Reopening of Schools; Matric Exam marking: update with Deputy Minister

Basic Education

20 January 2021
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule: Basic Education reopening of schools for academic year 2021 – 15 January 2021

In a joint virtual meeting of the Portfolio and Select Committees on Basic Education, the Department presented an update on its state of readiness to reopen and the process followed in coming to the decision to postpone the opening of schools by two weeks. It was reported that the marking of the National Senior  Certificate Examinations was progressing well.  

Committee members pressed the Department on a number of issues, including infection rates; fatalities; safety of students and teachers with co-morbidities; if there was a sound scientific basis for postponing reopening of schools; if teachers were considered frontline workers for vaccination; the seeming gap between public and independent schools was a point of contention, however, the Committee was united in its desire to ensure that schools in poorer areas, lacking human resources, water and facing vandalism as they continued to be closed, would in fact be ready to open by 15 February. Members asked for more research on dropout rates and the impact of COVID-19 on the sector; the plans to address the mental health of learners and teachers; about the matric exam rewrite court case DBE was involved in and the costs involved and if DBE had a recovery plan to attend to the gaps in learning and loss of school time. The Committee committed to an oversight visit to provinces needing close attention to ensure schools were ready and scheduled an oversight visit to Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal for early February.

Meeting report

Meeting report

Introductory remarks
The Chairperson expressed compliments of the new season and hoped that the Committee would be able to travel together this year without incident. She welcomed the Deputy Minister and noted the Minister had sent apologies due to illness. The meeting would be co-chaired by Mr Nchabeleng who was going through a difficult period due to a second loss in his family. She expressed the hope that God would give him strength to deal with the trauma that this period of his life had brought. She asked for a moment of silence for Committee Member, Ms Shabalala, who passed on in December last year.  

Deputy Minister’s Introductory Remarks
Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Ms Reginah Mhaule, said she believed that 2021 would be a fruitful year. She was leading the DBE delegation as the Minister was still on sick leave. The Department felt that she should stay on sick leave to make a full recovery, although she was much better. She gave her condolences to all those who lost had loved ones and extended this to the losses faced by teachers and their families. She noted that Ms Shabalala was an instrumental member of the Committee. Although there was the belief that 2021 would be a better year, it appears that 2021 seems to be a continuation of 2020 as all the challenges from 2020 are overlapping into the current year.

Considering the stress the Department of Health is under and the capacity which it and the Department had to address the reopening of schools, a decision was made to postpone the school calendar by two weeks. After the Department of Health has observed how much stress it is under leading into these two weeks, schools would then reopen.

The DG and the DBE team are here to present the proposed revised directives for the Basic Education sector. A further report is that marking was meant to be completed by 22 January 2021 but it has effectively been concluded two days earlier. What remains is mark capturing. She was of the view that there would be ample time to complete everything that needs to be done before the results are released in February and the date of release has not changed.

The Eastern Cape Superintendent General had passed away and that there were a number of circuit managers, teachers, principals and officials that the sector had lost to COVID-19. There were blows all over the place and she knew that everyone present had suffered losses due to COVID-19 and she reaffirmed her condolences.

Department of Basic Education (DBE) Status Update on Reopening of Schools
DBE Director General, Mr Mathanzima Hubert Mweli, said he would present in duet with Director of National Examinations, Ms Priscilla Ogunbanjo. He would present on the state of readiness, while Ms Ogunbanjo would present on the marking of the combined 2020 November exams. This was in attempt to balance genders when presenting to the oversight Committees.

If the Deputy Minister would allow, he added that in addition to losing the Superintendent General of the Eastern Cape, the President of the National Teachers Union (NATU), a long-standing union member in the sector, also passed on in the last few weeks.

What is the Problem?
COVID-19, although not an education crisis, is a health crisis which is affecting the world and has the potential to become an education crisis.

When DBE presented its state of readiness to the National Coronal Virus Command Council (NCCC) which had already been presented to both the Portfolio and Select Committee in November 2020, the Minister of Health painted a picture of COVID-19 figures rising at an alarming rate, even in provinces where previous infection rates had been low. The Health Minister requested that DBE consider delaying the reopening of schools; although learners are less susceptible to the virus, there was concern that the new variant of the virus had a 50% higher rate of spreading. DBE was asked to consider delaying the reopening of schools to provide relief to health institutions and services. This was because there would be more movement when parents and children begin moving from one area to another to reach institutions of learning.

Empirical Evidence to consider in decisions on School Reopening
School closure has serious ramifications for learners, particularly those in early Grades; these students may forget the skills and knowledge which they had acquired earlier. This creates the challenge of accumulated gaps as they continue in subsequent Grades. This concern remains with the current Grade 12 learners who were the Grade 11 learners of 2020. The curriculum of 2020 was narrowed or trimmed and these learners were not exposed to the full curriculum. However, in Grade 12, the learners will be examined on the content of the full curriculum of Grade 10, 11 and 12. Therefore, the further delay in the opening this year places a huge burden on the system to catch up both Grade 11 and 12 content. These learning losses will be extremely difficult to recover.

The hospitalisations and death statistics of learners and teachers are detailed in the presentation. He noted that the death and mortality rates of learners are lower than what is being seen internationally.

COVID-19 cases at January 2021          
Figures on infections and fatalities were presented by province in the presentation.

Stakeholders consulted
The stakeholders consulted were presented according to meeting date and their position on whether to delay the reopening of schools (slides 14 and 15).

Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19 recommendations
DBE had consultations based on the NCCC recommendation that DBE consider delaying the school year by two weeks. The MAC was in favour of keeping early child development (ECD) centres and primary schools open while adopting a risk-mitigated environment. It was also in favour of delaying the reopening of schools while assessing the trajectory of community transmission.

DBE recommendation
DBE has decided that teachers will return from 25 January 2021 to prepare for the return of learners with learners starting on 15 February. The directives have been finalised and will be published soon.

Marking of National Senior  Certificate Examinations
Director of National Examinations, Ms Priscilla Ogunbanjo, said marking of the 2020 Combined June and November National Senior  Certificate Examinations was conducted in all provinces across 177 operational marking centres whilst the country was in Level Three Lockdown. Strict social distancing protocols were observed.

Although marking was planned to be completed on 22 January 2020, many provinces have finished early. Free State finished before 20 January 2020, after starting to mark the examination scripts on 4 January. The Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KZN, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape have completed marking, with only a few subjects to be marked in the remaining provinces.

Of the 45 272 markers appointed, 2 463 withdrew.  The provinces replaced 1 736 of those who withdrew.
There were 315 markers who tested positive and were released from marking. The majority of these were tested at the gate and were not allowed into the venue. The personnel that tested positive is 0.7% of the total personnel body. This number has not increased alarmingly.

Now that the marking is about 99% complete, DBE is beginning mark capturing. Capturing is taking place at 34 capturing centres. There are three stages to mark capturing which ensures the accuracy of the results. Capturing has already started in some provinces. Capturing is scheduled to be complete on 25 January.

The following challenges were identified:
- Shortage of markers: The 2463 markers who withdrew, comprised 5.4% percent of the total number of markers. After the replacement markers were brought in, DBE had 98% of the markers present, which is comparable to previous years.
- Shared accommodation: This was difficult to maintain whilst ensuring one and a half to two metres social distancing.
- Reliability and validity of marking due to staff replacements
- Markers testing positive
- Capturers testing positive
- Financial implications of additional marking days
- Load shedding: The markers were not affected by load shedding. For mark capturing, six provinces had backup generators while three provinces had generators in only some centres.  In these centres, they plan their capturing in line with the planned load shedding.
The National Examinations Irregularities Committee (NEIC) will sit on 30 January to deliberate on both administrative and behavioural offences and irregularities from this examination period. The calendar of dates outlining the processes until the end of February were presented slide 31 of the presentation. The Ministerial Release of Results will be 22 February and the Provincial Release of Results the next day.

Ms N Mashabela (EFF) said she had received reports that education assistants (EAs) had not been paid since they started working. It was announced in October that money was allocated to pay these EAs. She asked when the EAs would be paid. She noted that the decision was to delay the reopening of both private and public schools by two weeks. This is a logical decision, however, she was disgusted by the fact that private schools remain open while government schools are closed. She asked for clarity on this issue.

Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) acknowledged that COVID-19 was a mutating virus and that the country was currently facing its second wave of the epidemic. He noted the DG's estimate that teachers from ages 45 upwards are more vulnerable to the virus and these are the majority of teachers. He asked how ready DBE is to fill vacancies in terms of people who can fill the vacancies and having systems which work expediently to fill them. Secondly, although he understood there are private and public schools, there seemed to be a very wide difference or gap between what is done by private and public schools. It seems as if the country is moving in the direction of having two worlds in basic education. Whilst it is accepted they are private, he felt that this progression should be monitored to ensure that it does not depict two societies. Thirdly, he asked if there was a possibility of a change to the starting date of learners during the two weeks where the teachers are at school. He referred to the problem of two leaked exam papers and asked if DBE has adequately engaged with the accreditation board, Umalusi, to ensure there will not be surprises come the assessment of the results.

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) extended her condolences to all those who lost their lives in the education sector and to their loved ones. She agreed with the DG that disruption in learning is not desirable. She agreed that there are two different worlds in education. On the school starting plan, she asked what stopped DBE from opening schools in parts of the country where the wave has passed and closing them in hotspot areas. Eastern and Western Cape are now past the second wave, with parts of the Western Cape having passed the peak for some time, yet schools remain closed. During winter in the Western Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape, it will be very difficult to fight COVID by opening windows and doors which will simply not be possible. Her concern was not to do the two-week delay now but rather going forward, DBE would consider closing and reopening schools as waves come and go.

She referred to the World Health Organisation (WHO) quote in the presentation about prolonged school closures. She asked if DBE had done research on the impact of COVID-19 on the education sector. Although there is WHO information, it is more pertinent to know how the virus is affecting South Africa specifically. The DBE research repository has only one chapter on school dropouts. This was published in 2006. It has only one paper on absenteeism that was published in 2007. Since then, a whole cohort had left school. Last year the Minister said that over 300 000 learners have dropped out of school. What research was being done or was planned to determine accurate statistics about dropouts. Slide 7 refers to learning losses and the impact on Grade 3 reading levels on a global level. She asked where the South African research is on this since COVID-19 will impact education now.

Since DBE is considering online learning as a strategy, she would like to know the right options to choose and if online learning works – based on research. She asked if online learning works with either the CAPS curriculum or if the Minister is considering other syllabi for the purposes of online teaching.

Ms Sukers raised the concerns of parents that the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme will be implemented overall.

She asked when Umalusi will be in a position to certify the exams. She asked about DBE's legal costs for the matric exam rewrite court case. She asked why the opinion of senior counsel was not sought as it should be in addressing contentious matters.

Ms D Van Der Walt (DA) welcomed all colleagues back and the Deputy Minister. She was concerned about ECD centres. She wanted to hear about what is happening with ECDs in totality as the Minister of Social Development had not published these results. She was concerned about children who were at these centres, whose parents went to work. It could not be ignored that many children go to school hungry. She asked how special needs children will be transported. Additionally, she asked what hostels are looking like, noting that lots of special needs children live in hostels. In future, she asked that the DBE include a separate summary of the number of hostels, learners, and staff and how they are all affected in looking after the learners.

Ms Van Der Walt spoke about infrastructure, including classrooms, desk shortages and the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between DBE, the Department of Water and Sanitation and Rand Water Board. She ask about the MOU status and she did not want to be negative but she knew it had not been completed. She asked for a report at the next meeting on the MOU and what is happening.

She expressed concern as it was already known that schools would be opening only on 25 January. Now this has been extended by two weeks. She was concerned that schools would still not be ready to open by 15 February. What had already been done in January to become ready to open after postponement?

She asked why the EAs were appointed in December when schools were closed. The Committee was told that the EAs would be trained and some of them would start working. There were those who did go to work in certain areas and were not paid. She asked what the EAs were used for and if they were actually assisting DBE in preparing for reopening. It would have been very nice to use these 319 000 young education assistants to alleviate the backlog, with planning, in the roll-over to this academic year.

Mr T Malatji (ANC) said that this was not the first year government was dealing with COVID-19. When he went to Matatiele last year, the whole district was not ready to welcome learners back to school. Even though it is 2021, there are still kids who cannot access items such as the internet. The cycle of poverty continues as the disparities are evident. The kids of the poor will suffer because although everyone has the right to information, poor kids cannot access it. Public servants do more than merely work for the state— they are expected to be selfless and are meant to work beyond what is required of them. Whether the workers are parliamentarians or teachers, every one of them is a public servant—teachers need to be reminded of this. Teachers have a greater responsibility than anyone else as becoming a teacher is a calling to assist and educate. Unions need to be engaged on this as the developmental agenda requires that teachers are highly conscious of the fact that they be selfless public servants.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) expressed her condolences for the families of the departed and her hope that their souls dwell in perfect peace. She asked what is to happen about school fees and boarding fees for the month of January. She asked if the Committee should not propose the non-payment of January fees since there was no school in January. She felt that parents would gladly accept such an announcement.

For Grade 12 learners who request re-marking of scripts, she asked about ensuring a speedy turnaround time in the release of re-marks, as in the past this has delayed learners from continuing their studies at their preferred higher education institutions. She asked what the DBE intervention would be to address this.

She asked when DBE intends to start a discussion on the merging of examination systems. There are two examination systems and one country. She found great disparity between the two and called for one examination system, asking when legislation to this effect would begin.

Mr S Lehihi (DA, North West) spoke in his vernacular language [1:27:00].

Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) sent his sincere condolences to all those who had passed on. He asked about teachers with co-morbidities. He asked how it is ensured that teachers found to be positive on arrival at marking centres do not return to schools in the same condition. He asked if the efforts to access vaccines would benefit the sector as children return to school. Lastly, he felt that it would be good for the Committee to visit some schools to ensure that it is satisfied that children and teachers will be safe.

Ms S Luthuli (EFF) raised the issue of private and public schools and asked DBE to clarify if there are two education departments as there are schools who do not have enough teachers and basic resources. On the two-week delay in opening, she asked if schools that have been vandalised and schools that are always in crisis will also be ready to open by 15 February. She agreed that there is a need to visit schools to ensure that schools are ready to receive learners.

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked if DBE has a plan for schools in the Amathole region as there is a water crisis there. If DBE had a plan, she asked that it share it. She asked if the Department of Basic Education's human resources are ready to return to classes, considering that the country is in a second wave. She asked what support DBE is providing schools to ensure compliance with COVID-19 protocols. Have regulations which provide clear legal guidance to schools been gazetted in order to avoid litigation?

Mr B Nodada (DA) sent his condolences to those who lost loved ones due to COVID-19. He greeted the Committee and the Deputy Minister and thanked the Chairperson for her welcome, saying he was committed to working with the Committee to change lives for the better. His first question was for the Deputy Minister. He observed that MAC advises Ministers in the education sector and there has been communication that schools will only open on 15 February. He asked if MAC advised DBE on what health and safety precautions need to be put in place for the reopening of schools. He asked if this decision was made based on feeling and with no medical or scientific evidence on how a delay of two weeks will make a difference. He asked for a picture of this evidence and what the advice given by MAC was. He asked if this advice was taken or not. He noticed in the presentation that primary schools and ECDs were flagged to be opened, but were not opened. Since the move back by two weeks, he asked if regulations on how the safe reopening of schools will take place have been released and if not why not. He asked when regulations will be released.

He agreed with his colleague that rural schools he had visited this week in both the Eastern Cape and Kwa Zulu-Natal were not ready for reopening. Health and safety of teachers and learners must be prioritised in the reopening of schools, hence asking when the regulations will be released.

He asked the DG what the plan was to catch up the lost days as there has essentially been a loss of 4 weeks. He asked what DBEs plan was to recover the lost time and if there would be longer days or shorter holidays and if the DBE had noted that winter affects provinces differently. The regulations are needed as soon as possible. He asked the Deputy Minister about investigations into the leaked exam papers.

Dr W Boshoff (FF+) sent his condolences to those affected by COVID-19. He hoped that the Minister would get well soon as her presence was missed in these kinds of meetings. On the fatalities, he asked if it referred to COVID-19 fatalities or if it was all fatalities. On the staggered opening of schools, his reading between the lines suggests that DBE went to the NCCC with a presentation that some schools should open and that the pandemic was progressing and as such it was not a bad idea to reopen schools. It seemed to him that once the NCCC was instructed not to, DBE agreed, which is always a good idea because a confrontation with government is to be avoided. Afterwards, it was confirmed by the Association for Paediatricians that it was not sensible to keep schools closed.

He noted that there was evident the perception that private schools are very rich, very well-resourced and in a very good position and that DBE liaised with these private schools. This is not the case and not one of these perceptions is exactly so. The reason some schools are able to open is some are better organised and not that they are better resourced. It was a peculiar idea to him that some people are so fixated on the idea of one state and centrality that efforts to combat poverty are made by always adapting to the lowest common denominator. This seemed very insensible to him. He asked for clarity on the postponement of schools and if regulations would be published to force private or ‘independent schools’  to comply with the two-week delay; or if independent schools would be required to implement best practices. He closed with the thought that it appeared that the education sector tends to look at the present as the worst-case scenario and looking forward as if there will be a best-case scenario. When the school year was interrupted last year, there was the assumption that in postponing to this year, it presupposed that everything would go well this year. This has not been the case as the school year has started with two weeks lost already. He asked what assurances exist that DBE is going to get the pandemic under control and if it should not – at least conceptually – be re-thinking the whole concept of schooling as it could be that this is an even more disrupted school year than the previous one. It will boil down to losing a whole academic year if the problem continues to be tackled this way.

Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) was concerned about DBE's verification on provincial readiness to reopen. Her main concern however, was if schools and provinces have the necessary budget to prepare for reopening in terms of PPE and teacher-readiness. Should schools not have the necessary budget, what is DBE's stance on this and does it have a plan assist schools and provinces. Secondly, she was concerned about the drop-out rate. At this point it was uncertain how many learners had dropped out but it looked as if the Eastern Cape has the most drop-out learners at this stage. She asked if DBE had instituted a verification process to determine how many learners had dropped out and what plans it had to ensure these learners return to school in mid-February. Thirdly, she asked if the matriculants of last year would have a re-write opportunity before the end of 2021 and, if so, she asked for more information on this. Lastly, she expressed concern about learner and educator mental health being attended to, particularly in light of the number of suicides last year and the increasing concerns about the pressure of a shorter schooling year this year.

Ms N Adoons (ANC) added her condolences to those of her colleagues. In view of the postponement of the reopening of schools, she was concerned about vandalism. This was a problem even before the pandemic. She asked what mitigation plan the DBE has in the unfortunate case that after preparation, PPE and sanitisers are stolen She asked if they have a plan for storage so delivery only takes place at the appropriate time. She asked what is to happen to those schools where electricity and resources have been stolen. The curriculum needs to be considered in light of the value of life. She asked what DBE’s plan is to ensure that the gaps which exist are closed. She felt that another meeting was needed to receive a plan from DBE on how it intends to fill the gaps.

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) noted the losses faced by both the Committees and DBE officials and educators. He said that the loss of one, especially those who died in the line of work, is one too many. He hoped that the souls of the departed would rest in peace. He commended DBE on being proactive in delaying school reopening by two weeks as life comes first. He further commended it for the level of consultations it conducted, noting that consultation does not mean that in consultation, everyone will buy in. On the reporting dates, where DBE reports the mishaps and the view of teacher unions, he was sure DBE would to speak with the teachers and find a workable date. He asked if the Department is planning on going the route of digital learning and how ready it is to do so.

The Chairperson stressed the importance of the school nutrition programme. She expressed the wish that the DBE try and ensure the school nutrition programme is made available in areas where it is known that poverty levels are very high.

Deputy Minister’s response
The Deputy Minister said that the DBE came to present school readiness. This presentation included a number of areas. She felt that the DBE presentations in December and up until now, have taken into consideration COVID-19. The presentation addresses all COVID-19 related concerns. The calendar has not changed apart from a shift of two weeks. This may sound like the opening of a two-system country, the existence of independent schools is constitutionally permissible and South Africa is one country despite the two-week postponement. Whilst she heard the concerns and desires for a single timetable and a unified school system, this cannot simply be changed and would need thorough consideration.

Stakeholder consultation
DBE has learnt a number of lessons since reopening schools during COVID-19 last year. DBE only consulted with relevant and organised stakeholders. There were people who claimed to be unions who were not registered with the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC). She did not think that DBE would function if it opened up to everyone, including unorganised and unregistered groups. There were requests that some students be allowed to stay in hostels as a home, which was accepted by DBE.

Health advice
The advice which we all receive is from the NCCC, which is also advised by MAC. The MAC's research advised that primary school children and ECDs were not high-risk members of society and could open. However, DBE decided that since South Africa is one country, it would shift both primary and secondary school children by two weeks to allow the Department of Health to assess the situation in its institutions. What happens in health affects education, hence Members asking about the vaccine, which is not the responsibility of DBE. As much as DBE would like to see teachers get the vaccine first, the President had already announced who would be amongst the frontline staff to receive the vaccine. She recommended that health professionals who are advising the NCCC be invited to attend these meetings, as she was sure they would come if the Committee had health-related questions.

This is part of an initiative aimed at appointing 300 000 young people. Of the 300 000, 200 000 are EAs. Those who started in December versus those who start in January are being monitored. Although some have not been paid, some did not work in December. She did not have a date as to when payments would be paid, but there was money and they would be paid.

Director General's responses
The DG said that he would attempt to answer the 75 questions asked from the 15 members with an average of five questions each.

Mr Padayachee would be better placed to provide more details about the EAs. There were challenges faced with the EAs, however, he did not feel that the programme was badly managed. In fact, he felt that it had been successful in many ways. In some areas it was 90% successful and in other areas it was not. When he visited marking centres, there were many queries about Kwa Zulu-Natal, which he raised with the Head of Department (HoD). The HoD then informed him that appointments for teaching assistants was not in line with what was supposed to be done in employing people much older than they were meant to. Mr Padayachee would be able to speak to payments.

Private and public schools
Private and public schools exist in terms of the Constitution. There are policies which apply in handling independent and public schools, although sometimes there is the impression that independent schools are treated with kid gloves. The calendar of private schools is not handled by DBE. Some follow the DBE calendar. If private schools are accepted, it has to be accepted that regulations differ as well. Fortunately, private schools do not dominate. In South Africa, private schools constitute between 2 and 5% and public schools receive the bulk of government money.

Publishing of results and directives for state of readiness to reopen schools
All the questions on the state of readiness had been made by the Committee already, which the Committee had already engaged with thoroughly. The same presentation was given to the NCCC and answers were given there, however, DBE could return to answer these questions again. Umalusi has been following the law and knows the value of following the law. He did not anticipate any embarrassment on the publishing of results.

The directives which will be released are only those for Level 3 Lockdown. There is no confusion about this amongst schools. Before presenting to the Committee, DBE met with individual provinces one on one; more than once, and covered all of the considerations applying to each province. This was covered in the presentation

Water and sanitation
To Ms Van Der Walt, he confirmed that the contract with Rand Water was for three months. Mr Van Der Westhuizen has been working with the provinces to take over the responsibility as it was a temporary measure and DBE used money allocated to the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) for it. There is only one province which says it is not ready to take over that responsibility and DBE is working with it to ensure that learners and schools do not suffer. The province is the Eastern Cape which says that it does not have the money to take over what DBE has been providing it through Rand Water. The other provinces say that they are ready to start at any time. He felt that it may be necessary to come back with Rand Water to present on the Committee’s concerns.

Differentiated approach
To Ms Sukers, he confirmed that a risk-adjusted differentiated approach exists. The only reason the postponement is taking place is because the Department of Health pleaded with DBE and the Minister to postpone. Regarding readiness, DBE is ready.

If there are persons who have done research, this can be used; however, research is being conducted. The first four slides of the presentation speak to the research being conducted by Mr Gustafsson.

Drop-out rate research
It has been some time since research on this topic has been conducted and DBE is looking into resuming this research. The figures provided during the lockdown were based on the analysis conducted by provinces from learners who reported dropout and the gap from those who had not reported. Some data is inconclusive as it is not certain that learners who did not return constitute drop-outs. DBE thinks further observation is needed as there may be many reasons some learners did not report having dropped out.

Social distancing
It is sticking to what was recommended by MAC, which is one metre.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) plan
When schools reopen DBE intends to continue with the CSE plans.

Court case
The DG said he would rather not review the matric exam rewrite case in this meeting. The Deputy Minister knew that there were fatal flaws in the court’s decision. He did not think that the court had time to review the volumes and volumes of documents presented to it. He used the example of consultation, which it said was conducted for 15 minutes before the announcement was made. This was wrong as consultation happened over three weeks. The court elected to see some of the information but not all of it. If, however, the court papers were read, the Committee would see that the court missed a number of things. Similarly, the point on procedural issues were also questionable and upon review it would be seen that the court did not apply its mind. The only reason why DBE did not take the case on review was that learners would be further traumatised by prolonging the case. Apart from this, there were many areas of potential review.

Court costs
He emphasised that DBE was taken to court and did not approach the court itself. It only went to court to defend the Department's rewrite decision.

Recovery plan and compensation of gaps in learning
DBE intends to compensate for learning gaps. The recovery plan speaks to curriculum recovery as that is what DBE does and does best. The recovery plan is such that learners do not have to completely lose hope.

Teachers with co-morbidities and disproportionate impact on teachers
Mr Padayachee would respond to Mr Bara’s question on teachers with co-morbidities. DBE researchers have confirmed that teachers are not disproportionately impacted in comparison with the health of one or two other sectors.

Plan on teachers who tested positive at marking centres
There were 312 teachers who tested positive and Ms Ogunbanjo can elaborate on this if needed. The Eastern Cape is the only province that made testing mandatory for those attending marking centres. In other cases, DBE followed the WHO approach where those who had symptoms were referred to the Department of Health.

Access to vaccines
When this was discussed in the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS), DBE presented that teachers should be included as part of frontline workers and they are now included.

Visiting schools to check state of readiness by the Committee.
The DG supported this motion.

Ms Luthuli was absolutely right in saying that the longer schools are closed, the more they would be vandalised. Provinces are attempting to attend to this; however, it is a tall order. The costs continue to increase, particularly in Gauteng.

Water plan for schools in Amathole region
The DBE is working with the Eastern Cape on this.

Human resources plans
DBE is working with all provinces to ensure a state of readiness.

Support to schools and provinces to comply with COVID-19 measures
DBE says it always does this and it will also provide guidance to schools.

The MAC which Mr Nodada referred to is the Health MAC, but it does not only advise the health sector but advises DBE as well. The Deputy Minister referred to advice which was received from that MAC and DBE could share this advice with the Committee. He also felt it would be good to invite the Minister of Health to a meeting and the technical working group of paediatricians that advises DBE every step of the way.

 Level 3 Lockdown regulations
Level 1 Lockdown regulations already exist and the new regulations are merely updating the regulations for Alert Level 3.

To Mr Boshoff, he clarified that there were two slides, one spoke to teachers who tested COVID-19 positive and the other to fatalities. The former featured a figure of 16 000, while the latter figure of 400 referred to COVID-19-specific fatalities.

Stakeholder consultation
It is unreasonable to expect DBE to consult with schools that are not organised.

Curriculum recovery
There are plans in place to do so, it is a multi-year plan which had been presented.

Re-writing opportunity
This is planned for May.

Mental health
This is an important point and has been noted.

The DG thanked Mr Moroatshehla for acknowledging the work DBE is doing. He thanked him for his consistency in acknowledging the work DBE is doing.

This is part of the readiness team that has been presented and will be implemented throughout.

Feeding scheme
DBE has a structural interdict which obliges it to provide food to learners even amidst the postponement of the start date. Learners would be fed.

The DG asked that Mr Padayachee to assist in responding to the remaining questions.

School assistants and payments
Mr Paddy Padayachee, Deputy Director General: Planning, Information and Assessment, said that EAs would return to schools on 25 January with the teachers to assist in preparation for reopening and to undergo training. EAs and teachers would need to be paid by 29 January. Those who worked in December and January will receive the money then. Recruitment is almost at 100% for the EAs. In terms of the relief project, DBE would welcome the opportunity to return and present on the project towards the end of March.

Teachers with co-morbidities
There were over 22 000 at one point who were permitted to work from home. Then, they did not have all the data; however, at this point, there will be more teachers with identified comorbidities who will be able to apply to work from home. Where there is a vacant post, substitute teachers will be appointed. 'Education assistant' is now the term being used to refer to these educators, who are not teachers

The Deputy Minister said that the Department is currently working on this. She invited the Committee to present ideas on how this system can be implemented as it is concerned about learners staying home doing nothing.

The Chairperson said she was certain that Members' questions were responded to and asked if there was anyone who did not feel responded to satisfactorily. As there were none, she concluded by noting that COVID-19 was present. She permitted DBE to leave.

Committee Programme
The Chairperson said the meetings on the Committee Programme (26 January - 19 March 2021) would take place virtually due to the state of the pandemic in the country.

There is a proposal for an oversight visit in three provinces in the week of 1 February. The stating place would be Gauteng, followed by Eastern Cape on 2 and 3 February and Kwa Zulu-Natal on  4 and 5 February. She asked that Members with co-morbidities alert the Committee staff.

She detailed the agenda in the weeks following Tuesday 9 February onwards.

She noted that a joint meeting with the Department of Higher Education on the state of NSFAS would need to be held on the week of Tuesday 23 February as matric results will also be published in that week.

Ms Adoons asked for the date of the Directive for the Reopening of Schools on 16 March to be moved to an earlier date.

The Chairperson asked for the Committee Secretary to look into this and move a meeting which is less important.

The Committee Secretary confirmed that he would look into it.

The Committee Programme was adopted without further comment.

The Chairperson asked Members to send confirmation to the Committee Secretary on their availability for the oversight visits.

The Committee adopted the minutes of 24 November 2020.

The Chairperson asked Ms Sukers to lead the Committee in a prayer for those struggling with COVID-19. She knew that it was not easy for the Select Committee Chairperson who has recently buried a loved one, only to have another one pass on. She asked Committee members to be united in a moment of prayer for the country.

After Ms Sukers prayed, the Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

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