Status of School Preparedness for a possible Third Wave: DBE briefing; with Minister and Deputy Minister
01 June 2021
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo- Gigaba (ANC)
The Department presented that two decades of learning gains have been compromised during the COVID-19 pandemic. An assessment that was done showed that only 22% of Grade Four learners are able to read proficiently. During the pandemic, about 60% of contact learning time was lost.
The Department developed a sample based Systemic Evaluation for learner assessment and school functionality assessment.
It was presented that the Department will be using the Health Department’s four alert levels to determine a school’s level of risk. If a school is in an area declared to be in alert level one or two, then learners can return to school on a daily basis. As at 09 May 2021, 13 354 973 learners were in areas declared to be in alert level one, 360 842 were in areas in alert level two, 210 987 in hotspot areas and 382 994 in high risk hotspot areas. The Department highlighted that learners in alert levels three and four, would attend school on a rotational basis and learner support programmes for learners at home would be arranged.
The Deputy Minister highlighted that the Department is ready to reopen schools but everything will depend on advice from the Department of Health. The plan that the Department has is not absolute and when there is contrary advice from the Department of Health, then Basic Education will react to the advice as and when it comes. However, for now, the Department is preparing to receive all the grades and learners in primary schools as well as infant schools.
Members of the Committee appreciated the steps being taken by the Department to reopen schools for learners. They emphasised that the Committee was in support of the plan on condition that all health protocols are adhered to.
Members suggested that teachers be prioritised during the vaccination programme. The Committee insisted that teachers be regarded as frontline workers and be prioritised.
The Committee raised concerns with the consultation processes between the Department and relevant stakeholders particularly Teacher Unions. Members indicated that Teacher Unions were a critical part of the plan to reopen. The Department therefore had to ensure that proper consultations are made to avoid disruptions.
The Minister assured the Committee that proper consultations have been made with the relevant stakeholders and everyone seemed to be on board with the plan to reopen schools. She also informed the Committee that the Department had requested a special dispensation of vaccines for teachers. The Department engaged with Treasury, the Presidency and the Department of Health on the issue of teacher vaccinations.
Opening Remarks by Chairperson
The Chairperson greeted Members of the Committee and acknowledged that it was 1 June which is youth month. She highlighted that the meeting was the last for the term and urged Members to take care of themselves as the third wave of COVID-19 has already hit the country.
She recalled that in the Northern Cape, every fourth person had contracted COVID and reiterated that these are difficult times. She welcomed everyone to the meeting.
The agenda for the meeting was read and adopted.
The Chairperson confirmed that apologies had been received from Minister Angie Motshekga, Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF), Ms M Sukers (ACDP), Mr T Malatji (ANC) and Mr S Ngcobo (IFP)
The Chairperson then invited the Deputy Minister to lead the Department in briefing the Portfolio Committee on School Readiness.
Deputy Minister’s remarks
Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr Reginah Mhaule, reiterated that as the apology indicated, the Minister was attending a Cabinet Committee meeting which was in sitting. In the Cabinet meeting, the Department of Planning in the Presidency was presenting on issues of education and the Minister was expected. Deputy Minister Mhaule indicated that she had also been in the meeting, but the Minister released her so that she could lead the meeting before the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education. She informed the Committee that the Minister was going to join the meeting as soon as the Cabinet Committee was done with the presentation on Education.
Deputy Minister Mhaule stated that the team from the Department of Basic Education was going to brief the Committee on the readiness of schools in terms of addressing issues of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said it was not in the hands of the Department but of all South Africans how the country responds to the issues of COVID-19. The country is applauded by other countries but there is still a need to do more. It is for that reason that the Minister issued directions that by the beginning of the third term, all learners should be allowed into schools in a manner to be presented to the Committee. The Gazette is already out including the amendment to the directions.
She said that the Department appreciates that when the President held the “family meeting” with the country, he did not condemn the decision that primary school learners should go back to school in their numbers. The Department is addressing individual challenges per school and has almost two months to prepare for the coming in of learners to school. She indicated that the presentation will be informed by the fact that the Department has at least two months to prepare so that there can be no school that claims to have been taken by surprise.
She highlighted that consultations have been made with all stakeholders including unions and members of civil society through the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT). The NECT called all civil societies to a meeting with the Minister which was attended by more than 200 hundred people. Consultations were also made with the South African Principals Associations and School Governing Bodies (SGBs). She stated that there was no one from the stakeholders who disputed the decision for learners to go back to school.
She highlighted that the Department is ready to reopen schools, but everything will depend on advice from the Department of Health. The plan that the Department has is not absolute and when there is contrary advice from the Department of Health, Basic Education will react to the advice when it comes. However, for now, the Department is preparing to receive all the grades and learners in primary schools as well as infant schools.
The Deputy Minister noted that the Director-General of the Department was on leave and Dr Whittle, who is acting as the Director-General, would lead the presentation.
DBE: Status of School Preparedness for a possible Covid 19 third wave
Dr Granville Whittle, Acting Director General, Department of Basic Education, led the presentation. The presentation was divided into three parts:
- The Impact of COVID-19 on Teaching and Learning,
- The Risk Adjusted Differentiated Strategy and
- The Readiness of Primary Schools to receive all Learners.
It was presented that two decades of learning gains were compromised during the pandemic. South Africa is currently ranking below Botswana and has only 22% of Grade Four learners who are able to read proficiently. During the pandemic, about 60% of contact time was lost due to difficulties in providing remote learning for the majority of learners among other reasons.
The Department indicated that it has developed a sample based Systemic Evaluation for learner and school functionality assessment. The model is being developed as a result of the realised importance to monitor learning gains.
It was presented that the Department will be using the Health Department’s four alert levels to determine a school’s level of risk. If a school is in an area declared to be in alert level one or two, then learners can return to school on a daily basis. As of 09 May 2021, 13 354 973 learners were in areas declared to be in alert level one, 360 842 were in areas in alert level two, 210 987 in hotspot areas and 382 994 in high-risk hotspot areas.
The Department highlighted that for learners in alert levels three and four, learners would attend school on a rotational basis and learner support programmes for learners at home would be arranged.
It was presented that the Department is resuming weekly one-on-one engagements with Provinces to gauge the level of schools’ readiness to reopen during the third quarter. The Department will ensure that schools have adequate facilities including for water and sanitation.
The Deputy Minister announced that the Minister had joined the meeting.
Minister Angie Motshekga greeted Members of the Portfolio Committee.
The Chairperson reminded Members to switch on their cameras when speaking as the meeting was being aired live on eNCA.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) welcomed the three part presentation from the Department of Basic Education. He indicated that the Department was very clear in the presentation and it was time that the Committee commends a very encouraging approach by the Department in the level of commitment shown in planning for the worst. He recalled the saying, ‘those who fail to plan indirectly plan to fail’’.
He said given the looming threat of the third wave and the presentations as given, one would say the country is marching in the right path. However, it is one thing to plan and another thing to implement especially when the wave would already have struck.
Mr Moroatshehla stated that in light of the planning and implementation strategy from the Department, he was going to propose that teachers be prioritised for vaccination. He indicated that many times when priority is being given, there were no instances in which educators were ever mentioned. He said he was not oblivious to the fact that there is an outcry that the country does not have enough vaccines, but the wish was that given the role that educators play in interacting with learners, it was about time that they also be prioritised. He asked the following question, is it not about that time that we raise this issue about educators being prioritised so that they could be able to deliver maximally? He stated that just as how health workers were identified as frontline workers, to a larger extent, teachers needed also to be identified as frontline workers. The country lost enough educators and cannot afford to lose more.
He said the plan as presented on the readiness of primary schools to receive learners is good, constructive and in the right direction. He said whilst the Committee appreciated the plan, it was important to note that the level of consultations with stakeholders was key to the plan. He recalled that the Deputy Minister in her opening remarks had indicated that the Department had consulted all the relevant stakeholders. This was important because education is a societal responsibility, and everyone has to be on board. However, he had been a little puzzled in the morning listening to a talk show on Thobela FM in which all teacher unions registered at the level of Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) were lined up. The teacher unions were not only critical of the proposal but very sceptical. He said there was no teacher union in Limpopo that was supporting the plan to send learners back to school. He asked the following question, what was the response of teacher unions, which are key stakeholders in Education when they were consulted on this matter?
Mr B Nodada (DA) thanked the Department for the informative and well-researched presentation. He highlighted that COVID-19 had exposed the gaps in the education system particularly for those that are poor and from rural or location backgrounds as compared to those who have access to network and digital devices. He agreed with the presentation that it was not going to take the Department overnight to fix all the problems such as a drop in reading statistics of learners and a drop in the amount of the curriculum that would have been covered. The effects will be noticed in years to come for this generation of learners as there will be a gap in those that will access higher qualifications and the rest. He reiterated that the pandemic will further exacerbate the existing problems in the country’s education system beyond the problems of infrastructure and other challenges.
He stated that there was a need to be vigilant on the approach moving forward. When the issues are put on the table, the Department has to come up with the best solution for the Basic Education system without necessarily comparing South Africa to first world countries but being well aware of the unique challenges and landscape that the country has in terms of geography, the type of learners and economy in the country. He raised the following question, what measures can be put in place to be able to mitigate that gap as quickly as we can in a level of quality?
Mr Nodada indicated that in order for the Department to mitigate that gap, there are quite a few things that have to be done and he would make suggestions or recommendations at the end.
He asked the following questions, what was the advice from the Ministerial Advisory Committee on the reopening of primary schools on 26 July? Did the Committee make any specific recommendations or requirements as per health protocols for us to successfully do this correctly? The questions were based on the risk adjustment strategy which had been presented by the Department. He said the Committee welcomed the strategy especially when it is informed by science and health experts.
He noted that at the beginning of the year before the two weeks extension period for reopening, the Portfolio Committee had been briefed on a presentation which stated that the Ministerial Advisory Committee had said that primary schools could open. Regardless, primary schools did not open so he wanted to check from both the Ministry and the Department if there was some form of health or scientific advice on how best the country can reopen primary schools in a manner than meets health and scientific protocols.
He stated that the Committee had done oversight in eight provinces and all the schools that were visited indicated that it would not be possible for them to complete the curriculum for the year let alone get to the half of it. He asked if there were measures being put in place to catch up on the lost time. He agreed that it cannot be done overnight but emphasised the importance of considering critical areas such as reading that are vital for a student to be able to advance to the next phase of education. He asked the following questions, what measures has the Department put in place to make sure it mitigates covering the curriculum moving forward? With this risk adjustment strategy of reopening schools fully for primary schools, is there a specific plan in place or has it been dissolved to Provinces to plan, come and report?
Mr Nodada indicated that there had been news that teachers are seemingly going to be prioritised for vaccination before 26 June 2021; he asked if the reports were true and also asked for the status of teacher vaccination. He said the Committee has been asking for a succinct plan for teacher to be vaccinated because it is something that Members do support. He therefore wanted to know from the Ministry if there was a specific plan regarding teacher vaccination. His question was, are the news true of teachers being prioritised for 26 June and if not, what is the plan regarding the teacher vaccinations programme?
He noted from the presentation that some of the reasons why there cannot be a fully-fledged distant blended learning approach included lack of teachers with the necessary skillset and network challenges. He confirmed that in his constituency there were network challenges. He asked the following questions, moving forward and finding a solution to try and mitigate this as quickly as possible, what can the Committee do to make sure that the shortcomings of the distant blended learning approach are fixed? Is there any plan in place that the Department might have, not necessarily in the short-term but in the long term which is best for South Africa’s basic education system to integrate the different approaches in terms of blended learning? How will the Department go about it as there is a need to train teachers and also identify hotspots where network can be put?
He asked if there is a specific plan to mitigate the failure to cover the curriculum in the next 10-15 years and also to have pre-planning of areas that can be targeted for blended learning approaches.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) thanked the Department for a well-researched presentation. She acknowledged that the week is child protection week and commended learners from Cornwell College for standing up against racism as well as the MEC of Gauteng for supporting the learners. She said racism is one kind of abuse that children do not need at school. The Committee was in support of all those that stood up against racism and encouraged others to do the same. As the country commemorates children’s week, there is a need to remember that children have to be supported and cared for. On top of putting their best interests at heart, children need to also be encouraged to come out against bullying. She thanked the Deputy Minister for launching a progressive programme to show that there is a great need to deal with the challenges that children face daily.
She stated that Members of the Portfolio Committee were encouraging that teachers be prioritised during the vaccination process. Those teachers over 60 years are already covered, and the worry was for those that are below the age of 60. However, from the presentation, there was a survey that was done in which 56% of the teachers were not keen on being vaccinated She asked if the position had changed, and teachers had changed their minds on the issue of vaccination.
She asked if there is a plan to continuously engage with stakeholders including learner representatives. This was because in 2020, there had been disruptions when schools were supposed to open, and it was due to lack of proper consultations with the relevant stakeholders.
Ms Adoons said one of the experiences that South Africa has had relates to the issue of accountability regarding expenditure on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). She asked if there is a specific plan in place that will immediately deal with monitoring how funds are spent to ensure that they are spent on what they are intended for.
She expressed satisfaction with the interventions that were made by the Department on the scholar transport and school nutrition programmes. The Department managed to monitor the programmes continuously and address all the challenges being reported through the media.
She said the Committee supports all efforts being put in place to ensure that there are positive results and appreciates the work being done to prioritise the education of learners during the pandemic. Education has been compromised and 50% of learners are reported to be lagging behind hence the need to balance and prioritise education.
Ms N Mashabela (EFF) stated that South Africa has had a daily COVID-19 infection of 3 796 in the past seven days and 6 547 new in the last 24-hour cycle. She asked the following questions, what scientific evidence is the risk adjustment strategy to return all learners to school based on? What measures have been taken into account as the majority of rural schools and poor schools are overcrowded?
She indicated that the presentation seemed to suggest that the vaccination of teachers is what the risk adjustment strategy is based on, but South Africa has not vaccinated even 2% of the population and there are no discussions to prioritise teachers. She said the strategy sounded great on paper but seeing the slow pace of vaccination in the country and the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, the strategy falls flat if it does not make provision for the improvement of online teaching and learning. She raised the following question, if COVID-19 numbers keep rising and there is a burden on health infrastructure, what is plan B?
She highlighted that the presentation makes a concession to the effect that issues such as inadequate school facilities, water and sanitation may compromise compliance with COVID-19 protocols but makes no recommendations on mitigating factors. She asked if the Department could comment on that.
Mr Nodada recalled a previous engagement with the Minister in which he mentioned that a school in Mpumalanga had converted four classrooms into hostels and had about 87 learners studying at home because they could not be accommodated due to the issue of social distancing in the hostels. He asked if, in terms of the risk adjustment strategy the Department was doing a full audit for each Province to identify challenges for schools that have hostels that might not be meeting the health protocols. He said that would be important to ensure that learners from those schools are not left behind because they are not able to access hostels.
He asked the following question, what is the full approach on the risk adjustment strategy in terms of hostels? He said that was important so that schools get the necessary assistance to ensure that learners are not left behind. Some of the learners at the school do not get materials because they live in rural parts and having them in hostels would be the best option. He raised the case of a particular school as an example he was making to ask for a specific plan for learners in like situations.
The Chairperson commended the Department for a good presentation and asked if the Department could simplify what the system evaluation model is in layman’s terms.
She asked when learners that are residing at hostels will be going back to school. The Chairperson indicated that she supports the idea that they go back to school, but her issue was with social distancing particularly at the hostels. She asked if the Department will be ready to accommodate all the learners and to make sure that the issue of social distancing is adhered to.
She noted that Members of the Committee raised the issue of vaccination of teachers and also that of consultations. She recalled listening to news on the radio where South African Teachers Union (SATU) was saying that they do not agree with the plan for teachers to go back to school a 100% on 26 July unless they are vaccinated. She asked if the Committee could get a proper understanding of whether teachers are going to be vaccinated before that date. Her question was, unions do not want their members to go back without being vaccinated, how are you as the Department going to handle that situation?
The Chairperson indicated that there was Gazette recently made by the Ministry of Basic Education on the suspension of contact sports. The suspension means that the Department is worried about the spread of the virus in schools so looking at the Gazette vis-à-vis the decision to resume school a 100%, she asked if that meant that learners were going to resume sporting activities on the 26th when schools reopen.
She highlighted that 54% of teaching time was quite a lot to lose despite the fact that other countries lost 100% of teaching time. The loss was not going to be easy for the country to recover and regardless of that, the country needed to shine in terms of producing good results for the class of 2021. She asked the Department to inform the Committee on levels of readiness in terms of matric classes. Her question was if anything happens how do we make sure that Matric students write examinations without any problems? The Chairperson noted that Grade 12 students had started nicely this year nicely without many disturbances as they have been in class until now. She then raised the following questions, should something happen, that would want the country to adhere to more strict precautions levels what will we do? Can you guarantee us that the Department is ready and that the students will be kept in class until they write their exams by the end of the year?
Minister Motshekga indicated that the intention is to keep Grade 12 students as long as the Department can. She reminded Members that the class of 2021 already faced difficulties in 2020 because most of them missed half of the year and given that they were going in sessions, they lost almost 60-70% of the year. As a result, they need to be in school as soon as possible to recover lost ground and make up for 2021. The Department will try to keep them as much as possible. Most schools are offering extra classes during weekends and holidays and the hope is that in June, the schools and Provinces will keep them.
She highlighted that the Department has a team working with the Department of Health which is monitoring the infections on a daily basis and that is what is guiding the Department. The team guided the Department on the decision that it is ideal and safe for learners to go back to school especially the lower grades. In terms of infection rates, they are lower in lower classes and this view is guided by the Department of Health. The Department has the support of both the National COVID Command Team and also the Cabinet. The decision to open schools was informed by science and the Department had to make a case before it could be allowed to open schools.
The Minister said the decision on contact sports was informed by the fact that there were suddenly a spike in infections in a short space of time when inter-school sports started. In just a week, there were more than a hundred schools that had been affected and the Department had to ask what had caused the problem. The Department picked up that among the schools, the big school activities, inter-sporting activities and contact sports such as rugby had caused the spread of the virus. Not all sporting activities were affected by the decision so it should not have an impact on sporting activities that are played in schools. Sports like cricket and soccer are still continuing and it is only those that have been listed in the direction that should not continue especially at inter-schools’ level. Practicing and other activities will continue when schools reopen so there will not be a challenge.
She highlighted that schools were supposed to be preparing for music competitions in June but because it will be difficult for learners to perform with masks on, the Department had to postpone this year’s music competition.
The Minister indicated that the Department could have decided for schools to open immediately coming back from the first term into the second term, but the decision was that there was a need for space to prepare the system again. The Department is not preparing a system that was in a complete shutdown but is preparing a system that was already functioning so there are no new challenges. The Department was of the view that the second term would provide more time to plan and that is where the confidence comes from.
She emphasised the need for officials from the Department to simplify concepts.
She said there are young learners in hostels, but it is a rare occurrence. She reminded Members that only a very few younger children will be in boarding facilities. Just as in the social sector, the Department discourages the institutionalisation of young children by putting them in boarding schools. In cases where the younger children will be going to boarding facilities, there are clear guidelines as to how that will happen. She emphasised that for the boarding schools that are running, the same protocols are applied and if they fail, the Department will have to find another way of doing things.
Minister Motshekga highlighted that the risk adjustment strategy is going to be happening school by school with Department officials working with different schools. The Department has a broad generic framework of what should happen in terms of safety measures, but schools have different challenges. Therefore, the Department will have to make sure that in spite of the environment and challenges of the schools, health protocols are adhered to.
She said the Department is monitoring and getting reports on PPE expenditure. She reminded the Committee that PPE is bought by provinces from provincial funds, so the monitoring structures are the provincial legislature. As a result, the Department relies on reports from provincial departments. She stated that in most provinces, it is the Department of Health that procures for the whole province. Rarely does the Department of Basic Education procure for itself. In the main, procurements happen from the provincial funds and the Department monitors to make sure that even the PPE that is bought for offices at national level is in line with Treasury Regulations and that the procurement is at the best price.
She indicated that Members raised points that the Department had also raised and that showed a meeting of minds. The Committee had raised issues that the Department is already ceased with and a few others that it will have to look much closer into. She said COVID-19 has given the Department an opportunity to progress much faster on addressing some of the pre-pandemic issues such as infrastructure, teacher supply and overcrowding. The pandemic helped the Department to frog leap and identify faster ways of dealing with the challenges.
The Minister stated that with some challenges, the Department has no control and with some, there are not enough resources. It would be misleading for the Department to say it can roll out tablets to every student overnight or roll out fibre overnight. What the Department can do under the circumstances is to protect the academic year. She agreed with Members of the Committee that the effects of the 2020/21 academic years will be felt ten years down the line and if there is no recovery plan which is long-term, the country will have children going into the future as one legged or one handed because they would have lost so much during their schooling time. The Department is trying to avoid such a situation and is therefore doing everything possible in that regard.
She indicated that the Department cleaned the curriculum but some of the challenges are out of its control. She said young learners cannot supervise themselves if they are given homework. Sometimes they forget that it is their day to go to school on a rotational basis. That shows that it is a bit difficult to manage the environment, but schools are doing as much as they can to deal with the challenges.
She highlighted that it is impossible to finish the curriculum under the prevailing conditions. That is why the Department is trying to find a way of sending as many children as possible to school so that the time that is lost is saved.
The Minister assured the Committee that the Department has requested a special dispensation for teachers to make sure that it is not on the basis of returning learners to school but on the basis of teachers with comorbidities so that they can go back to class. The Department engaged with Treasury and also raised it with the Presidency and there is a lot of sympathy around the issue. She agreed that teachers are frontline workers but the Police, the Army and workers in Home Affairs are also frontline workers. The people who have to attend to thousands of people that apply for IDs on a daily basis are also frontline workers who should also be prioritised.
She indicated that the Minister of Health had committed that as soon as the Department of Health gets some certainty around the availability of vaccines, it will prioritise the frontline workers. The Department of Basic Education hopes that it will be on a certain day in June, but the Department cannot commit before the Committee and say, ‘this is the agreed date.’ However, the Department of Health is working very closely with the Ministry of Basic Education to make sure that teachers are prioritised. She reiterated that the Department could not commit to a certain date due to the lack of certainty around the availability of vaccines.
She stated that the Minister of Health indicated that he has doses that will cover all elderly people from the age of 60 and above. The Department was hopeful that teachers will be part of the doses that are going to be dispensed. She noted that the Department is competing with other frontline workers but there is a commitment to assist from the Department of Health to vaccinate as many teachers as possible. The Department hopes that by the time schools are opened, teachers would have been vaccinated as well as other frontline workers.
Minister Motshekga said teacher unions put conditionalities before the Department and the Department is counting on the two months before schools open so as to prepare and meet some of the deadlines. Teacher unions are insisting that their members be vaccinated before they go back to school, and these are subjects of the discussions. The Department is very sensitive to the fact that teachers should not be sent to school in their numbers and then deal with fatalities as dealt with in phase one of the pandemic. She emphasised that the Department does not want to have anybody’s death on its hands and that is why the officials are doing the best they can.
The Minister said the Department has engaged with the stakeholders and they agreed to the plan of opening on 26 July. The Department is working on the conditions that were put before it, but it cannot stop planning because the teachers are saying they will not go back to work without being vaccinated. The Department cannot start planning after the teachers get vaccinated so the planning goes on now to make sure that everything runs parallel so that when the date comes, the system is ready to receive more learners. The Minister indicated that she understands why teacher unions needed to assure some of their members that they are not throwing them under the bus.
She thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present and also for the kind remarks that Members made on the work that is being done by the Department in preparing the system, not for a completely full reopening but to get the younger ones back to school as soon as possible.
Dr Rufus Poliah, Chief Director: National Assessment and Public Examinations, Department of Basic Education, thanked the Minister for addressing much of the issues and went on to simplify the concept of systemic evaluation. He indicated that currently, the system is highly dependent on the Matric exam which takes place after 13 years of teaching and learning to get a sense of how the system is performing. Technically, the Department has to wait for 13 years to get a sense of the performance of a particular cohort. So, with the systemic evaluation concept, the Department has decided to implement the concept every three years with the purpose being to measure the performance of the system as a whole. In Grades Three, Six and Nine every three years, a sample of the learners across the entire country, supporting Provinces and Districts will write a standardised test in Mathematics and Languages which are foundational skills. The test was developed by teachers and subject advisors, but it is internationally bench marked so that the standard that emerges from the test is intentionally comparable.
He said the Department will be implementing the first standardised test for Grades Three, Six and Nine in October 2021. The Department is not only looking at learner assessment only but also the schools that are part of the sample. The evaluation will also assess the functionality of the school using a 10 criteria assessment. In a sense, the evaluation links the performance of the learner to school functionality. In addition, there is a third component which is for the District support in which the Department will be assessing the District that supports a particular school. The Department will be looking at whether District support can explain either the good or poor performance of the schools that are part of the sample.
Dr Poliah stated that the Department is hoping that the first and preliminary result which will come out early 2022 will give a clear sense of the impact of the pandemic on learners. The results will become the baseline to identify and diagnose what the actual problems are and give the Department a starting point on which to build on to make sure that learners meet the desired benchmark.
He highlighted that 2021 is the first year for the systemic evaluation and the Department is getting support both Nationally and Internationally to ensure that the Department come out with the best model which will obviously be revised moving forward.
Dr Poliah reminded the Committee that the Department is introducing the General Education Certificate which will hopefully be implemented in 2023. Again, that will give the Department another benchmark in terms of learner performance at the end of Grade Nine.
He recalled that the Minister had mentioned the trimming of the curriculum which is something critical for the Department. The Department carried out international evaluations on the curriculum which exposed the fact that the curriculum has content overload. In reviewing the curriculum in response to COVID-19, the Department plans on focusing on the core concepts of field and knowledge. So, what will happen is that teachers will focus on those core concepts in the limited time available. Teachers are also an important determinant of what gets covered, how it gets covered and as a result, the Department is encouraging continuous assessment learning in the class.
He noted that given the rotational timetable and the fact that there is no uniformity across the system and schools, teachers will have to keep an accurate record of the work covered at the end of every grade. The records will have to be handed over from one grade teacher to another so that there is a clear indication of what has been covered in terms of the core concepts, skills and knowledge.
He stated that the Department is also encouraging teachers that before they start with a topic, they should do a baseline assessment to clearly understand where the learners are and what the learning depth is. This will not be done in a short time as the recovery curriculum that the Department put in place is initially targeting a three-year period. At the end of 2023 or even prior to the end of the three-year period, the Department will then have to get together and assess the progress that would have been made in covering for the learning losses. It is only then that the Department will adopt the approach in making sure that moving into 2024, the system is better prepared in terms of addressing the learning losses.
He emphasised that the approach is new, but the Department is latching on to what is happening in other countries in terms of these learning losses. However, the Department is of the view that the assessment programme being put in place which is based on more assessment for learners and is formative in nature, together with the reduced curriculum will assist in patching up some of those learning losses.
Dr Poliah agreed with the Minister that the Grade 12 classes were affected by the pandemic. He reiterated that there are extra classes that are on-going and that the difference with the catch-up programme for 2021 is that the programme is more school focused as the Department wants to keep the numbers low. The Department will ensure that the extra classes continue even during the next holiday. He emphasised that schools are extending the programme on a daily basis in terms of time and the Department is also looking at weekend classes. Since there will be no June exams this year, that will also save the Department another three weeks to make sure that the particular classes are able to cover the curriculum.
Dr Whittle indicated that the Department is working with schools to determine where schools are going to have difficulties with the introduction of the social distancing measures. With the coming back of learners, the Department is also addressing the issue of furniture and the provision of additional mobile classrooms. The Department is also checking the availability of water across the system and where necessary, the resources will have to be provided to schools. He stated that if there is anything additional that the Head of Infrastructure in the Department would want to add after the meeting, the Department would then provide such information to the Committee.
Mr David Van Der Westhuizen, Head of Infrastructure, Department of Basic Education, stated that in February of 2021, the Department conducted one on one meetings with all Provinces and asked them specific questions relating to whether there are schools that cannot reopen due to lack of water supply or sanitation and challenges of overcrowding. The Department has also set up a series of one-on-one meetings in the coming week to engage on those schools where the Department will have to deal specifically with the issue of water availability and sanitation facilities.
He reminded Members of the Committee that in 2020 during the initiation of the pandemic, the Department had a whole programme for water supply where tanks were rolled out to about 3 000 schools and another programme for mobile toilets which were rolled out to about 1 500 schools. He said the Department is being monitored closely to ensure that work is done in a more responsible manner from an infrastructural point of view.
The Chairperson thanked the Minister and the Department for the responses. She appreciated the simplification of the systemic evaluation model and wished the Department the very best in applying the model. She reiterated the importance of simplifying some of the terms for the Members of the Committee.
The Chairperson asked if Members had follow up questions.
Follow up discussion
Mr Nodada thanked the Department for the responses on the issue of curriculum coverage. He noted that there seems to be a plan in the pipeline for 2021 to 2023. He said it was something that the Portfolio Committee needed to monitor so that Members can also make the necessary contributions and assistance to ensure that the country catches up on the short to medium term responses.
Ms Adoons appreciated the responses from the Department and indicated that the Committee had surely been educated. She recalled the slogan of COSAS which says that ‘each one, teach one’. She reiterated that the Committee had managed to get some education during youth month.
Deputy Minister Mhaule reiterated that consultations were made with teacher unions and not once. The issue of teacher vaccination was not necessarily put as a condition before the Department. Rather it was a suggestion that the Department engages the entry point to ensure that teachers are also prioritised. She stated that all five teacher unions agreed with the views of the Department. During the time when consultations were starting, the Department wanted schools to open during the second quarter and then decided to push to the third quarter to gain more time to prepare.
She indicated that consultation was more than enough and there is nothing that came from the meetings to suggest that the teacher unions would stop the plan put in motion by the Department. She said it was unfortunate however that when the unions speak outside, they speak in a different language from what they would have said during the consultations.
The Deputy Minister reiterated that from her opening remarks, she had indicated that the Minister consulted members of civil society through NECT, and that civil society was more than ready to reopen schools. She stated that even school governing bodies were also on board with the plan to reopen schools.
She indicated that she felt compelled to state that, as Members had emphasised on the issue of consultation. The Deputy Minister reiterated that Basic Education is a big sector with many stakeholders and the Minister tries by all means to be in contact with all stakeholders.
The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister for the clarity and indicated that the Department needed to put its house in order regarding stakeholders to ensure that they speak the same language.
She indicated that the Portfolio Committee is of the view that learners should go back to school provided there is an assurance that there will be adherence to social distancing and sanitation protocols. The Chairperson made observations from her own house that the more these learners are not in school is the more they are regressing. Even though they alternate, as a parent one can quickly detect some regression with the learners.
She reiterated that the Committee was of the view that the learners should go back to school on condition that the environment is conducive. She wished the Department the best with its plans and indicated that this was the last meeting of the term. The Committee and the Department will be scheduled to meet in August after the expected oversight visit to the Western Cape Province during the last week of July. She hoped that the Department will be able to plan properly and get the children to school.
She allowed for the Department to leave and introduced agenda item 2.
Adoption of Minutes
The Chairperson indicated that the Committee had a brief from the Department on the Third Quarterly Report on 25 May 2021 at 9:30 hours.
The minutes of the meeting were adopted.
The Chairperson stated that the Committee had made an application for an oversight visit and is currently waiting for a response from the House Chairperson. She assured Members that the Committee Secretary would keep in touch informing them of the details of the oversight. However, if things go as planned, the oversight will start on 27 July and end on 3 August 2021.
She wished Members of the Committee a good rest until the Committee meets again in the next quarter.
The meeting was adjourned.
Mbinqo-Gigaba, Ms BP
Adoons, Ms NG
Malatji, Mr T
Mashabela, Ms N
Mhaule, Dr R
Moroatshehla, Mr PR
Motshekga, Ms MA
Nodada, Mr BB
Siwela, Mr EK
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