free State Department of Education, he said that teaching and learning have been affected by COVID-19 and asked how this will affect the student results of 2020. He also asked if the grade 12 learners who were exempted from attending school will also be exempted from writing their final examinations. To the Eastern Cape Department of Education, he said that other provinces besides the Eastern Cape have used interventions to cover school days lost during the lockdown and asked whether the province had other plans to complete the curriculum. He asked both provincial departments about the lessons learnt from the challenges of COVID-19, how PED’s can improve for future challenges and if the current learner: teacher ratio can be a permanent strategy and if not, why not.
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) welcomed the presentations. To the Free State Department of Education, he asked whether the disputes with COSAS have been resolved and what the issues were. On the learners that have not returned to school, he asked whether plans are in place to get the learners to return to school. To the Eastern Cape Department of Education, he said that there is an issue of a stop-and-go with the students and asked how the process is going and how the issue will be resolved.
The Chairperson asked the Free State Department of Education about the water shortages in the Xhariep and the Thabo Mofutsanyana Districts and whether there are more districts with water shortages. She commended the Department for the substitute teachers that were used during the lockdown and asked what the future plans are regarding these substitute teachers, and how the youth employment is achieved through the strategy of the substitute teachers. The Chairperson also applauded the Free State Department on its public education awareness strategy and she asked how the food distribution programme functioned especially for learners who were unable to collect food from school premises. To the Eastern Cape Department of Education, the Chairperson said that the report by the Auditor-General highlighted overpayments and payment discrepancies by the Department and she asked for the Departments opinion on the matter. She also asked how much money was allocated to the Eastern Cape Department of Education for COVID-19 and how the supply chain division procured the PPE for the provincial department. She said that the reasons for the pending investigations by the provincial department are not clear and the control mechanisms of the province should not rely on the proposed project management unit and asked why this unit needs to exist because there was a lot of corruption and the unit seems like a tender unit. She said that the Eastern Cape Department of Education functions in a rural setting and that the issues experienced are well understood and she encouraged the consideration and involvement of stakeholders in addressing the challenges.
Free State Department of Basic Education
On the food distribution programme, he said that 80% of the learners in the Free State are quintile 1, 2 &3 schools, so the Department is funded to feed 60% of the learners. Currently, the Department is feeding over 82% of learners. The Department used media platforms and representatives to manage learners who collected food. Food was delivered to learners who could not come to the school premises to collect food which included learners from child headed households and those from poor households.
On the substitute teacher future plans, he said that the substitute teachers signed a contract, but because of challenges in the province the teachers may not be permanently employed by the Department. When teachers are employed, generally the Department employs the youth especially since the Free State teacher employment average age is 54-55. On the water shortage distribution, he said that the Xhariep and Thabo Mofutsanyana Districts are not the only districts experiencing water shortages and engineers from the Department have developed a system that refills reservoirs during the night when there is less usage.
On the disputes with COSAS, he said that the issues have been resolved and that COSAS argued that learners should not return to school. COSAS and other stakeholders participated with the Department to address concerns that were raised. On the number of students that have not returned to school, he said that the numbers were accumulated overtime from level 5 of the lockdown. The actual statistics can be provided in the following week to the committee. All the matric students have returned to school except those who tested positive for COVID-19 and have been in self-isolation. He said that there is an integrated health plan formulated with the Department of Health to have stationed ambulances at the exam preparation camps. On the impact of COVID-19 and teaching and learning, he explained that the impact is widespread across all the provinces but there are plans to ensure that the results are good. All the learners will pass, have a fair chance at learning and emphasised that learners can only be supported because not all the learners learn the same. There are different activities and resources available for learners at the exam preparation camps. He said that the curriculum is being covered in all grades and subjects.
On the lessons learnt, MEC Makgoe said that learners are excited to be going back to school especially matric students. He also said that the shortage of social workers that are available for learners and teachers during the pandemic is a lesson learnt because it was clear the teachers are more infected with COVID-19 than the learners. He said that when the community wants to communicate with the department it should be done using the States resources and personal resources. On the learner:teacher ratio, he said that the challenge is that learners do not attend at the same time because there are daily and weekly rotations amongst the learners and that learners do not remember information from previous weeks. Classes do not have more than 30 learners each. On the results of the class of 2020, he explained that technical subjects such as Mathematics and Science have had a significant decrease in performance because they require interaction with the teachers.
Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education
Mr Themba Kojana, Head of Department: Department of Basic Education, Eastern Cape, said that the additional support and advice from different authorities was beneficial in assisting the Department to manage the impacts of COVID-19. On the number of learners that are back at school, he said that there are only 27 matric students that will not be writing their final exams in 2020. The Department constantly monitors the attendance of learners with a committee that was formed by the Department and other stakeholders to manage COVID-19. On the contract for digital devices to learners, he explained that SETA took the Department to court on the matter to seek an interim interdict so that the contract could be discussed. The Department decided to contest the decision by SITA to involve external accounting officers because the Department has its own e-learning strategy. On the exam preparation camps, he said that the national Department of Basic Education Director-General has visited the camps and that more than 50 days was lost by learners in the province and a balance had to be created between protecting lives from COVID and school activities. Interventions had to be created to ensure the balance. On the prevention repetitive issues, he said that COVID-19 was unexpected and that the directives that were developed have assisted with communication to stakeholders so that adherence to COVID-19 regulations is ensured and that assistance from the government will ensure that the issues do not happen again and are prevented. He said that the best lesson learnt for the Department was the collaborations with stakeholders concerning the work of government and to ensure that rapid response team are active in communities. On the status of school attendance, he said that the attendance of learners and teachers has improved because when schools started reopening parents were reluctant to send their children back to school. Psychosocial support programmes were initiated nationally for learners, teachers and parents who were experiencing fear and anxiety. An application was also developed for users to share their status. On the need for a project management unit, he said that the challenges around procurement required a cut crossing team across various divisions in the Department because the project is big and requires a specialised process such as determining the alcohol content in sanitizers. Investigations have been initiated against the suppliers who deceived the Department on the alcohol content in the sanitizers. External audit firms have been involved in the process to eliminate issues. He also said that 262 local SMMEs were procured to deliver PPE.
On the programmes to get back learners back to school, Mr Nuku said that the MEC of Basic Education is leading a programme to mobilise stakeholders and learners and also said that school structures need to be in a condition that can accommodate leaners. This can be achieved through the programmes and daily recorded school attendance of learners. To ensure data quality, the Department collects and receives information directly from the schools to ensure authenticity.
On the lessons learnt and the preparedness of the Department for the second wave of COID-19, MEC Fundile said that one of the lessons that will assist in moving forward is integrated planning and successful execution of plans to ensure success in governance. He said that during the provision and delivery of water in the schools, a lesson learnt was that a water tank cannot be placed in a school when there is no water supply. A water facilitation programme had to be initiated to ensure effectiveness. The Department would not have achieved certain milestones without the assistance of other departments such as the Department of Health, the Department of Social Development, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and the Department of Water and Sanitation in implementing intervention strategies to address COVID-19. He said that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a lesson that revealed that fear and anxiety can exceed science especially when the scientific narrative that young people can recover from COVID was overshadowed by fear which led to high dropout rates in the province.
On the COVID-19 budget allocation, Mr Kojana explained that the funds from the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) were used because the Department did not receive COVID-19 relief funding. R400 million was used for PPE and R156 million was used for the school support teams which are made up of young people employed by the department from communities for five months to perform screenings and cleaning schools, instead of deploying fumigations, and to ensure social distancing at schools during lunch breaks. On the underpayments and finding by the Auditor-General, he said that the underpayments happened because of the prices that were above the National Treasury’s benchmarks. Supplier’s prices did not adhere to the benchmark. He said that letters were sent to the suppliers on the acceptable prices for products and the suppliers agreed to the quotes that were sent but when invoices were submitted by suppliers, original prices were used instead of the agreed prices. Suppliers have since been requested to correct the invoices. The overpayments relate to the formula that was used to calculate the PPE quantities to the nearest whole number. He said that the Auditor General has been informed of the errors. On the procurement process, he said that the request for information from external auditors will ensure quality assurance from suppliers and that there is compliance from suppliers. A multi-disciplinary team was appointed in the Department to investigate auditing processes and internal controls.
Ms Linda Lupondwana, Director: Supply Chain Management, Department of Basic Education, Eastern Cape, said that there were two suppliers who delivered poor quality products which were later tested and found to be defective. One of the suppliers had not been paid yet by the Department but the process of recovering the funds from the other supplier is underway.
National Department of Basic Education
Ms Simone Geyer, DDG: Planning and Delivery Oversight Unit, DBE, said that the information and data from the Free State and Eastern Cape presentations is accurate and are similar to the national figures. Information is still tracked especially on the completion of the curriculum and the extent of the learners’ readiness to write exams. She said that provinces must be commended for maintaining constant communication with the national Department in trying to address the challenges of COVID-19. There has been an improvement in the potential dropout rate in the Free State and monitoring has been maintained with the Free State to ensure that students return to school. In the Eastern Cape there have been discussions on how to improve the potential dropout rates and addressing the concerns raised on the matter. On data verification, she explained that the Department will look into the matter especially during COVID-19 where raw information is received and captured on the dashboard weekly. She said that a research team has been allocated to collect new information and data on the impact of COVID-19.
Dr Reginah Mhaule, Deputy Minister of Basic Eucation, said that when schools had to be reopened, there were no funds available for COVID-19 which is why the EIG was used by the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education.
The Chairperson said that the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Basic Education previously presented on implementing a twinning model with the Stellenbosch and Western Cape government and said that other provinces need to learn the twinning model and implement it. The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister, the national Department of Basic Education, the provincial Departments of Education and everyone present for their attendance.
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.