In a joint virtual meeting, the Department of Basic Education briefed the Portfolio and Select Committees on Education on its progress of November 2020 examination readiness, 2019/20 Annual Report and the 2020/21 first quarterly report.
The Department reported on the resilience of learners writing November 2020 examinations under such difficult circumstances imposed by COVID-19. The Department faced challenges of combined June and November examinations taking place concurrently and ensuring that exams took place under strict COVID-19 protocols. All measures were taken by the Department in collaboration with the Department of Health (DoH) to ensure that every child was afforded a safe chance to write their exams. COVID-19 positive learners or learners exhibiting relevant symptoms were able to write in quarantine centres, in prisons or hospitals. A total of 41 cases of learners with COVID-19 were reported across the provinces between 05 and 09 November, though not necessarily related to exams.
The Department’s Annual Report reflected a slight increase in the targets achieved for 2019/20 when compared to 2018/19. The challenges and achievements were outlined per programme. Most notably, programme two and four underperformed, according to National Treasury. Programme three underperformed due to underspending on the Integrated Quality Management System as well as Compensation of Employees, poor service delivery to Provincial Education Departments across the provinces, budgetary restraints and below standard internal control management. Water, sanitation and conditional grants all indicated underperformance this year on account of the previously mentioned factors. Findings from the Auditor-General of South Africa report mandated the Department to conduct investigations into capital commitments and irregular expenditure to get remedial action for the losses incurred. The total adjusted appropriation budget of the Department for 2019/20 amounts to R24.465 billion, 82% of which R20.122 billion was allocated as transfer payments to governmental grants.
The Department achieved a qualified audit opinion for 2019/20.
The first quarterly report indicated many programmes deviating from planned targets. The Department reported 36% of the targets were not achieved and 9% indicate partial achievement across the five programmes due to lockdown regulations. About 30%, R7.62 billion out of the unrevised R25.34 billion, of the total 2020/21 appropriation budget for the Department was spent during the first quarter. Postponed use of certain funds allowed for budgets to be rearranged in order to mitigate a lot of the challenges. The Department predicted that expenditure and implementation of programmes will accelerate following the second quarter.
Members said that unions were concerned on social media about educators being coerced into invigilating COVID-19-positive learners, compromising their own safety. They asked what engagements have been done with unions to ensure their safety with the Department of Health while allowing every learner an opportunity to write examinations. Where students contracted COVID-19 on school spring camps, was the appropriate testing and quarantining done for learners and educators? What support is available to matriculants who are currently experiencing anxiety about writing exams during the COVID-19 pandemic and under these regulations?
Members were concerned about the recurring findings, in the Auditor-General’s report, of irregular expenditure reflecting poor internal financial oversight controls. What consequence management procedures were put in place to resolve this?
Opening Remarks by the Chairperson
Chairperson Nchabeleng opened the virtual meeting, welcoming the Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga, and the Joint Standing Committee on Education, for the Committee to be briefed by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on its 2019/20 Annual Report and 2020/21 first quarterly report. The Auditor-General of South Africa’s (AGSA) report highlighted shortcomings in COVID-19 and preparedness for matriculation exams to the Joint Committee.
The Minister said that she would issue the Committee a copy of her report concerning COVID-19 management during examinations.
November 2020 examination progress update
Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director: National Assessment and Public Examinations, DBE, said that the Portfolio Committee experienced many obstacles during the preparation for matric exams in 2020. He noted the biggest challenges as the large number of combined June and November candidates and maintaining to COVID-19 safety procedures. He commended the DBE for ensuring that every child has the opportunity to write their exams through delivering scripts to prisons, hospitals and homes.
An amendment to COVID-19 examination protocol was made to permit students with temperatures above 38 degrees Celsius and any other COVID-19 symptoms to write their exams in a separate venue to maintain the safety of majority of the candidates. The Department of Health (DoH) advised that these learners undergo strict invigilation, social distancing, sanitising and must wear facemasks. Student who tested positive were permitted to write their exams in separate quarantine venues established and invigilated by the DoH. He acknowledged that the DoH was under budgetary restraints in providing quarantine centres, though the DBE helped to acquire appropriate district venues, including community halls.
Progress to date
The Portfolio Committee identified few instances of power outages or technical issues in schools while CAT and IT were written. These candidates were still able to write successfully after being moved to another venue or compensated for lost time. All other papers have been administered and there have been no serious problems.
Management of COVID-19
There were 41 COVID-19 cases reported for the question papers written on 05, 06 and 09 November 2020 across the provinces. All stakeholders, school governing bodies (SGBs) and the DoH have offered their full support for the amended COVID-19 protocols. Learners who tested positive will be allocated a suitable building that is compliant with the health and safety regulations to write their examinations. Unions have expressed concern for the safety of invigilators who are supervising positive COVID-19 learners. The DoH has provided the invigilators with all necessary protective equipment. The DBE requires written consent from teachers or volunteers willing to invigilate learners after the risks and protocols have been described by them.*
The Free State and Eastern Cape reported the high levels of positive COVID-19 cases in quarantine locations following spring camps. Accommodations were made to allow students to write in isolation rooms successfully. The DBE, in collaboration with the DoH, has ensured that the best interests of the learners would be upheld without compromising the protective protocols.
Annual DBE Performance report 2019/20
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, Director-General (DG), DBE, reported on the progress of the Department’s programme performances and expenditure for 2019/20. The activities of the DBE have been structured into five programmes:
- Programme one: Administration
- Programme two: Curriculum policy, support and monitoring
- Programme three: Teachers, education human resources and institutional development
- Programme four: Planning, information and assessment
- Programme five: educational enrichment services
The DBE achieved 86% of annual targets in 2019/20 noting an increase from the previous year. There was an increase in unachieved targets and fewer partially achieved targets across the programme which the DBE attributed to budgetary restraints and COVID-19 hard lockdown regulations hindering oversight.
Service delivery environment and context
The DBE is mandated by to formulate, implement and oversee policies and minimum norms and standards to provision the rights to basic education to learners. The 2014-2019 Medium-Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) prioritised quality teaching and learning through educators, infrastructure, improved learning assessments, improving Early Childhood Development (ECD) and monitoring schools and district management. The Action Plan to 2019: Towards the realisation of schooling 2030 focuses on how to improve and support these learning outcomes.
Mr Mweli explained that the purpose of programme one is to manage and provide strategic and administrative support services to the Department. The 2020/21 Annual Performance Plan (APP) was tabled by the DBE. The Internal Audit Charter was reviewed, updated and approved pertaining to risks and internal control weaknesses in the DBE.
Programme two aims to develop, monitor and support curriculum and assessment policies and their implementation. The programme achieved many of its targets without deviation, including supplying digital and physical resources, monitoring performance in schools and increased support to Children/Learners with Severe to Profound Intellectual Disability (C/LSPID). Limpopo and North West provinces partially achieved the target of training sessions for technical subjects due to not signing contracts with service providers. The DG rectified this. The Eastern Cape and Western Cape did not campaign sufficiently on Rural Education Policy in provinces in the fourth quarter due to lockdown. In future, all Rural Education Policy Advocacy campaigns will be planned to be completed by the third quarter.
The DBE saw a dramatic increase in learners register for the National Senior Certificate (NSC) and use the support/resources provided to them during 2019/20. Large numbers of learning and teaching support materials were provided to C/LSPID students. In 2019, the DBE temporarily suspended all full-service schools to ensure that they are sufficiently resourced and comply with minimum norms and standards. Therapists, district officials and ICT platforms were granted to some public schools for learners with special educational needs. The Second Chance Matric Program (SCMP) procured and delivered LTSM and other resources to Provincial Education Departments (PEDs), Districts and Second Chance learners.
Programme three aims to promote quality teaching and institutional performance through effective supply, development and utilisation of human resources. The DBE noted that seven PEDs were monitored on the implementation of the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS) and Education Management Service Performance Management and Development System (EMS: PMDS) to strengthen accountability of school and office-based educators. Some 81% of Funza Lushaka graduates were placed in PEDs in 2019.
The Department reported an underperformance in the building and completion of new schools through the Accelerate School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI). This was delayed due to poor dealings with contractors and disruptive action in provinces. The DBE is trying to make mentorship and funding in order to improve quality and time management. Gross underperformance was acknowledged concerning water and sanitation in schools. Further underperformance was identified in monitoring underperforming schools. The DBE recommended that internal controls be strengthened through evidence and monitoring in 2020/21.
Mr Mweli reported that the Learner Unit Record Information and Tracking System (LURITS) was used to verify learner data with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to reflect active learners in the system. A toll-free line was created to improve responsiveness to learner and parent queries.
The Department saw improvement targets achieved in school nutrition, available psychosocial support; health promotion, safety in schools, social cohesion and gender equity programmes. The AGSA audit scope was narrowed due to COVID-19. The DBE received an unqualified outcome which is an improvement from 2018/19 financial year.
Financial report 2019/20
The total adjusted appropriation budget of the Department for 2019/20 amounts to R24.465 billion, 82% of which R20.122 billion was allocated as transfer payments to governmental grants. Programme two and four underperformed, according to the National Treasury. The SCMP used the most funds, which was alleviated through saving on workbooks and C/LSPID funds that could not be spent. Programme three underperformed due to underspending on the IQMS as well as Compensation of Employees.
The Department achieved a qualified audit opinion in 2019/20.
The DBE has managed to rectify three of the five qualifications found by the AGSA in the last two years. The remaining qualifications are capital commitments and irregular expenditure, which suffered weaknesses in controls. The DBE is making improvements towards an unqualified report or a clean report for 2020/21 financial year. The Department saw an improvement in the quality of submitted performance information resulting in an unqualified outcome.
Procurement of COVID-19 protective equipment by the DBE resulted in large amounts of irregular expenditure spent. The Department has commissioned an investigation on the matter following the AGSA recommendations. Protective goods and services will be bought on the market during procurement in the future.
DBE First Quarter Performance 2019/20
Ms Carol Nuga-Deliwe, Chief Director, Strategic Planning and Research, DBE, took the Joint Committee through the Department’s performance indicators and targets and reported on expenditure during the first quarter of 2020/21. Some adjustments were tabled to the APP for the quarter two after hard lockdown affected monitoring and oversight, including virtual meetings with departments. She reported that 36% of the targets were not achieved and 9% of them indicate partial achievement across the five programmes due to lockdown regulations.
Programme one indicated overall target achievement in terms of invoices paid, reported misconduct cases, increased capacity-building programmes and submitted quarterly reports. The Department held many meetings with committees concerning administrative arrangements in the DBE and matters related to COVID-19. The Department revised the 2020/1-2024/5 Strategic Plan and 2020/21 APP in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and budget alignment processes. She expressed that the third and fourth quarter performance would reflect better growth as the COVID-19 regulations and circumstances alleviate.
Programme two reflected insufficient monitoring of Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) and oversight visits during the COVID-19 hard lockdown during the first quarter. Remedial action was recommended to increase virtual and in-person monitoring to increase efficiency and participation with PEDs. The Committee identified gaps in monitoring and provisioning of programmes for C/LSPID learning protocols. Monitoring, preparation and delivery for ECD curriculum, funding and data collection have been delayed. She indicated that a lot of work has been done to ensure teacher, content as well as guideline development and implementation for special education and public school needs.
Programme three displayed extensive work on teacher development, school governance and school management support. The number of PEDs monitored on the Quality Management System (QMS) did not meet the target due to onsite monitoring being suspended. The number of Funza Lushaka bursaries awarded to students enrolled for Initial Teacher Education increased during 2019/20. Funza Lushaka noted that 59% of the available allocations were filled within the first quarter, while 100% of teaching posts were filled in each province.
Programme four concerned planning, information and assessment. The number of General Education and Training (GET) test items was delayed and will require a new test development panel to review NSC items.
Programme five showed the partial achievement of school monitoring for the provision of nutritious meals. Due to lockdown, districts were not monitored for the implementation of National School Safety Framework (NSSF), social cohesion, sport and enrichment programmes during the quarter. Targets have been adjusted for quarters two, three and four.
Ms Nuga-Deliwe said that 30%, R7.62 billion out of the unrevised R25.34 billion, of the total DBE Appropriation budget for 2020/21 was spent during the first quarter. The bulk of the allocation on this programme is Conditional Grants (Mathematics, Science and Learner with Profound Intellectual Disabilities), Workbooks and Matric Second Chance, which all underspent on account of fewer in-person interactions and insufficient printing. Expected upcoming deviations from expenditure will occur in later quarters where examiners and moderators, earmarked funds and the School Infrastructure Backlog Grant will resume in effect after being postponed during hard lockdown.
Chairperson Mbinqo-Gigaba acknowledged the difficulties the Department experienced in 2020, and commended it for still achieving most of the planned targets. She was concerned about the fruitless and wasteful expenditure within the DBE. The Committee should be appraised on the investigative processes required by remedial action. She also was worried about the implementation of sanitation projects in schools being delayed due to backlogs in infrastructure funding.
In relation to protests outside Brackenfell High School, she asked how the DBE viewed the fact that the Western Cape has a Head of Department (HoD) over 65 years old on the system. There are many young, unemployed and qualified educators who could serve in this role and further transformation efforts.
Ms C King (DA) said that unions were concerned on social media about educators being coerced into invigilating COVID-19-positive learners, compromising their own safety. She asked what engagements have been done with unions to ensure their safety with the DoH while allowing every learner an opportunity to write examinations. Where students contracted COVID-19 on school spring camps, was the appropriate testing and quarantining done for learners and educators? The DBE should set higher key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor and indicate a true reflection of needs and performance in PEDs.
On full-service schools, she questioned how many schools were converted within a year to function optimally with resources. Some schools are still severely dilapidated and missing the necessary equipment to function. The Committee should table legislation, or add to the BELA Bill, for learners with special educational needs to mitigate gaps in policies. She asked the DG if the SCMP will be extended by another year for it to be completed. The Committee should be provided with a breakdown on how the funds in the Funza Lushaka graduates in PEDs programme are allocated to ensure that educators are entering fields in maths, science and technology.
Ms King was concerned about the recurring findings, in the AGSA report, of irregular expenditure reflecting poor internal financial oversight controls. She asked what consequence management procedures were put in place to resolve this. How far are discussions on the implementation of general education certificates for grade nine learners?
Ms King said that she was aware that the Western Cape secretary-general had interviews for replacements for officials over 65 years old. “I feel that in other provinces we have the exact same thing where we find older people also in control. Sometimes you find people who do not even know what their job entails, especially in the provinces of Eastern Cape and Limpopo and those areas.”
Chairperson Mbinqo-Gigaba called for order stating that Members should not generalise claims to the point of fabrication that are in effect racist. Issues concerning PEDs should be supported by facts in Committee meetings.
Chairperson Nchabeleng held that Members have the right to bring up issues concerning PEDs but issues cannot be generalised across provinces. He agreed that HoDs above the retirement age must step down from their position to encourage younger officials to run these departments.
Ms King made an objection to the claims of racism. She asked for clarity on what part of her statement regarding interviews for replacement HoDs was racist.
Chairperson Nchabeleng called for order. He ruled that the meeting had to continue, though the Committee acknowledged that qualified individuals below the retirement age should fill these HoD deficiencies.
Mr G Hendricks (Al Jama-ah) said that the presentations indicated a clear empathy with the very senior officials of the Department under the leadership of the DG driving for learners. He said that learners had the best chance of passing their examinations and wished them everything of the best. He asked whether there is a possibility that all learners writing their examinations will be able to move to the next standard, taking into account the extraordinary circumstances they had to endure. If they do not pass, there must be provision that they move onto the next standard.
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) asked if it was possible for the Department to create a toll-free line for students and teachers to use to report unforeseen circumstances. She wanted to know of the powers of SGBs regarding appointment of principles in schools within programme three. Decisions of SGBs are often overruled by decisions made of the district officials present in the interview.
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KwaZulu-Natal) asked the Department what was happening in schools that have not yet issued out second- and third-term reports to matriculants applying to tertiary education for 2021. She pointed out that five to six schools in KwaZulu-Natal have not yet handed out reports.
Ms S Lehihi (EFF, North West) asked what support is available to matriculants who are currently experiencing anxiety about writing exams during the COVID-19 pandemic and under these regulations.
Mr Mweli thanked the Joint Committee for their questions regarding the presentations. He addressed Ms Lehihi’s question, stating that the DBE visited 200 centres and spring camps across the nine provinces to get a readiness assessment from learners and educators in terms of curriculum coverage. The DBE found that many students were enthusiastic to write. Where students felt anxious, they could receive psychosocial support offered at a school and district level through online and in-person services. In preparation for the reopening of schools, the DBE took inventory and made provisions of available psychologists and social workers for learners and parents.
On unavailable reports, Mr Mweli asked for details of specific schools yet to issue them. The second-term report is unavailable due to the cancellation of June examinations. Third-term reports should be available for all learners. Universities have been using grade 11 reports and are aware that second-term reports will only be available after the preliminary exams.
On toll-free lines, he responded that the number is indicated on the back of every DBE issued workbook. The DBE is linked to the toll-free number available in the Presidency concerning anything to do with education. The DBE is mandated to respond to these calls quickly.
Mr Mweli recalled that the scores given to HoD candidates by SGB and district officials are not always reflective of the chosen candidate. The SGB is mandated to recommend, district officials play an advisory function and, finally, the HoD makes an appointment. This matter is subject to amendment in the BELA Bill that SGBs should not have this responsibility as it hinders transformation in PEDs. When going deeper into specific cases it will be clearer to identify if officials overstepped or the SGB merely overlooked important details.
He thanked Mr Hendricks for his recommendations. He assured that the requisite support has been provided to learners by the DBE and overall their morale has lifted. Due to the COVID-19 difficulties, the Department expressed the importance that every learner has an opportunity to write which is a success in itself. He noted that few learners chose to not continue the academic year due to the circumstances. Learners in lower grades are expected to meet the standards in order to pass.
The Minister cannot dictate who should be appointed in any post or province. The Minister may merely advise the Members of Executive Council (MEC) and HoD in each respective department. In order to take over responsibilities it would have to go through section 100 of the Constitution and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to be afforded the authority. He asked for specifics on incompetent PEDs in the interest of improving the sector.
On General Education and Training Certificate for Adults (GETC), it was submitted to Umalusi for consideration of approval of this qualification. The DG noted that the AGSA report reflected that full investigations were taken up as per the recommendations to mitigate consequence management. The Department acknowledged the weaknesses in financial controls where irregular expenditure almost doubled. This occurred in supply chains carried out by implementing agents without considering the relevant instructions from National Treasury, which occurred in many forms of expenses. The DBE is following a matter of R500million in irregular expenditure which is under review and to be regained through remedial action.
Funza Lushaka learners are required to complete their registered courses in order to qualify for the bursary and monitor what subjects they specialise in. The DBE plans to continue the SCMP to support Grade 12 learners to meet the NSC requirements. Mr Mweli said that the South African Schools Act (SASA) makes provision for students with special educational needs. The norms and standards for funding of schools with special education needs do not necessitate legislation to be drafted or to be removed from the mainstream system. The DBE will present, to the Committee, at a later point on inclusive education, specifically full-service schools.
Mr Mweli said that APPs and strategic plans are discussed with the Portfolio Committee before they are finalised. Members are able to mention the standards of the targets before their finalisation. On visiting schools, the DBE, PEDs and districts all verify and authenticate if schools are provided with support from districts. He acknowledged that some Members would have appreciated more visits to schools. The DBE working with the DoH does not have the capacity to test all learners and educators. Extensive testing occurs during initial outbreaks or if the learners were known to have contracted COVID-19 at the spring camps. Testing occurs only when other relevant symptoms are present as well.
The DBE aims to do everything in their power to recover the fruitless and wasteful expenditure of taxpayers’ money. Ideally, the Department aims to not create any fruitless and wasteful expenditure. Mr Mweli listed the numerous ways fruitless and wasteful expenditure can be incurred even in good faith.
The DG reported on the protests that occurred outside Brackenfell High School, stating that the situation is now under control according to the Western Cape Education Department. He confirmed that the HoD of Sports and Recreation in the Western Cape was vetted to become the HoD DBE in the Western Cape. The decision to appoint the HoD beyond his lawful retirement age was a decision taken by the Premier of the Western Cape with the MEC. The DBE has extremely constrained authority to appoint officials in provinces.
Dr Mantlhake Maboya, Chief Directorate: Curriculum Implementation and Monitoring, DBE, said that teacher unions were consulted regarding COVID-19 learners testing positive and requiring invigilation. A circular was issued that outlined suitable invigilators in and outside the field of education and guidelines concerning consent. Regarding spring camps, the union is unsure when the learners contracted COVID-19. However, the Department set up all COVID-19 procedures as a preventative measure to ensure the health and safety of learners, educators and health officials.
On full-service schools, Dr Maboya said that no schools were converted during 2019/20. This is due to the AGSA identifying many shortcomings regarding the programme in 2018/19. The DBE decided to halt all process and to undertake the appropriate remedial action to remedy this situation. Standard operating procedures were developed to guide the schools as to designation and resourcing full-service schools. The SCMP will still be in place over the current end of term.
The College Qualification Policy Framework was submitted to Umalusi and is currently busy processing the recommendations made, to be returned to Umalusi. The DBE hopes to implement the General Education Certificate in 2022.
Dr Maboya said that the DBE has issued out a number of seculars regarding assessments to guide the PEDs to ensure that everyone is on the same page. The policy on pass requirements will be upheld, in spite of the difficulties in 2020.
Mr Paddy Padayachee, Deputy Director General: Planning, Information and Assessment, DBE, said that information on Funza Lushaka, according to subject allocation, can be made available in the future. He indicated that out of the 4 700 Funza Lushaka graduates, 2 600 would have a qualification maths, science and technology. Going forward, the DBE is looking to recruit in technology subjects such as coding and robotics. There are approximately 15 000 graduates from other bursaries and funding whose subjects will be looked into.
Mr David van der Westhuijzen, DDG Infrastructure, DBE, reported that 361 ASIDI projects were earmarked for replacement, while 251 were completed. All electricity and most water programmes have been completed in 2019/20. The Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) was launched to eradicate pit latrines. PEDs nominated schools to become part of this programme. After investigation, the DBE discovered that some schools have opted to share resources, inadequate schools were closed down and some schools do have access to viable sanitation, amounting to 1 000 out of 3 818 schools identified. He also noted the contributions of other schools that have donated funds to assist the Department.
The meeting was adjourned.
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