Inclusive Education; Limpopo Education Department COVID-19 update; with DeputyMinister

Basic Education

17 November 2020
Chairperson: Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

The Deputy Minister spoke about the leak of the Matric Mathematics Paper 2, stating that the matter is under investigation and will be reported on when this is concluded.

In a joint virtual meeting, the Portfolio and Select Committees on Education were given an update on the COVID-19 response in Limpopo. The Limpopo Department of Education reported on the many challenges faced by the department caused by budget cuts and the COVID-19 measures. COVID-19 has highlighted the pre-existing old, dilapidated or hazardous infrastructure available to schools in the province. The Department said that the challenges were minimal and in the process of being resolved. The Limpopo Department reported good progress on increased temporary toilets instead of pit latrines, and the return of most learners and teachers to schools.

The Limpopo Department reported that National Treasury had cut budget by R4.5 billion and said it had to get funding support from the Departments of Education and Health. This would have a grave effect on educator salaries, COVID-19 procurement and provision of learner support and infrastructure. The Department risks a Section 100 intervention if norms and standards are not upheld.

On Inclusive Education, the Department of Basic Education reported that there are 477 special schools and 832 full service schools. 129 680 learners with disabilities are in public ordinary school and 97 791 learners with special education needs and disability are in special schools which are not provided equally throughout the country. The Inclusive Education budget is R10 billion for 2020/21 with a shortfall of R24 billion. The Department was using a phased-in approach over the next 10 years.

Members found the Limpopo report unconvincing in accurately portraying the circumstances in the province It stated "minimal challenges" and the figures were not reflective of the dire circumstances in terms of water, sanitation, infrastructure and the safety and security of learners even before the pandemic. Members requested reports on how Limpopo plans to resolve increased GBV, sanitation and mobile classrooms used as permanent school buildings.

Members asked DBE for the reason for budget cuts in special schools which were already experiencing budget deficits. They asked about the quality of teaching of learners with special needs and about training. Reference was made to the Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability court case mandating that reasonable measures must be taken to give effect to the rights of severely and profoundly intellectually disabled children to a basic education of an adequate quality and provide adequate funds to special care centres.

Meeting report

The Chairperson, Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo), welcomed the Ministry and Limpopo MEC for Education. He stressed the importance of completing the curriculum to ensure that education prospers. COVID-19 has increased economic pressure on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and has consequently delayed progress in achieving the National Development Plan (NDP) goals. The Committee called upon DBE and the Ministry to provide assurance about delays due to school closures and if this impact can be mitigated.

Deputy Minister’s overview
Deputy Minister of Education, Reginah Mhaule, said that Limpopo would speak on its COVID-19 response and the Auditor General’s audit findings. The examination period has started for the Matric Class of 2020 and is running smoothly across the country. Learners and systems had to be prepared to run exams effectively without errors. Human error inevitably lead to glitches, which is how the leakage of the Matric Mathematics Paper 2 came about. Most often when there is a leakage, it comes from finishing and private schools as an opportunity to market themselves. The impact is assumed not to be that severe due to it not reaching more than 10% of the learners via WhatsApp. The situation remains under investigation and the Portfolio Committee will be briefed on the findings and the Minister will address the media.

The findings of Auditor General’s Special Report 1 (SR1) was based on procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Special Report 2 will be finalised in November 2020. SR1 reflected no findings for Limpopo. It was noted during the Auditor General presentation in Limpopo, that the province did not have a special report based on procurement as its procurement was not conducted through the DBE. She suspected that the AG findings were sent to the Department of Health (DoH) as it facilitated the procurement. The findings in the Limpopo Education Department presentation are based on SR2.

MEC Limpopo overview
Ms Polly Boshielo, Limpopo Education MEC, said that the province acknowledged in their July Budget Speech the challenges they were facing. These included inappropriate, hazardous and unhygienic sanitation facilities, lack of safe potable water, poor security measures, dilapidated and overcrowded schools. The Limpopo Department of Education (LDoE) met these challenges with actions to mitigate them.

LDoE prioritised eradicating pit latrines, although procurement was suspended in March during the hard lockdown. In spite of these challenges, 159 schools were provided with toilets. It re-advertised contracts for companies that could provide within the adjusted budget.

LDoE was able to quickly recover from these challenges. Ms Boshielo thanked the Minister, DBE and the Limpopo Provincial Command Council (PCC) for assisting it through the unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19. LDoE received the COVID-19 budget after adjustments in September. The province procured all PPE through the DoH due to lack of available funding in the province. This resulted in Limpopo’s exclusion from the SR1 audit. She thanked stakeholders, teachers unions and school governing bodies (SGBs) for providing assistance to schools during this time.

Ms Boshielo reported that all grades are back at school in the province. Limpopo has some of the fewest numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in schools. She pointed out the irony of this when considering how underdeveloped the province is in comparison to those provinces with a higher number of cases. COVID-19 exposed the pre-existing inequalities in the province.

The Post-Provisioning Norms (PPN) was completed in time. National Treasury plans to cut R4.5 billion from the LDoE budget. Treasury expects this loss to be compensated for by DBE availing R2 billion and DoH R2.5 billion to its Education budget. Budget cuts would have severe consequences for staff salaries and the procurement of COVID-19 health and safety equipment and protocols. If the province does not find this funding for remuneration, it will be in violation of Section 100 of the Constitution. National Government will impose an intervention when standards and service delivery are not provided. Its grievances have been expressed in a meeting with these bodies.

On the Portfolio Committee visit to the province, she said that the Department was contacted at short notice about dates for which they had prior arrangements. LDoE ensured that the Head of Department attended all meetings, presentations and visits to affected areas. It is incorrect to say that the MEC was not willing to meet the Committee.

Status and Impact of COVID-19 on schooling in Limpopo
Ms Onica Dederen, Acting Head of Department (HoD): Education, said that face-to-face teaching, the May/June 2020 Senior Certificate, 1 615 361 National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) beneficiaries and learners bussed to schools were all disadvantaged by the COVID-19 challenges. LDoE provided additional classrooms to practice social distancing. It prioritised water and sanitation to adhere to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Vandalism and theft increased in schools during lockdown. Schools in rural areas required dedicated cleaning staff to sanitise facilities and regular screeners for learner temperatures. These expenses had not be budgeted for by LDoE. The Provincial Education Plan was drafted in response to learners and staff returning to schools after hard lockdown.

PPE Essentials Procurement
The Department was required to procure hand sanitisers, thermometers, face shields, surgical and cloth masks. LDoE acquired COVID-19 essentials through Limpopo DoH from May to July 2020, which the LDoE has supplemented with additional equipment to date. LDoE received masks donated from the DBE to circumvent any shortages, which have not yet occurred. DoH donated R112.55 million in COVID-19 essential equipment and LDoE procured R163 million based on the number of learners, educators and support staff in school districts. It also received numerous PPE donations through various benefactors.

The AG did not report any findings on the procurement of COVID-19 essentials in SR1. LDoE has received the preliminary findings of SR2 which will be presented to Parliament once finalised. The observations concerned the National and Provincial Treasury databases used by departments.

LDoE received 2077 special concession applications from educators with comorbidities, of which 1914 concessions were granted. Teachers working from home sent work to students each week. LDoE ensured the curriculum was finished with available educators. Teachers were trained on the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) while learners were taught safety protocols. She reported 266 teachers, 31 non-teaching staff and 128 learners infected with COVID-19 to date.

Learner and teacher attendance
The Education Sector adopted a phased-in approach for returning learners. Schools were required to choose a differentiated timetable that worked within the context of their school. The majority of the schools opted for the daily rotation model while the weekly, platooning, hybrid and traditional model were used in schools with high learner enrolment rates. LDoE visited schools to ensure that the selected model could be implemented successfully.

Ms Dederen reported a 95% average learner attendance in the province. 796 learners adopted home schooling methods, 106 opted for exemption due to comorditities. Teachers made sure to provide learners with the curriculum on a weekly basis even when working from home. Factors leading to learner absenteeism include teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence (GBV) towards school-going girl children. There are 3704 learners that have not returned to school and have not applied for home schooling.

All teachers have returned to schools after the announcement of Lockdown Level 1, although attendance fluctuates. She attributed the absenteeism to sick leave which had been a problem before COVID-19. Most foreign teachers have returned to schools and districts have replaced absent teachers.

Curriculum coverage
The curriculum was reorganized and trimmed for grades below 12 in line with the Annual Teaching Plan. Subject Advisors and Senior Managers from Head Office offered support on the curriculum following the reopening of schools.

Learner Support Programs
LDoE supported Grade R-12 learners, including learners with special educational needs, through school and online programmes. The DBE provided support through many programs to provinces through TV and radio broadcasting, digital online materials and additional classes and camps offered to Grade 12 learners. These programmes were used to monitor the performance and attitudes of learners.

79762 candidates registered across the districts to write the November 2020 examinations. These candidates consisted of full-time and part-time National Senior Certificate (NSC) candidates, repeating NSC candidates and June 2020 exam part time candidates. Upon the commencement of Grade 12 exams, learners signed a pledge which effectively resulted in learners reporting irregularities to the Department.

Implications of COVID-19 on infrastructure
Ms Dederen reported 1 687 475 learners in public schools in the province which the Department found difficult to accommodate while adhering to strict health and safety protocols. Differentiated timetabling mitigated problems of overcrowding in classrooms, enabling social distancing. LDoE is looking into utilising desk shields to allow more learners in classrooms. Social distancing has been accomplished allowing the administration of exams.

LDoE, through the help of the DBE, provided 522 schools with filled water tanks, schools with empty tanks received water and tanks with leakages were fixed. The DBE provided 453 schools with temporary sanitation while LDoE provided 236 schools. Some schools requested extra temporary sanitation measures.

LDoE said 332 schools in the province were affected by burglaries of electronics and the NSNP foodstuff. The burglaries caused minor damage to property which SGBs will facilitate in replacing. A total of 294 schools were disrupted by the Congress of South African Students across the province.

Scholar transport programmes remain in effect to benefit 44000 learners, majority from Waterburg. LDoE and Department of Transport (DoT) have ensured that buses are sanitised, learners wear masks before, while and after on the bus. Over a million learners continue to benefit from the NSNP. LDoE has ensured that social distancing is observed during meals.

Teachers were trained through various programmes to successfully screen learners and orient them in terms of safety protocol. Learners were screened on a daily basis and taught the protocols in

LDoE reported that teaching and learning has resumed in all schools. The November NSC and Senior Certificate for 2020 have commenced without any serious challenges. Teachers granted a concession for comorbidities have returned to school after the commencement of lockdown level one. Health and safety protocols are being adhered to as prescribed by the DoH.

Inclusive Education
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, DBE Director General, said the Inclusive Education programme aims to diversify education and work environments that are representative of various communities in South Africa. DBE has made good progress in four out of the six social justice principles, with the exception of efficiency and quality. The distribution of special needs schools is not reflective of the learners needs. There are 477 special schools and 832 full service schools. 129 680 learners are in public ordinary school with disabilities and 97 791 learners with special education needs and disability in special schools. He reported gradual growth of enrolment of learners with special educational needs between 2002 and 2019.

Norms and Standards for funding Inclusive Education in public schools
The Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC) recommended that the norms and standards for learners with special needs should be drafted into legislation. However, R34.37 billion is required to resource the full implementation of special school norms and standards. DBE has a budget of R10.07 billion for 2020/21. DBE plans to mitigate the R24 billion shortfall experienced in the provinces through a phased-in approach. The phased-in approach will happen in four phases with plans to be fully implemented by 2030. The 2020/21 R10.07bn budget - the first year of the phased-in approach - has a R69 million shortfall for four provinces: Kwazulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northern Cape and Western Cape. DBE has allocated budgets for specialised educators, therapists and social workers for students with motor and mental needs. DBE reported 49% of the allocated budget had been spent as of September 2020.

Curriculum / Learning programmes
DBE has noticed an exponential growth in number of candidates enrolled for NSC exams and performance of learners since 2018. 140 candidates registered in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal and the Western Cape to write South African Sign Language Home Language (SASLH) exams. DBE is preparing to implement the Occupational Stream in Schools of Skill 2021 available to learners with and without special educational needs. Learner books and teacher guides were developed for all occupational subjects. These subjects are the entry level skills into the labour market which could lead to self-employment.

The Auditor General passed 75 schools after inspection of institutional readiness. DBE stopped designating full-service schools as per the request of the Auditor General. There are currently 848 designated full-service schools. These schools are found mostly in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Kwazulu-Natal provinces.

Teacher training
On this raised by the FFC, Mr Mweli reported that 113204 teachers and 5821 officials were trained on the Policy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS). DBE has funded 62 students with neuro-developmental, visual or hearing needs in 2020.

Access for learners with profound intellectual disabilities
The court held in a 2010 ruling that the state must take reasonable measures to give effect to the education rights of children with profound intellectual disability through the realisation of special schools in the Western Cape. Later it was extended to include all nine provinces. National Treasury allocated a R477 million Conditional Grant to the DBE from 2017-2020. DBE spent R242.86 million, 35% of the allocated budget, on special needs resources across the provinces. DBE has prioritized the therapeutic and psychosocial support systems for these learners. Network providers have allocated resources to provide 540 special schools with assistive devices, ICT and connectivity resources by next year. Mpumalanga is the only province that does not have a braille unit. DBE has distributed the Braille Master Copies to provinces.

A special school readiness dashboard was presented for each province.

The Chairperson thanked the LDoE and DBE for their presentations and said that written answers should be provided to the Committee. Limpopo has been plagued with water and sanitation challenges long before the advent of COVID-19. He asked the MEC Limpopo how far the Department was in eradicating poor water and sanitation conditions in schools and if COVID-19 was a catalyst to improve infrastructure.

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said that the Portfolio Committee and DBE should accept the guilt of poor sanitation and water services that have disadvantaged students in rural areas. The Limpopo report reflecting that there are ‘minimal challenges’ is too general and relative. LDoE should have gone into further detail to assist the Committee in providing water and sanitation services to specific areas. This will enable the Committee to see the progress made in these areas at the next presentation. He appealed for these details to be shared with the Committee to enable follow-up and assistance.

Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) asked why an adjustment of R328 million was made to public special school funding when there is already a budget deficit. She asked what alternatives were provided by DBE for the overcrowding in special school hostels. The Committee had requested updated information about overcrowding at hostels. What is the capacity of hostels in light of COVID-19?

She noted that differentiated timetables and alternative learning programmes in public schools will improve the quality of learning and learner performance. However, these circumstances could place teachers under enormous pressure. She asked DBE how teachers are coping and if more could be done to provide more stand-in teachers going forward.

Teachers should contact parents where there is concern that the child may fail Grade 1 during the year. Learners are not entirely to blame for their poor performance. DBE should create ways to assist struggling learners through the year to enable them to pass. Early identification could improve the results of weaker Grade 1 learners.

She asked what LDoE has done to encourage parents to send learners back to schools. Of the teachers approved for concession due to comorbidities, how many have returned to schools? She appreciated the speedy response by DBE after the maths paper leak. She asked what the extent of this leak was.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) said the Committee should be provided with a media statement on the maths paper leak and measures taken once the matter has been resolved. Social media publicises the problems that the LDoE attempts to keep private. She claimed that it was selective in its approach to assess schools based on districts. Problems within schools should be addressed equally to prevent social media backlash.

She said it is not possible that LDoE has eradicated the problem of pit latrines. She expressed concern that the AG reporting no SR1 audit for the province as the SR2 findings were not yet finalised. She requested a complete table indicating the number of schools still using pit latrines and temporary toilets in relation to learners. The progress reported is incomplete and in effect not addressing the challenges in the province. She requested a completed report from LDoE.

Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) said that violence, especially GBV, has become prevalent in schools and is seen as a norm. Focus should be put on prevention rather than reacting to incidents. She asked if the DBE and Ministry had a plan to ensure safety and security measures within schools. Safety and security should be prioritised for learners and draw in communities. What steps would DBE be taking towards this in the future?

Ms Christians was concerned that there was a lack of access to special schools, specifically in the Northern Cape. She asked what information is available on the number of special schools needed to capacitate all the learners in need in that province. What collaboration does DBE have with universities to ensure that teachers are given specialised training for special needs learners?

Ms N Mashabela (EFF) said that there have been no substantial changes to water and sanitation and infrastructure since 1994. Schools in Limpopo still have old, dilapidated buildings, mobile classrooms and pit latrines which are very dangerous. Most of the schools in the most critical need have not been seen to. Schools in Limpopo resorted to using temporary mobile classrooms as permanent school buildings. The Committee will provide the MEC with a list of these school that should be visited. More than 100 schools in Limpopo require adequate water and sanitation. LDoE must be proactive in resolving these problems instead of responding to incidents. Are there immediate plans to build infrastructure to replace the old, dilapidated buildings and mobile classrooms in schools?

Ms Mashabela said that the LDoE reported 515 pit toilets, though the true number is 829 schools with pit latrines. She asked if there had been any progress to eradicate pit latrines.

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) asked the LDoE what intervention programs were put in place to mitigate the increase in GBV. On learner absenteeism in the province, have surveys been conducted on the underlying reasons for this and what psychosocial support measures are available to teachers? She asked how social distancing is practised in the scholar transport system.

Parents of learners with special educational needs in poorer communities are severely impacted by their disabilities. DBE should link these learners to services that will provide them schooling. She asked what DBE is doing in collaboration with the Department of Social Development to ensure these children receive disability grants. Why has legislation not been enacted to fund special education centres as mandated by the court in 2010?

The DBE report indicated no branch was dedicated to special needs education. She asked how many research papers were completed and published for 2020/21. What is the number of children with special needs that are not receiving education? She felt concerned about the quality of teaching for deaf learners. There has been an increase in the number of children with special needs, such as autism and anxiety. She asked DBE what research has been done on this and what the Department plans to do.

Ms N Adoons (ANC) asked the Department to share the response from the Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability. Schools in Limpopo have faced overcrowding before the advent of COVID-19. She asked how LDoE resolved overcrowding and if the differentiated timetable was sufficient in solving this problem. Some schools in the province had toilets, though no water access. How did LDoE resolve this problem in addition to eradicating pit latrines?

Ms Adoons said that there had been problems with scholar transport service providers. She asked how the matter was resolved and for the current status of scholar transport. She asked how learners doing home schooling are receiving food from the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP). Did foreign learners return to schools and how many of those learners were in Grade 12?  

The Chairperson asked for an update on the 2010 Western Cape High Court ruling mandating the state to provide and fund special educational needs to learners.

Limpopo MEC response
Ms Boshielo said the LDoE acknowledged the challenges of inappropriate, unhygienic water and sanitation facilities, poor security and safety measures, old and dilapidated school buildings and overcrowding in schools. On water and sanitation, the Limpopo Provincial Command Council decided that municipal water services should continue to be provided to schools. LDoE is negotiating rates with the municipalities, considering water availability in communities. The Department has allocated sanitation contractors to provide these services to 156 out of 215 schools, the remainder have been re-advertised.

Ms Boshielo appreciated Ms Marchesi’s comment on the educators in the province. She confirmed that 70% of teachers in the province are 55 years or older. Younger teachers would be incorporated into the system by LDoE and will be reported on. On the validity of the AG report and SR2 findings, the MEC felt she was not in the position to comment on it. The Committee should summon the Auditor General to ask about this. LDoE does not have the resources to cater for the infrastructure needs of all schools in Limpopo at once.

Violence in schools is a top priority for the province. The Limpopo Provincial Command Council, the Premier, the MECs for Social Development, Community Safety and Transport have campaigned on radio stations to raise awareness. This is complemented by community structures.

LDoE did not claim to have eradicated pit latrines from schools. 156 of 256 pit latrines have been replaced and the Department will continue to improve. LDoE will send out an infrastructure team to conduct investigations in the schools recommended by Ms Mashabela.

The NSNP van reversed into a wall with learners on the other side, resulting in the death of the learners. It was not due to the poor condition of the school building. The dire need for water in some communities results in school water being taken from its tanks. This has been taken up with the Limpopo Provincial Command Council. LDoE terminated all contracts with scholar transport that did not comply with social distancing and health and safety protocols. The matter was taken to court by contractors, though the current status of this is unclear.

Limpopo HOD response
Ms Dederen replied that 522 water tanks were requested by LDoE, which were later provided as a temporary solution. She clarified that the problems were described as "minimal" on account of Rand Water filling the water tanks. Overall, the province faces a massive problem of water shortages which is being dealt with by the Provincial Command Council and water authorities. LDoE considers temporary water tanks and refurbishing boreholes for schools without water a priority. On sanitation, the Department reported figures based on a feasibility study on pit latrines in schools. Additional information will be provided on water and sanitation to the Committee from this study.

Ms Dederen said that the Provincial Command Council is supported by school programmes that speak about GBV to learners and teachers. Scholar transport regulations were relaxed to allow 100% capacity on public transport. Strict safety measures must be adhered to create safe environments for learners on buses. The Department has considered schools with bathrooms but no functioning water as well as schools with pit latrines. She reported that 236 pit latrines were replaced and 453 temporary toilets were provided to schools in the province.

The NSNP allows learners to fetch hot meals from schools or learners with scholar transport were provided food hampers from nearby schools to ensure they do not go hungry. Limpopo reached out to the media, SGBs and School Management Teams to contact parents to encourage learners to return to schools. An assessment of returning students will be made during examinations and reported to the Committee. All foreign learners returned to schools while some foreign teachers found difficulty in re-entering the country.

DBE Director-General response
Mr Mweli responded to Ms Marchesi that the budget adjustments were reductions in budget at a provincial level. He said that mobile classrooms and the differentiated timetable helped to mitigate problems of overcrowding. School hostels were able to comply with social distancing measures and mobile units were provided by the DBE where it could not. The model of differentiated timetabling has been adopted all over the world. Many teachers appreciated the smaller classes although this is unsustainable in the long term due to resources and insufficient contact time with students.

The DG agreed that learner learning deficiencies should be picked up at the earliest stages of schooling. A decision was made to no longer allow learners to repeat the Foundation Phase where learning deficiencies can be supported by the Department.

Mr Mweli expressed concern about how far the maths paper may have leaked on social media. Stakeholders and the Hawks were appointed to investigate this matter and make recommendations. A media statement will be provided to the Committee on the findings and upcoming steps to address the leak.

He indicated the number of learners in need of special education institutions is proportional to the population and the budget of the country. He replied that 62 teachers were involved in Funza Lushaka in 2020 at niversities across the provinces who will receive special education training. The Inclusive Education Report was provided on the request of the Committee to juxtapose some of the claims of the FFC.

Research done by DBE may be made available to the Committee. The 2010 court order held that the state should take reasonable measures to give effect to education rights for children with severe intellectual disabilities in the Western Cape. DBE has been able to meet the court requirements through numerous programmes to transfer funds in the absence of legislation. He would obtain figures on the number of children with special needs in the country from StatsSA once it is available to the Department. The report reflected the outcomes from the Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability case.

Deputy Minister’s response
Ms Mhaule thanked Ms Marchesi for appreciating the work that the Department has put into its response to COVID-19. The Department promises to provide safe implementation of infrastructure which may take longer than the expected period to complete.

The meeting was adjourned.

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