In a virtual meeting, the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education received briefings from six school governing bodies in the country -- the United Front for School Governing Bodies, the Governor’s Alliance, Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools, the National Association of School Governing Bodies, the Governing Body Foundation and the South African Principals’ Association.
The presentations identified similar challenges and opportunities, such as the lack of resources, poor leadership and governance, corruption and dysfunction, and the high pupil-to-teacher ratio. The school governing bodies highlighted their roles in assisting schools by providing them with guides to operate under the lockdown conditions, advocacy of the elections of school governing bodies, the use of technology in classrooms, and the training and upskilling of educators and learners in those skills.
They acknowledged the importance of collaborative work with other stakeholders, but expressed grave concern over the state of the infrastructure at some schools in the rural areas and townships. It was asserted that there was heavy bureaucracy in the basic education sector, and many of the bureaucrats were not making a positive contribution to the quality of education and to the benefit of the children.
FEDSAS and NASGB joint presentation
Mr Matakanye Matakanya, General-Secretary: National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB), and Dr Shaun Mellors, national chairperson: Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools (FEDSAS), briefed the Committee.
They highlighted the six present realities and the six opportunities which were identified as the challenges that faced education. The six present realities in the current education system were:
- Corruption and dysfunction;
- Lack of leadership and governance;
- Inadequate school infrastructure and resources;
- Influence of teacher unions;
- Insufficient staffing – particularly for Grade R and special education needs schools; and
- School governing board (SGB) elections.
The six opportunities were:
- SGB capacity building and leadership development;
- Lessons learnt from Covid-19;
- Development of a new schooling model, including technology/digitisation;
- Mother tongue language in education;
- Funding of schools; and
- Need to define “quality education.”
(See attached document for details)
They emphasised the importance of trust that underlined basic education, and warned against the politics of self-gain and self-advancement, and urged everyone to put the best interests of learners as a priority which should form the basis of all education discussions.
Mr Paul Colditz, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), FEDSAS, said the federation would continue to have similar engagements going forward. The 12 themes that had been highlighted in the presentation required debates and scrutiny before a solution could be found.
The most critical elements facing basic education were capacity building and leadership development. Currently, the sector had very limited resources to do that. FEDSAS had held 140 such presentations and webinars in 2020. It had also provided the basic education sector with a guideline on how to carry out schools’ activities under the COVID-19 lockdown in the absence of the Department of Basic Education (DBE). It had reached out to other schools and communities to provide the necessary support.
Mr Jaco Deacon, Deputy CEO, commented on the school governing board elections. He said that for the majority the provinces, SGB elections had regulations. FEDSAS had started its own training programmes on 15 February, using section 19(3) South African Schools Act. Furthermore, section 19(4) of SASA made provision for provincial heads to use recognised bodies or education associations in the provinces to provide training.
Mr Colditz said that COVID-19 had compelled the basic education sector to consider new models and opportunities for education that emphasised blended learning.
Mr Riaan van der Burgh, Deputy Provincial Manager, FEDSAS, explained that the emphasis on the use of technology in classrooms had been put forward by the federation about five to six years ago. In the 21st century, people should learn as they live. FEDSAS played the role of upskilling, training and advising schools on using technology at schools and in classrooms. He reminded everyone of the gradual shift towards a cashless environment, as well as the recent emerging pattern of online elections. The key was to address the access to infrastructure, such as cheaper data and devices.
Mr Colditz added that the practical guide to which Dr Deacon had referred was also available in e-book format, and was available in all 11 official languages.
He understood that the economy of the country was in trouble, so FEDSAS was aware that there would not be additional funding from the government’s side. He encouraged stakeholders to think creatively about the future opportunities for funding. For instance, he used the example of the self-managed schools that had survived during the COVID-19 pandemic without support or financial assistance from the DBE.
Finally, he pointed out that there was heavy bureaucracy in the basic education sector on the government’s side. Many of the bureaucrats were not making a positive contribution to the quality of education and to the benefits of children.
Governing Body Foundation (GBF)
Ms Anthea Cereseto, CEO: Governing Body Foundation, briefed the Committee on the education landscape challenges.
The four key challenges were:
- Funding cuts;
- Competency and corruption problems;
- Consultation and communication failures;
- Education as a societal issue.
She appealed for clearer national legislation to provide certainty in some basic education areas.
United Front for School Governing Bodies (UF4SGBs)
Mr Eric Mahlangu, United Front for School Governing Bodies, briefed the Committee on the challenges that faced South Africa’s basic education sector.
He emphasised the importance of education in the light of having a new non-racial and non-sexist education and training system.
He outlined the important points that were learnt from COVID-19, highlighting the uneven levels of coping strategies at different schools, and pointed out the vital need to adopt a civil society-driven approach to making education-related decisions. What was also learnt from COVID-19 was the lack of technical skills among learners, and sometimes educators. He therefore proposed a system of tutorial training to assist those struggling people to adapt to this new learning environment.
He explained the National Development Plan 2030, and its impact on SGBs. He also acknowledged the importance of ensuring proper accountability to fight corruption within school governing bodies, pointing out the barriers when it came to reporting corrupt activities.
Ms Kathy Callaghan, Secretary: Governors’ Alliance, focused her briefing on two issues – the infrastructure of public schools and the inefficiency of SGBs. Details of Ms Callaghan’s briefing can be found in the presentation.
She said public schools were experiencing challenges with infrastructure, in particular the roofs in many old buildings and some relatively newer structures. The challenge of the long lists in provinces for schools to receive attention for such repairs or even replacements of the school roofs had become urgent in many instances.
At the advent of the Education White Paper and then the South African Schools Act (SASA) of 1997, it was mooted that SGBs would be self-managing schools. Over the last number of years, SGBs had had various powers and functions taken away. The SASA had been amended nine times, during which various changes to the powers and functions of SGBs had taken place. She appealed to the Portfolio Committee to look into this.
South African Principals’ Association (SAPA)
Mr Linda Shezi, National General-Secretary, SAPA, briefed the Committee on the Association’s vision, mandate, values and objectives. Members were also informed of the code of ethics for SAPA members.
SAPA partnered with many of the important stakeholders in the education sector, such as Umalusi, the South African Council of Educators (SACE), unions, universities, etc. Its various programmes and their details were described.
Among its achievements were:
- Acknowledgment by the DBE to the extent of having a SAPA member deployed for two years;
- A positive relationship with provincial education departments (PEDs), SGB associations and labour;
- Recognition as a stakeholder that continued to contribute positively to the academic performance of learners in the NSC;
- Playing a positive role in the capacity building of School Management Teams (SMTs) at the local, regional, provincial and national level;
- Hosting of principals’ conventions and national and provincial conferences;
- Having SAPA members hold positions on the African and International Confederations of Principals;
- Having SAPA members reaching winning national teachers’ awards; and
- Continuously being invited to make input or comments on school leadership and management by various political, civic and business structures.
The Chairperson asked if there were any Members who wanted to ask questions.
There were no questions asked.
She understood the presenters’ shared concerns on the lack of funding, and appealed to these associations to make the best of the available limited resources. Due to the bad economic situation, it was unfortunate that no more funding would be available.
She highlighted the importance of fighting corruption, and asked stakeholders to work together to fight it.
She emphasised the importance of collaborative work among the various education associations, and encouraged them to work together. They also had to ensure that misconduct and corruption within those associations had to be brought to book.
The Chairperson then asked the presenters to make their concluding remarks.
Mr Colditz affirmed the importance of collaborative work in addressing the gaps left by the DBE. He said that the education systems in some provinces were not working. FEDSAS had established a national consultation forum in 1998. The outcome from the forum showed that the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng were performing well. The provinces of the North West and Mpumalanga were doing “okay,” but the system in the Free State was not working. What was worse was that the system in Limpopo was not working at all. He said that there were some legacy issues which had remained outstanding and unresolved for many years.
Mr Colditz said that his school governing body made reports on a very regular basis to provincial departments on schools’ infrastructure. It usually required his organisation to make a lot of effort to push in order for those provincial Departments of Basic Education to take action.
He referred to the absence of the national and provincial DBE in advocating SGB elections. FEDSAS had had to provide advocacy materials to its members to give guidance on how to conduct the elections. Given that there had been huge advocacy campaigns from the Department in previous years, the lack of action in 2020 could have been a result of COVID-19.
Mr Matakanya said that advocacy for SGB elections were mandatory for the DBE. As dictated by the South African Schools Act, s28 also gave the government the power to formulate regulations pertaining to SGB elections. He said that FEDSAS did not have that power. Thus, the Department of Basic Education had to lead in the advocacy of SGB elections. He expressed concern that there were provinces that had never bothered to implement section 28. FEDSAS could only assist and serve as a support structure, but the leadership must be from the national DBE. It was imperative that parents should be made aware of SGB elections.
He understood the government’s predicament with funding, and agreed that COVID-19 had only exacerbated the situation. However, he questioned if the lack of funding was being experienced even more severely at the poorest of the poor schools. It was unacceptable that those schools had to be closed down, as they were also serving the poorest of the population.
He highlighted the corruption issue at school governing bodies, and said that SGBs needed the Committee and the DBE to intervene decisively to avoid a situation where unqualified teachers or people with fraudulent qualifications were allowed to teach children.
Commenting on the infrastructure issues which had recently been exposed at some schools in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, he said he believed that this required urgent intervention in order to instil public confidence in public schooling.
Governing Body Foundation (GBF)
Dr Cereseto expressed her serious concern over schools’ infrastructure, and asked the Committee’s to give this attention and take action. She said that making schools safe for children should be a priority for all stakeholders.
She confirmed that the GBF did not have the authority to discipline members, as their membership was based on voluntary participation. The GBF’s main aim was to train them to act lawfully at all times in the interest of the schools and the children. Although there were members who the GBF wanted to evict, it preferred investing extra time to assist them to find their right footing.
Dr Cereseto acknowledged the importance of working with other stakeholders. The GBF’s slogan was cooperative school governance, which emphasised constant collaboration with all structures, both in the schools and governance structures.
She expressed concern that someone had left a message in the chatroom of the virtual platform, accusing that the organisation of rejected members who could not afford the subscription fee. She said the GBF had members who could not afford the subscription fee, but it always found a way to assist with payments for those members.
Ms Callaghan also expressed great concern over a guest that had posted a message that people were rejected for membership because they could not afford it. She said it was open and for free. Her organisation also offered training for free.
United Front Foundation of School Governing Bodies
Mr Mahlangu said that his organisation had already started in Gauteng to collaborate with other associations on school governance issues.
The disciplining of its members was a complex issue. Although the organisation had its own code of conduct, there were some of areas of misconduct which would require urgent intervention from the Department.
He stressed the importance of dealing with issues of learner discipline, as well as teenage pregnancies.
He requested the Committee to assist in expediting the qualification verification process so that more educators’ qualifications could be verified.
Mr Mahlangu indicated that schools’ infrastructure remained problematic, and urged the DBE to add a budgetary item. The conditions at some schools in the townships were overcrowded, with some having an appalling learner to teacher ratio. He drew the Committee’s attention to this ratio, and said that it should not be allowed that one teacher was teaching more than 50 or 60 students.
South Africa Principals Association
Mr Shezi highlighted the fact that school principals’ instrumental function was to hold government and management together. SAPA aimed to strengthen the capacity building of principals so that they would be able to deliver and manage well-functioning schools.
He emphasised the importance of the role of education, as well as SAPA’s commitment to working together with all stakeholders, whether it was government or management.
SAPA expressed its gratitude to the DBE. Over the years, it had had a good working relationship with the Department, and was always invited to its key consultations and meetings on a quarterly basis. The DBE also highly valued SAPA’s contribution and entrusted SAPA to develop a manual to assist new principals in their jobs.
There were serious concerns for SAPA as well. He pointed out that some provinces had still not come to terms with recognising SAPA as a stakeholder in the basic education sector, as the memorandum between SAPA and those provinces still had not been finalised.
SAPA was also embarking on a skills audit process, which had been utilised for the entire leadership. The purpose of the audit was to be informed and bring new skills and dimensions to the team.
The psychological well-being of learners and educators was highlighted. Due to the shortage of manpower, it was not easy for the DBE to provide assistance timeously. SAPA therefore recommended identifying measures to move psycho-counselling much closer to the schools. COVID-19 had had a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of both learners and educators. Support systems must be provided to assist those who were grieving the loss of a family member.
Finally, SAPA acknowledged the importance of bringing other partners forward to help schools address some of the key challenges facing the basic education sector.
The meeting was adjourned.
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