In a virtual meeting in the presence of the Deputy Minister, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefed the Portfolio Committee on Quarter 3 performance in 2020/21 going through each programme's indicators to report which targets were achieved and the reasons for those unachieved.
A variety of matters were discussed ranging from: undocumented learners, unfilled teacher posts, expired food delivered to learners, monitoring of school nutrition, retrieval of laptops from students who have matriculated, under spending and overspending, performance on the ground, and making up for learning deficits. The report showed more progress than failure. This progress however, was taking place mostly at the summit – among managers. Members were more concerned about the trickling down of this success to performance on the ground.
DBE responses included the detrimental effects of COVID on essential projects, mitigation measures, technological advancements and intervention measures. They said the Department is confronted with numerous stumbling blocks, and this delays the implementation of pivotal projects. The hard lockdown restrictions in 2020 stifled monitoring of learner progress and school meals, physical interventions and infrastructural developments. The Department explained its plans to compensate for the deficits.
Department of Basic Education (DBE) 2020/21 Quarter 3 Performance
DBE Chief Director of Planning, Research and Coordination, Ms Carol Nuga Deliwe spoke to the Quarter 3 performance going through each programme's indicators to report which targets were achieved and the reasons for those unachieved. DBE Chief Financial Officer, Mr Patrick Khuou, gave the financial report (see document).
Mr B Nodada (DA) welcomed the report. He asked about the number of laptops retrieved from learners who have matriculated, and if there are electronic measures in place to track down such assets and tools.
He raised undocumented learners and asked for statistical evidence to see the percentage of learners who do not have birth certificates. He asked for the percentage of departments that have been digitalised so far.
In reference to slide 88 of the presentation, he observed a low placement of Education Assistants (EA) and General School Assistants (GSA) in the Eastern Cape and asked the reasons for this outcome since other provinces were showing decent numbers.
He asked to be provided reasons for teacher’s posts not being filled, and if there were mitigation processes in place to prevent this.
In the budget, he noted that DBE had only slightly met its target for monitoring of school meals. The reason provided by DBE for this was that they could not get hold of teachers on the phone. This led him to ask if DBE monitoring work was merely done telephonically or were schools actually visited. He asked for the oversight measures that were taken.
He observed slow spending on school infrastructure projects and acknowledged that the COVID-19 restrictions might have hindered progress. However, with restrictions lifted, he noticed that the projects remained stagnant and have not picked up yet. Are there activities in place to pick up the spending and implementation of these projects?
What had forced DBE to overspend on its Quarter 3 operational budget?
Lastly, he asked for clarification on the underspending in Maths and Science programmes, and if all provinces have been visited and tracked.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) appreciated the straightforward report. She raised the ECD migration matter. Due to COVID, there were delays in the ECD migration and she asked if DBE would be able to meet the deadline. If it does not meet the deadline, she asked if there will be similar challenges as previously or have mitigation measures been put in place.
She raised expired food as she had encountered a trending video on social media, where learners from several schools were served expired food. Monitoring of schools is part of DBE's work. How effective is this monitoring, especially in schools where such incidents are reported?
The Chairperson thanked DBE for their lengthy, yet informative presentation. She commended DBE for successfully holding the School Governing Body (SGB) national elections amidst a pandemic, with few negative aspects in the process. She also applauded the exceptional performance of project managers, which was 89%.
However, does this success rate trickle down to ground level? How does DBE ensure that parents, teachers, SGBs and learners perform at the same rate as well? It is a good thing that DBE managers are performing well, nevertheless, it is pivotal that such success is also reflected at ground level.
She asked in which Quarter DBE delivers Learning and Teaching Support Material (LTSM) to schools. She asked this because she was taken aback during an Eastern Cape oversight visit when they were told that LTSM was "still coming" for many learners.
Dr W Boshoff (FF+) asked about progress on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill. He was cognisant that it was not part of this report.
Dr Granville Whittle, Deputy Director General (DDG): Education Enrichment Services, replied about the monitoring of meals for learners. The monitoring process is generally done physically. However, due to COVID restrictions, monitoring had to be done telephonically. However, there were some technological advancements. For instance, a report programme (instrument) was developed by DBE and approximately 3 000 people were deployed as result, to visit schools at least twice a year. All the schools visited were allocated to three different colour columns: Red, Amber and Green. Schools in the Red column were provided ongoing support to ensure they are up to speed.
On expired food, the DDG explained that a NSNP toll-free hotline number (0800 202 933) had been developed for community members and parents to report to DBE any concern, especially about expired food.
DBE also has two private sector companies, Nestle & Unilever, that continue to provide support to the 56 000 woman that are deployed as voluntary food handlers.
Last year, Dr Whittle met with the provinces and informed all leaders present about the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) and most importantly about its openness. According to the DDG, openness is the greatest strength of the education system.
Mr David van der Westhuijzen, DDG: Infrastructure, gave an overview of the spending on school infrastructure. During Quarter 1 of 2020/21, lockdown restrictions were hard and most contractors closed down and this had a negative impact. In Quarter 2, there were still some restrictions; however, some construction was able to resume. A real rise in construction was seen during Quarter 3 and this was primarily because most workers were convinced to work through the Christmas break. Therefore, in Quarter 4 (January-March 2021) they managed to exceed their water supply and sanitation targets.
Mr van der Westhuijzen said that lockdown restrictions had detrimental effects and a severe impact on the financial resilience of the project. The bigger contractors, especially those involved in the building of schools, came back quicker. Whereas, the small contractors, employed for sanitation programmes, really battled. As a consequence, the latter had insufficient money to pay their suppliers, staff and subcontractors. The real battle for DBE was the Safety Programme. Its target was 600 but it only managed achieve 300.
Mr Paddy Padayachee, DDG: Teachers, HR and Institutional Development, replied about the unfilled teacher posts and the mitigation measures. This report is a reflection of the third quarter, which is the fourth term of the school calendar. However, the nine provinces have their own specific dates on which they issue their vacancy list. Most posts are filled at the beginning of year. The reason for fewer posts in Quarter 4 were that not many posts are filled amidst that time. Instead, provinces use temporary contracts to ensure that no learners are left without educators.
Not all provinces were at the same level, some did not complete their processes. Even at the office level, some of the process were not completed. Thus the Quarter 4 report is expected to show a fuller picture about employment and application.
Ms Simone Geyer, DBE DDG: Delivery and Support, admitted that the deadline for the 2022 ECD transition will not be met. With DBE’s current standing and performance, they are nowhere near where they desired to be, but eventually they will get better.
Proclamations have been issued by the Minister and the Minister of Social Development has also signed the proclamations and they are currently with the Minister of Public Service and Administration. Subsequent to that, they will be sent to the President for assent.
The biggest challenge for LTSM was the mere fact that there was insufficient paper in the county. This insufficiency had spill over effects, because publishers were unable to print LTSM textbooks, hence provinces like Eastern Cape and Limpopo received their books at a later stage. Nevertheless, as soon as the textbooks were delivered, these two provinces played catch up by working throughout the December period.
On laptop retrievals, Ms Geyer declared that DBE does not have any information about this because it is the provinces that issue laptops to learners. However, she promised the Committee to request this information and will provide it once it has been retrieved from the provinces.
An online learning tracker has been developed to monitor the success rate of learners. DBE continually experiences difficulties around access. These difficulties have been exacerbated by COVID. To ameliorate these difficulties, DBE had to come up with quick innovative strategies. Amid hard lockdown last year, one challenge faced by DBE was how universal can online learning be and the need for issuing devices. Through critical thinking, a hybrid model was developed. This model ensured that learning materials were not merely provided through online learning or gadgets, but also through television, radio and various supporting material. This decision was informed by the lack of infrastructural and technological development in rural areas. The scarcity of resources in such environments would have disadvantaged those learners because the majority of them were unable to utilise them.
In a time where service, connectivity and network are key components for sufficient virtual communication, many rural areas do not have a tower to allow service in the area. The Department of Communications should also assist DBE in speeding up structural development and technological advancement in these areas so that untapped potential can be spotted, nurtured and maximised.
Dr Moses Simelane, Acting DDG: Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring, asked the Chairperson to be permitted to respond in writing to the question on the percentage of digitalised content.
Dr Simelane replied about the performance rate of DBE managers versus performance on the ground. DBE compiles an evidence-based annual performance report. It is in this report that the efforts put together by DBE will be presented. DBE has done a few intervention measures such as to trim and reorganise the curriculum in all subjects, from Grade R – 11. The purpose of this was to ensure that the focus in the classroom is on core content. Due to the loss of teaching time, as a result of COVID-19, DBE has developed a Curriculum Recovery Plan. This is a three-year plan and commences this year until June 2023. DBE has also developed materials such as study guides for high enrolment subjects. This material has been distributed to both districts and provinces. Extra classes during Autumn, Winter and Spring were included in this year’s academic calendar. A guideline was also developed for parents. This was to help them be aware of the support offered by the schools.
A DBE representative replied about learners without birth certificates. According to DBE records, approximately 300 000 learners have no ID number. There are also several cases where some learners do not present their birth certificates when they enrol at school. However, compared to how the situation was in 2012, DBE has managed to decrease the numbers. Before DBE signed a protocol with Home Affairs in 2012, there were close to 700 000 undocumented learners. A huge part of this success was the close relationship with the Department of Home Affairs over the last five years.
There is a growing increase in the number of matriculants who write their National Senior Certificate (NSC) without their ID number. Part of this reason was the foreign learners who arrived in this country without proper documentation. He warned about such persistence, and said the papers of those who write their NSC without their ID are susceptible to being worthless.
The Chief Financial Officer, Mr Khunou, replied that infrastructural spending in the Quarter 3 was 33% and the Quarter 4 fiscals are still being finalised.
Mr Khunou explained the Quarter 3 operational budget overspending. When COVID-19 hit, there was no specially designated budget for PPE expenditure. DBE realised it would underspend on items such as travelling, venues and facilities and this R280 million saving was allocated to cover COVID costs. By the end of Quarter 4, DBE ought to have no overspending showing on the operational budget.
On the BELA Bill status, he replied that it is still being finalised and a written update will be provided.
The Chairperson agreed that the two questions raised by Committee members for an update of the BELA Bill and the digitalisation of content knowledge, must be responded formally in writing.
Deputy Minister, Dr Reginah Mhaule, thanked the Committee for the discussion. She was pleased with the statistical evidence put forward by DBE. She apologised for leaving the meeting without logging out, but explained that she went to get vaccinated. She encouraged all Members in the meeting to get vaccinated, particularly those over 60.
The meeting adjourned.
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