The Standing Committee on Education deliberated in a virtual meeting on the Third Adjustment Appropriation Bill and Vote 5 of the Appropriation Bill: Department of Education, prior to adopting both of them.
The Western Cape Minister of Education said it was a relief to find that that the budget cuts were not as bad as expected, though the Department was not getting any additional funding. Covid-19 had affected the budget severely because it had to procure sanitisers, and the funds for this purpose had been taken from the infrastructure grant. It was also a relief that staff increases had not gone through -- not because the Department did not want the teachers to get paid, but because a budget for staff increases was non-existent.
The Department reported there had been a decrease of R350m in the adjusted budget due to Covid-19 needs and its support of schools’ health and medical requirements. The R350m reduction had resulted from National Treasury not approving salary increase negotiations, and the reserved money was given to the provincial Treasury to be used for other priorities. A small part of this amount had to be used to cover staff issues arising from the realities of Covid-19, while the process of filling posts had been slow primarily because schools had not functioned for many months. As a result, there had been a once-off saving because there had been a reduced demand for schooling during the lockdown period.
Members asked about the Department’s plans regarding the frequency of schooling days, seeing that there was the possibility of a third and fourth Covid wave. Were there were any guarantees that the redirected compensation of employees’ funds would be returned to the Department from National Treasury, seeing that there was a pending court case regarding the salary increases? Had the Department put aside resources for teachers’ psycho-social support during this pandemic period, because they had been under a lot of stress? The Department was asked what the status quo was regarding collaboration schools, because budget reductions had been a problem throughout the years, and there was a need to maintain quality education despite this. Other issues raised included the 3 000 late applications for placement, and if they were from both primary and high schools, or from drop-outs from other schools; and if there had been any attempts to engage with the City of Cape Town to ensure schools did not pay huge amounts of money on water and electricity.
The Committee resolved to ask the WCED for:
- weekly reports on unplaced learners per district;
- a joint meeting to be arranged between the DSD and the WCED regarding the status of the Early Childhood Development migration;
- details on how the Department was using GIS software and collaboration with municipalities; and
- the Department to forward plans addressing the drop-out rate in junior classes below grade 10.
Deliberations on Third Adjustment Appropriation
Ms Debbie Schafer, Western Cape Minister of Education, in her introductory remarks, said it was a relief to find that that the budget cuts were not as bad as expected, though the Department was not getting any additional funding. Covid-19 had affected the budget severely because the Department had to procure sanitisers. That money was taken from the infrastructure grant. It was also a relief that staff increases did not go through, but that was not to say the Department did not want teachers to get paid. The main reason was that a budget for staff increases was non-existent.
Mr Brian Schreuder, Head of Department: Western Cape Education Department (WCED), reported there had been a decrease of R350m in the adjusted budget. It had decreased due to Covid-19 needs and to support health and medical requirements. The reduction of R350m in the 2021 budget was a consequence of living adjustments for the salary increase funding that was reserved in the budget for the salary negotiations. When salary negotiations were decided nationally by National Treasury they would not be applied. That reserved money was given to the provincial treasury to be used for other priorities. A small part of this R350m had to do with the realities of Covid-19, where the process of filling of posts during Covid-19 was slow primarily because schools did not function for many months. As a result, there were savings for the year. It was a once-off reduction, because there was a low demand for schooling during the lockdown period.
Mr F Christians (ACDP) asked if every school got what had been required to meet the Covid regulations, and enquired what the way forward was regarding the frequency of schooling days, seeing that there was a possible surge of a third and fourth wave of the pandemic.
Mr Schreuder replied that every school had received its Covid material, which had been delivered in time and phases so that schools could have it this year. The needs of the schools would be known now because the schools were functioning. Funds had been transferred to schools to ensure learners had masks. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) had also given the Department a clean bill of health regarding the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other Covid-related material.
He said the Department did not know about the needs going forward, and it was important that it was careful about expenditure. Because of the pandemic, there was no formalised education and it was going to be affected for many years. There had been adjustments to the curricula. There was material support for teachers to augment teaching, and material had been provided to learners to supplement their learning. Nobody knew what the third and fourth wave would bring. The potential for school closure was there, because the capacity for full vaccination was not there. There was no way that one could think education was not going to be affected. Education outcomes were going to be different in the next decade.
Mr K Sayed (ANC) wanted to know if the Department was getting demands and suggestions from schools for more teachers.
Mr Schreuder explained the Department’s monthly salary bill was R1.2 billion. The R350m was just a fraction of the bill. The spending had been very slow because of a shut down in the system. That money could have been used for an expansion of the system.
Mr G Bosman (DA) asked if there were any guarantees the compensation of employees (COE) money would go back to the Department from Treasury, seeing that there was a pending court case regarding salary increases; and wanted to find out if the Department had put aside resources for teachers’ psycho-social support during this pandemic period because they had been under a lot of stress.
Mr Schreuder informed the Committee that the national government had taken the decision not to pay salary increases. That was a decision they had to manage as a Department. If the court case was lost, the Department was in trouble and would have to pay, and National Treasury would have to find the money. The money was in the budget of the Department, but it could not spend it on other things. He added that psycho-social support was an outside service, providing teacher wellness. It was free of charge for all teachers and included a range of wellness issues, like counseling, psycho-social support, etc. Teachers were encouraged to make use of that service. Psycho-social support was also provided when there was trauma in a school, and there were many success stories.
Mr R Allen (DA) wanted to establish what the impact was for learners when money was taken back to Treasury.
Mr Schreuder said that a small fraction of the R350m surrendered to Treasury had been spread across items in programmes 2, 4 and 7. The impact of the slow filling of posts was because the demand for teachers at school level was less during the lockdown, and when learners were at school, they were there for only a short period. Teachers with co-morbidities were not replaced. They worked from home, and where there was a need for teachers, assistant teachers were put in the school on behalf of those with co-morbidities. That was a cost-saving in the first place. Teachers who were replaced were those on sick-leave.
The Chairperson wanted to establish why the R350m could not be used to build new schools and classrooms.
Mr Schreuder said that the money was earmarked by Treasury, and the Department had no control over it. It had no control over the shifting of funds. The savings had to be used where they were needed. In this case, the Department was in no position to take money earmarked by Treasury.
Deliberations on Main Appropriation Budget: Vote 5
Minister Schafer said the budget was not for expansion, especially given the financial circumstances of the country. Nothing could be done because it was not expanding with the growing number of learners in the province. 3 000 of the 6 000 unplaced learners had been late applications.
The focus was on cutting the costs of the COE, but there was no appreciation of service delivery compared to other departments that were not service delivery oriented. The COE could not be cut when there were more learners. The province’s teacher-learner ratio was high, and the COE had to be increased. The Department supported the fact that the public service wage bill was too big, but there must be a focus on departments that were not as essential as this. The reality was that the Department could not keep on taking more people without any money.
Covid-19 was going to remain a risk for the Department – provisions would continue to be made for the availability of Covid-19 material in schools, and the Department would continue to use e-learning resources like before. It had many proposals, but it had to be remembered that it needed to reprioritise the budget to strike a balance between competing needs.
Mr Schreuder pointed out that in the past financial years there had been an increase in the budget up to 2021. Those increases had been inflation-related -- not real increases in the budget. For the 2021/22 period, there had been a decrease of 2.4%. This meant overcrowded classrooms, because the number of new learners in the province was increasing every year. The figure was now totaling 18 000. There were places that were available, but there were areas to which parents did not want to take their children because of psycho-social problems and dangers that existed in those areas.
He said it was difficult to plan when one did not know the number of new entrants to the province. The budget was decreasing, while the demand was increasing. Money was not coming through to the WCED from the areas where there was a decrease. The conditional grants had increased slightly, especially in the infrastructure space, even though in the past it had been very low. There had been a decrease in the maths, science and technology grant. This was concerning, especially when the country needed an increase in technical skills. The demand was there, even though the Department was being criticised for having fewer learners registering for maths and science.
There was a reduction in the group of learners with intellectual disability. The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) grant was protected, because there was a time when it was under a threat of decrease. The Department was trying to balance how to continue with education to the best of its ability, using a decreasing budget. It was blessed with digital learning capabilities, and that was how it had coped when the pandemic started in 2020. Digital learning and wi-fi in schools had to be increased. The digital divide and inequality in our communities was clear in the education outcomes. Education had got to counter that by ensuring greater digital access for poor learners in poor schools.
The Department also needed to counter the fear and anxiety that Covid brought, and the disruption of learning in poor communities. However, there had been experiences where poor schools in poor communities had bridged the digital divide. The five-year strategy of the Department must be to continue to improve technical education. The need for agriculture studies was very high in rural areas. The officials were pushing the boundaries for the expansion of agriculture education. The Department needed to ensure its teachers were resilient and able to motivate and inspire the learners. The budget needed to give hope to children for the future.
Mr Christians wanted to establish what the status quo was regarding collaboration schools, because the budget reduction had been a problem throughout the years and the Department wanted quality education at the same time. The private sector needed to invest in the schools. He wanted to know when unplaced learners be placed in schools, because it was unacceptable to have children out of school. The influx of learners and late application seemed to be a continuing trend.
Minister Schafer responded that the intention of the Department was to have partnerships and to establish these collaborative schools. Many partners, like the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and Equal Education, had taken this matter to court. It was difficult to get more operating partners. Uncertainty was inhibiting the Department from expanding partnerships over time. There had been success stories with collaboration schools, even though there had been hiccups. It would be a better model to follow if there was uncertainty.
Mr Schreuder added that private investment coming into the space did not help the Department at the moment, with the additional placement of learners, in terms of costs. The Department still paid because these were public schools, and the additional investment that went in to that was to improve the quality of education. No private partner was going to pay for a government education. These schools were not independent. However, the private investors could help the Department with resources to improve classes and facilities, and additional teachers to make classes smaller. It was more than collaboration, but the intent was to improve quality education. Another model of collaboration was when people brought money to build the school. There were other cases in the pipeline as well, though there were inhibitors.
Minister Schafer said the Department could not plan if there was no money to employ teachers. The Department had a ten-year plan to build schools in certain areas, but the decreasing budget was a challenge. Its plans had to change all the time, because there had been drought and now there was Covid, and it did not know where learners were coming from. It did not have adequate resources.
Mr Schreuder added that parents were encouraged to apply at a minimum of five schools because some were overcrowded, and the Department knew the trends and where they were. The parents had a choice to accept or not when the Department told them about the available space. It was working tirelessly to address the matter as quickly as possible. The plans were there, but things did not happen overnight. The Department was not where it wanted to be, but it was better than last year.
Mr Sayed asked what the status of the 3 000 late applications was, and if they were from both primary and high schools, or from drop-outs from other schools. Were there any measures in place to engage with the City of Cape Town to ensure schools did not pay huge amounts of money on water and electricity? He also wanted clarity on why the number of high schools was not enough.
Mr Schreuder said the Department had been engaging with the City of Cape Town. Each time it tried to find suitable rates for the schools, the City said it did not have money. The engagement was ongoing. Furthermore, in some ways the Department was better off this year regarding unplaced learners. In October last year, it had 24 000 unplaced learners. The Department wanted registrations to happen in time, but it could not build a school in a year where there was a demand. The number of unplaced learners had been attended to slowly, but the situation was undesirable. The largest number was at entry level and grade 8. One still found places, depending on the learner’s promotion or retention in a grade. If a class had ten learners remaining behind, this meant there were ten places in the next grade. Schools planned as well.
He agreed the number of high schools was not enough. However, he did not support the idea that the number of primary schools should equal those of high schools. Primary schools had seven to eight cohorts, while high schools had five cohorts.
Another factor that came into to play was the historic trend, where learners dropped out at grade 10 and went to a Further Education and Training (FET) college. Also, one could not build schools in a quiet time or inflation period of learner growth, because the schools would stand empty. The challenge to retain more learners in schools had always been there. The need to cater for the increase in learner numbers was between 19 to 25 high schools a year. The Department did not even have money for four. High schools were being built now, but the focus was on technical high schools, even though the budget was the problem. What one was seeing now was the logical outcome of what had happened in the last four or five years due to budget cuts. It was not that the Department was not planning. The moment one started overcrowding the schools, the teacher-learner ratio becomes excessive. This was not conducive to quality education and the teacher-learner ratio. The country was ten years behind in schooling.
Mr Bosman asked if the Department was trying to track learners across the country to get a better handle on the numbers. Was it spreading the word on the importance of parental involvement in the education of learners, especially to people who came from other provinces where literacy levels were low? He remarked that Covid had given them “a curve ball” this year, but there were improvements and people were getting the message of registering in time. He also remarked that parental involvement was very important in the education of learners. He enquired if the issue of collaboration schools would at least help to ease the learner-teacher ratio.
Mr Schreuder said it would help teacher-pupil ratio, but would not help the state’s part of the teacher-pupil ratio. However, the Department would move into that direction, especially where there was a demand. There were available classrooms in various spaces, but the demand was in Emfuleni. He pointed out the Department was advocating money to follow learners faster, but that was not happening. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) had indicated it could not do that as it had many other priorities.
Mr Salie Abrahams, Deputy Director-General: Education Planning, WCED, said the national government had data on the movement of learners. The problem was around adjustments. The data was accessible.
Mr Allen asked for an update on the use of mobile classrooms, and clarity about revenue generated in the collaboration schools.
Mr Schreuder replied that mobile classrooms were a challenge, because one could not build an education system around them. That would result in the perpetuity of inequality. Data on mobile classrooms for the periods 2016/17 to 2019/20 would be sent to the Committee.
Mr Abrahams indicated that they had made provision for 78 mobile classrooms, of which 20 had been placed at two new schools. That amounted to 3 000 learner spaces. Seventy new classrooms had been built, using new building alternatives. 18 new grade R classrooms had also been built.
Mr Leon Ely, Deputy Director-General: Corporate Services, WCED, made it clear the revenue generated did not go to the state, and was not disclosed anywhere. Schools prepared their own financial statements, so it was declared in those financial statements, which were the submitted to the Department.
Mr Sayed wanted to establish why the drop-out rate from graded below 10 was high, and how much resources had been put in place to address this challenge. He commended the Department for its focus on improving learner retention in grades 10 to 12. He also wanted to know if the Department was aware of the Children’s Commissioner’s community rights workshop report, which had found challenges in education services, including a high level of high school drop-outs in the West Coast due to the exorbitant cost of education in the farming areas. He asked if there was enough budget to address the learner transport challenges, and wanted to know how many classrooms were planned to be built for 2021/22, including in the hotspot areas. Lastly, he wanted to know the number of schools that fell into the category of not being occupied.
Mr Schreuder made it clear that in the Western Cape primary education space, the WCED had got 100% of the age cohort in schools. The concept of throughput versus retention was very complex. The target for throughput to grade 9 in nine years was 68%. That meant no repetition of throughput. 65% had already been reached. However, this did not mean the learners did not get to grade 9. The progression process stated that if a learner repeated one year in a phase, and if he/she repeated the second year, the learner moved to the next grade. This assisted with the retention in the school system, but not the actual indicator, as it was from grades 10 to 12.
After the lockdown levels were eased, the Department had had to start with the back to school campaign. Unnatural school closures led to drop-outs, so it had done a huge amount of work to avoid that. Indications were that there had been no drop-outs. The data would reveal that. A contributing factor to the challenge of retention was large classrooms. Drop-outs and retention was a far wider and longer conversation. Moreover, on data on classrooms built, the indicator for the past year had been removed from the annual report. The Department had planned 30 in total and achieved 19 in the context of perimeter fencing.
Concerning learner transport, he said the Department had enough to do regarding the policy requirements. The officials were pushing the boundaries all the time for the learner transport, though the demand was growing every day.
On the Children’s Commissioner’s report, he said the Department had a great partnership and collaboration with the Commissioner. She had delivered a report on the West Coast issue, including comments from parents. Channels of communication with her were open and the input was great.
About the exorbitant high school costs, he commented that the issue was around hostel costs. The Department could not afford to transport children to and fro every weekend. Hostels should allow them to go home fortnightly.
Mr Allen enquired how many schools were in need of high security perimeter fencing, and how that need had been identified.
Mr Schreuder said any safety issue was a deterrent. The Department used bullet deflecting fencing, which sent a message to the community, parents and schools. The deterrent was far stronger.
Mr Christian asked if the targets had been met on the perimeter fencing for the schools.
Mr Abrahams said they had delivered 30 year-on-year, and had accelerated 20 fencing projects to be finalised by the end of June. The fencing kept gangs out of the school grounds and had an impact on vandalism.
The Chairperson wanted to know about lessons learnt regarding the staggered method of providing food to the learners.
Mr Schreuder said that most of the learners’ needs had been met because the Department had started the programme very early. Daily feeding could not be achieved due to the lockdown. It had been able to spend money on food gardens and food parcels to be taken home by learners. The Department thought that had had an impact on learners, especially when they came to school. There were schools that delivered food to farms, and which also catered for learners that came to school to be fed. Learners who traveled long distances to schools could not get to their schools during Covid, and they went to nearby schools to get food, and provisions had to be made to accommodate those learners. Some brought food containers to dish up food. Those were the lessons learnt.
Mr Sayed asked what measures were in place to encourage learners in the province to read, and if that had been budgeted for. He wanted more details on the use of the Geographic Information System (GIS) and the aspects of planning it would focus on. What percentage of the budget would go to schools safety and activities? He asked sought clarity on the increase for grant infrastructure, and why there had been no prioritisation for new schools.
Dr Peter Beets, Deputy Director-General: Curriculum and Assessment Management, WCED, said that reading was one of the Department’s main focus areas in both primary and high school teaching to ensure learners had the ability to read with meaning as early as the age of ten. In 2020, the Department had launched this reading strategy to focus on working with learners in terms of their abilities. The emphasis was placed on phonics, tracking reading levels of learners, and helping teachers understand reading norms. Provision of learning material to learners in their respective grades had been done. The Department’s portal had bookshelves with books that catered for different grades of learners. The Department was also funding the Funda Programme.
Mr Abrahams explained the GIS was a software system used to establish geographical locations of our schools, to drive efficiency in planning and maintain sustainability of investments being made, and to ensure learners had access to educational facilities. The GIS would also give the Department new information on their choice of where it built its new schools and how to go about that in terms of infrastructure and capacitating rural schools.
Mr Schreuder said the R47m budget for schools’ safety had never decreased, and had been part of a broader provincial necessity. This was money that should not be spent, because its purpose should be attended to elsewhere. For education to happen in a safe environment, the Department had to use that money to support safety committees in schools, for needs assessments to conduct system solutions, to fight violence in schools by engaging learners, and for a programme to deal with anger management. The whole matter was complex, but the budget did not address the whole safety at schools aspect.
Mr Bosman wanted to know about the expected costs of the early childhood development (ECD) migration, the impact of this on the budget, and the role of the Department in the ECD Forum that would be coming. He also wanted to know what reasons had been given by the national Department for the decrease in the province’s equitable share, especially for grants.
Dr Beets responded that no reasons had been given by the national Department -- the conditional grant budget had been cut with no explanation. There were fiscal realities, but the provincial Treasury had given explanations when it delivered its speech in the Assembly. In addition, there was a theory there would be no costs involved in the ECD migration. The Department of Social Development’s (DSD’s) budget and posts for this function would come to the WCED. If the budget remained the same, certain expectations would not be met.
Minister Schafer stressed there was a big drive to ensure ECD centres were registered. Each and every registered ECD would get funding. This meant the Department needed to be given extra funding.
Mr Archie Lewis, Deputy Director-General: Institution Development and Coordination, WCED, made it clear there was still an outstanding proclamation to be concluded at the national level. This would be finalised around April 2022. The Department would take over the directorate of the ECD. There were no facilities owned by the DSD. He was not aware of the ECD Forum, but the Department would participate in it if it arose.
Mr Allen asked how the Western Cape was faring with ECD, especially in respect of reading prowess, and if family involvement was possible to enhance literacy levels. He wanted to know the realistic percentage of school governing bodies (SGBs) that had been successfully elected.
Dr Beets made it clear reading was not measured in the early years, when the focus was on social development and coordination. Reading started when children were five or six years old. He added that young children learnt better through playing, and at that age it was important for parents to play an active role in helping them to read.
Mr Schreuder said the Department was expecting 100% of SGBs to be constituted. There were processes and procedures in place. Unfortunately, SGB elections were politicised in some instances, though they were supposed to look at the welfare or well-being of the schools and their safety operations.
Mr Sayed wanted to know if the Department had been receiving many complaints and disputes from parents regarding SGB elections, and what the common complaints were.
Mr Schreuder said there have been no complaints or disputes heard so far. The process of elections had started in March and would end in April. The Department was expecting normal challenges in the first round of elections. However, it was trying to manage this as best as it could on the ground.
Mr Bosman asked if the Department’s processing made use of its own GIS system, or was using that of the government.
Mr Abrahams said it was not investing in its own system, but was only leveraging on the GIS of the province.
Mr Sayed referred to the payments and estimates in programme 2, and wanted to know how much of the budget would be spent to address the large class sizes and teacher-learner ratio. He also wanted to know the reasons for the decrease in COE and goods and services; the reasons behind the decreased amount for administration and the implications of that; the kind of support that would be given to schools that performed poorly, and if the infrastructure budget would be biased in favour of hotspot areas; the reasons for the increase in costs for computers, advertising, etc; and wanted to understand why there was a decrease in the external examinations budget.
Mr Schreuder reported that 80% of the budget in programme 2 was for salaries. An estimated R40m would be used to address the issue of learner-teacher ratios and large classes. It was difficult to answer that question. The teacher-learner ratio was 1:38 and could not be adjusted with minimal financial input. The budget was for paying teachers and matters related to that. The tabled budget was for the 1:38 ratio. He added that there was support for both primary and high school programmes. For grades 11 and 12, there was tutor support, online programmes, learner support, weekend classes and external material. The reason for their achievements had been because these programmes were in place.
Mr Ely said the current COE policy included ECD teachers. If they retired, they had to be paid through a subsidy. Goods and services was part of the prioritisation process. Pertaining to administration, the adjustment was related to the office relocation for the WCED, and was a once-off amount. The property payments, advertising, etc, were the result of a severely slashed operating budget. The decrease in the external examinations budget was related to cost of living adjustments.
Mr Abrahams reported that 55% of the Department’s infrastructure budget had been spent on the improvement and maintenance of infrastructure, including hotspot areas. Prioritisation had been given to hotspot areas.
Mr Bosman asked for clarity on the legal costs -- were they a result of internal disciplinary cases, or external parties that had taken the Department to court? He also wanted find out about money transferred to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
Mr Ely replied that the legal costs were for dealing with possible litigation and internal disciplinary hearings, and they covered for liabilities. The money transferred to the SABC was for TV licences, because there were TV sets in the Department.
The Chairperson asked for details on new and replacement infrastructure, and on the outstanding final accounts amounting to R125m.
Mr Lewis said some details would be sent to the Committee, but normally the Department had to budget for retention funds and closing account funds. Retention was for when the project was completed. A small amount of the project budget was retained until the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) indicated satisfaction with the project. The contractor then had to submit final accounts, and the project would be closed out. If there was no provision made for that funding, it would eat into the project’s budgeted funding, so a provision was made for that.
Mr Schreuder assured the Committee accountability for the budget would be accepted at the beginning of April. The Department had done its best to create a budget and to allocate it to areas where it would make the best in of the most trying of conditions. The regression in education was a result of overcrowding without the funding needed for the education system to run as it ought.
Minister Schafer remarked the Department had made huge strides under trying circumstances to avoid a regression, taking into account the inadequate funding it was receiving.
The Committee resolved to ask the WCED for:
- weekly reports on unplaced learners per district;
- a joint meeting to be arranged between the DSD and the WCED regarding the status of the ECD migration;
- details on how the Department was using GIS software and collaboration with municipalities; and
- the Department to forward plans addressing the drop-out rate in junior classes below grade 10.
Adoption of Reports
Third Adjustment Appropriation Report
Mr Sayed registered a minority view of the ANC not to support the vote.
The report was adopted.
Main Appropriation Report
Mr Sayed expressed a minority view of the ANC not to support the vote.
The report was adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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