Western Cape Education Department on COVID-19 Survey for 2020
22 June 2021
Chairperson: Ms L Botha (DA)
Video: Standing Committee on Education, 22 June 2021, 13:00
The Standing Committee met virtually and was briefed by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) on the COVID-19 Survey for 2020. The report dated 16 February 2021 was deliberated and adopted. The feedback from the survey was presented and Members raised questions on the challenges facing learners especially in disadvantaged communities. Members made recommendations to the WCED to improve connectivity access in schools and learners who do not have it at home.
The Chairperson introduced herself and informed Members that the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) will present the COVID-19 Survey Report for the year 2020. Members were asked to introduce themselves. Members who attended the meeting introduced themselves and Mr R MacKenzie (DA) mentioned that he was standing in for Mr G Bosman (DA).
The Chairperson received a notice from Mr Bosman and appreciated the presence of Mr MacKenzie because part of the agenda was to adopt the 16 February report.
An apology was received from Mr M Kama (ANC) who had a bereavement in his family.
Mr Ian de Vega, Chief Director: Business Intelligence Management, WCED, introduced himself.
WCED COVID-19 Survey Presentation
Mr de Vega said there was a national lockdown that changed the education landscape in the country and schools were closed. There was a phased and controlled re-opening of the education sector. Learners, teachers and parents were subjected to a lot of expectations without prior preparation or warning and the survey examined their experiences. The purpose of the survey was to get a balanced view of what happened in Western Cape schools from March to November 2020. This was done to understand the impact of the pandemic on teaching, learning and parenting, to examine the nature and the consequences of the disruption and to determine the creativity forced on parents, educators and learners. He went through the research questions looking at how learning and teaching happened during and after the hard lockdown, how educators, parents and learners had to cope emotionally and physically, including support from the schools and community. The study was largely technologically driven and was conducted through the Microsoft Teams platform. A smart device, connectivity and a working email address were the requirements for participation. The survey link was shared with the schools and was active for a week and the targeted learners were grade seven to twelve. The major challenge was access to smart devices and connectivity. The response rate was very low and the reasons behind are not immediately clear, further investigation is required. There was close to 2% response rate. The highest response rate was 2.4% from the parents, close to 7% from teachers and 1.3% from learners.
Mr de Vega said the strength for WCED was that learning continued and the positive response from participants was that learning did not stop. 85% of the respondents were learners from fee charging schools and 70% were teachers from fee charging schools and clear leadership of most principals were recognized by educators. The lockdown experience created opportunities for team building for educators. Some of the key observations was that schools were perceived to be safe and were reported to be following COVID-19 guidelines. Participants expressed the view that the lockdown experience changed the teaching and learning context forever. The WECD was recommended to design systems that monitor textbook access for each learner and systems that ensure that schools continue to be viewed as safe and following the guidelines. The WCED was also encouraged to capitalise on e-Investment to ensure improvement to access online resources, computer laboratories and smart devices. Face-to-face learning to be reduced with social distancing in schools to continue beyond the period of population immunity and electronic solutions to be used to reduce educator workload. The WCED would need to address the digital divide challenge, role of the School Governing Body (SGB), educator workload and make sure that psychosocial support is available in times of crisis.
The Chairperson acknowledged the presence of Archie Lewis (Institution Development and Coordination). She opened the platform for discussion.
Mr F Christians (ACDP) said a lot of money was spent on the rollout of fibre to schools and the presentation mentioned that the digital divide challenge needs to be addressed. He asked if the fibre rollout did not assist contour one to three schools that were outstanding when fibre was rolled out. He also asked for the current status of the rollout to make sure that schools have WIFI. He also asked for measures in place to make sure that parents and the SGB do not feel excluded and are part of the decision- making processes.
Mr K Sayed (ANC) welcomed the presentation and asked for the names and number of schools that were surveyed. Last year oversight school visits were conducted unannounced to see if schools were complying to the guidelines. He asked if the WCED has looked at those kinds of surveys which might be able to expose challenges. He also asked if it was possible for the Committee to get a full completed report and if there have been discussions on empowering learners that do not have connectivity at home. The SGB training was mentioned in the presentation. This is not a unique issue purely due to COVID-19 response and should not cause a concern. Beyond the issue of parental exclusion, the SGB knows what is expected of them. He asked if the WCED has looked at ways of factoring the inclusion of parents into the SGB training.
Mr R Allen (DA) said that he noticed a low response on those that were surveyed and asked if the WCED has considered using USSD or future potential groups to focus on getting a more realistic response on how learners are feeling and coping.
The Chairperson asked if there is a follow up survey to the one that has already been done. She asked the reasons why parents felt excluded in the decision- making processes. Whether it was due to the school or the SGB not directly communicating with them? She also asked for the current status of the key recommendations, the number of schools lacking adequate smart devices and the rural WCED representation versus the metro representation on psychological support.
1 297 out of 1 489 schools had successful fibre rollout and close to a thousand schools have broadband speed of 100mbp. Public WIFI has been implemented in schools and is accessible to the public nearby. About 240 schools have no internet connection but the WCED is giving those schools a stipend to contract with local service providers to access CEMIS and People Management Practice Systems to report on staff attendance and the solutions like the screening app.
He said he had no authority to report on the progress made about parents and SGB inclusion, as he was only responding to the feedback received on the research done by the Business Intelligence Management Unit. He was also not able to provide reasons why parents felt excluded and mentioned that Mr Lewis would be able to respond. Grades Seven-12 of 367 schools were surveyed including learners, parents and all educators. He would need to engage further to get approval of providing a full report to the Committee. He agreed with the recommendation of conducting unannounced surveys at schools but will also need to engage with his office to get support.
There have been several attempts by the WCED to engage service providers like MTN and Vodacom to look at low- cost data to empower learners with no internet connection at home. Local service providers gave expensive quotations and further engagements were not possible. The WCED is ensuring that connectivity is active at schools and broadband is expanded to 100mb and 1gig in some cases depending on the size of the school. There have been engagements with RSA web to determine ways of getting connectivity to schools that were left out on the fibre rollout. There is currently no formal report on the status of the recommendations but, it will be provided together to the Committee as well as the representation of rural versus metro and the smart club in schools. He mentioned that all recommendations by Members will be considered.
The Chairperson said Members received the report on the survey in the morning and Members should refresh their inboxes. Mr Sayed confirmed the receipt.
Mr Lewis said that it must be remembered that during the hard lockdown, schools were closed and after schools resumed, there was a ban on every person who wanted to enter the school. This was the same with the SGB and no parent could visit the school. The SGB had to communicate virtually depending on accessibility of social media platforms. There were three activities that were delayed in making progress. Firstly, recruitment was placed on hold because the SGB plays an important role in advertising posts. This only resumed slowly as the lockdown levels were lowered. The second one was the finances of the schools. The SGB also has a fundamental role in the financial management of schools and only people involved in the finance committee were consulted for relevant matters. The third factor was the School Safety Committee. It is a sub-committee of the SGB, with either the Chairperson or Secretary of the SGB heading the board. Engagements were impossible in some communities because the WCED relied heavily on virtual meetings. This could be the reasons why parents felt excluded. Most schools relied on WhatsApp communication and text messages for teachers and learners together with the parents.
Psychosocial support is intended for learners but, teachers are also getting support. The WCED has specialised services to be utilised by teachers free of charge. During the hard lockdown and after schools opened, teachers lost their lives and there is evidence. A team of 160 members spread across the Province (social workers and psychologists) have also supported parents and there is evidence in numbers which was shared in 2020. There is also evidence that districts are doing well regarding learners who do not have data. He was aware that Metro East concluded an agreement with one of the local service providers between MTN or Vodacom. All Grade 12 learners in the district receive a certain amount of data every month to access important study material on the WCED website.
Mr Sayed welcomed the responses and the allocation of data for Metro East learners but asked for the learner grades, who are getting data and the amount of data per learner. The country is in the third wave of infections and schools will be closing in a few weeks for the holidays. He asked if the WCED is seeking practical ways to utilise the lessons from the survey in handling immediate challenges of the third wave. An update was given the previous week and asked for a further update on the approach of practicing social distance at full capacity.
Mr Lewis said the data allocation is focused on Grade 12 learners and he would find out from the Head of Curriculum about the amount of data and share the information with the Committee as he was not sure if data was being allocated per day or month. There is a discussion at National level with the Ministry of Health whether education as a sector could be allowed to scrap the one-meter physical distancing. Unfortunately, if the discussion is unfruitful, learners will have to rotate attending classes and be provided with printed study material to use at home. The opening date for primary schools has not changed. He appreciated the engagement with Members and emphasised that it is always the best to work together to improve on education, especially in the disadvantaged communities.
The Chairperson asked Members for any recommendations.
Mr Sayed said there were a few recommendations that were accepted and recorded.
Mr Allen said the WCED said the proposals by the Committee will be considered and there has not been any update.
The Chairperson said that can be put in writing so the WCED can keep the Committee abreast.
Mr Allen said he would appreciate updates from the WCED on the use of USSD technology as it is cheaper and can be used on any cellphone.
The Chairperson recommended that the WCED provides the list of schools the Committee should start unannounced visits to.
The Genadendal report dated 16 February was received by Members and should be adopted. She was also cognisant of the fact that it was a joint visit by the Committee and the Standing Committee on the Premier and Mr MacKenzie was the Chairperson of the meeting. She asked Members who embarked on the visit to adopt the report as all Members have read it. The report was flighted and considered.
Mr Allen moved for the adoption of the report and was seconded by Mr Sayed.
The report was duly adopted.
The Chairperson thanked all attendees and notified Members that the next meeting would be after the constituency period. She encouraged Members to look at the parliamentary program as there would be a workshop between the Committee and the Standing Committee on Social Development.
Botha, Ms L
Allen, Mr R
Brinkhuis, Mr G
Christians, Mr F
Mackenzie, Mr R
Sayed, Mr MK
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