The Committee convened virtually to receive briefings from the Department of Basic Education and the South African Council for Educators. The Deputy Minister was in attendance. The briefings were on the gender-responsive planning, monitoring, evaluation and auditing framework; GBVF programmes and misconduct by educators and officials in respect of GBVF.
The Deputy Minister, Dr Reginah Mhaule, remarked that issues of gender-based violence and sexual harassment in schools stem from within communities, since the school is a microcosm of the communities. She said the Department of Basic Education is doing all that it can to bring awareness to educators and learners, and to tackle gender-based violence in schools.
The Department of Basic Education indicated that its annual performance plan (APP) for 2020/2021 had no indicator on gender-based violence and femicide. Even so, the Department has subsequently been monitoring the trends in education districts in six provinces: the Free State, Northern Cape, North West, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. The Department also presented that, out of 275 cases of sexual misconduct against educators reported since April 2019, 166 have been finalised and 92 were still pending. A total of 50 educators have been dismissed stemming from these cases. Finalised cases include cases that were withdrawn because of a lack of evidence, cases where implicated educators resigned and cases where parents or guardians refused to give permission for their child to testify.
The South African Council for Educators (Educators’ Council) reported that it received 167 cases of sexual misconduct from 01 April 2020 to 31 July 2021. These included 55 cases of sexual harassment of learners, 49 of sexual assault of learners and 30 of sexual relationships with learners. The province with the highest rate of sexual misconduct cases reported against educators was Gauteng with 39, followed by Free State with 33 and KwaZulu-Natal with 22.
Members appreciated the efforts that are being made by the Department in raising awareness on Gender-Based Violence, but they concerned about the case of a seven-year-old learner who was allegedly abused by a general worker. The case was reported over two weeks ago and to date, no arrests have been made.
The Committee raised concerns about the fact that gender issues were not reflected in the Department’s Annual Performance Plan. Members emphasised that gender issues should be taken seriously, as they constitute a second pandemic that continues to ravage the country Of the teachers who have been reported for sexual misconduct and abuse, how many of them are still employed and working in schools at the moment? How many of them have been criminally charged? What is the challenge of vetting teachers, as the Department has indicated?
The Committee was interested in knowing of the measures that have been put in place by the Department and Educators’ Council in making sure that educators who are found guilty of sexual offences are barred from ever being re-employed. Members urged the Department to put in place measures to ensure that young learners never go to the restrooms unsupervised by an adult, preferably a teacher, as most cases of sexual violence were happening during the restroom visits
Opening Remarks by Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed the Members to the virtual meeting and indicated that she hoped that everyone was still enjoying Women’s month, which speaks to the significance of womanhood. She acknowledged the presence of the Department led by the Deputy Minister and also members of the South African Council for Educators (SACE).
She noted that the Committee had begun work in the third term, which runs for six weeks before another Constituency period begins. She indicated that the Committee was going to be listening through a presentation on Gender-Based Violence, which is important, as it speaks to Women’s month.
The Chairperson mentioned that the Councils terms for SACE had come to an end, and the Committee had been invited to attend the farewell ceremony scheduled for 18 August 2021. The Secretary of the Committee was going to send the link to all the Members so that those interested could join.
She indicated that the Portfolio Committee completed interesting and successful oversight visits in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. She reiterated that the visits were exciting, although the weather was very cold in both Provinces.
The Chairperson stated that the Committee was going to be briefed by the Department on Gender-Based programmes, as implemented in the sector, and also by SACE on Sexual-Based Violence in the Teaching Profession.
The Chairperson submitted the Agenda for adoption.
The Committee adopted the Agenda.
Apologies were received from the Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga, as well Committee Members: Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC), Ms M Sukers (ACDP) and Mr B S Yabo (ANC).
Opening Remarks by the Deputy Minister
Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr Reginah Mhaule, thanked the Chairperson and the Committee for the invitation to present on issues of sexual harassment and misconduct by educators. She acknowledged the presence of SACE in the meeting and reiterated the apology on behalf of the Minister, who was attending the NCCC meeting.
She stated that issues of Gender-Based Violence and sexual harassment are happening in communities, and anything that happens in the community affects schools, as schools are microcosms of the community. She said the Department has programmes to deal with issues of sexual harassment, Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) in schools. But people often assume that the Department is not dealing with these matters because, in some instances, victims tend to change their statements. Whenever a matter arises, the public is alarmed, and when the victim changes the statement to say that there was no harassment, the case falls through the cracks. Regardless, people will still be expecting the perpetrator to go through the processes or be punished.
She reiterated that the moment the child victim fails to speak out, has been intimidated or threatened not to speak out by the perpetrator, it becomes very difficult for the matter to be concluded in a manner that satisfies society. These are some of the challenges currently being faced by both the Department and SACE.
The Deputy Minister indicated that the Department is doing what it takes to raise awareness to the teachers because they are needed. The Department is never pleased when it has to expel a teacher because of sexual harassment. As a result, the Department works with the teachers and the learners also conscientising them to respect each other’s bodies.
She stated that the presentation by the Department was going to inform the Committee on the programmes that are in place to address the issues of sexual harassment and the conduct of teachers.
Presentation by the Department of Basic Education
The presentation was led by Dr Granville Whittle, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Social Mobilisation and Support Services, Department of Basic Education. It was presented that Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is addressed through the provision of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), which includes access to sexual and reproductive health services for secondary schools and also focuses on prevention of alcohol, drug use and learner pregnancy (now also COVID-19) as GBV risk factors. In primary schools, activities mainly focus on raising awareness of social justice and vulnerabilities, such as reporting abuse and supporting GBV-affected learners. There are 80 CSE lessons (implying 80 hours) in the life skills and life orientation subjects. Twenty-nine (36%) of these lessons specifically address GBV.
According to information from Provincial Education Departments, 275 cases of sexual misconduct have been reported in Provincial Education Departments in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 financial years. Out of 275 cases, 166 have been finalised and 92 are still pending; 39 cases were referred to the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC), in accordance with the collective agreement of 2018, since 2019/2020. The number of finalised cases includes cases that were withdrawn due to insufficient evidence, implicated educators resigned and parents refused to give permission for their children to testify.
The Department’s annual performance plan (APP) for 2020/2021 had no indicator on GBVF. Even so, the DBE has subsequently been monitoring the trends in education districts in six provinces: the Free State, Northern Cape, North West, Limpopo, KZN and Gauteng. A number of schools per district have been implementing the programme to end schools-related GBV, and 20 out of 43 districts monitored the prevention of GBV (baseline). This accounts for 4 426 out of 10 925 schools across the six provinces.
See presentation attached for further detail
Presentation by SACE
The presentation was led by Ms Ella Mokgalane, Chief Executive Officer, SACE. It was presented that, in the first quarter of 2021/2022, SACE received 132 cases of sexual misconduct. The three provinces with highest rate of sexual misconduct cases reported against teachers are Free State with 27 cases, Gauteng with 10 cases and KwaZulu-Natal with nine.
In the past five years, the most common reported sexual offences between educators and learners are sexual harassment, abuse and assault, rape, and improper sexual relationships. This includes sexual-related GBV, with the participants generally being male teachers-on-female learners, male teachers-on-female teachers, male teachers-on-male learners (prevalent in single-sex schools), female teachers-on-male learners (emerging trend – abuse of high school boys) and taking advantage of learners in special schools (deaf, blind, autism, physical disability, amongst others).
Following guilty verdicts, SACE ensures that perpetrators’ names are struck off the register of educators, in line with the SACE Act and SACE policy of mandatory sanctions. The names are then submitted to the Provincial Education Departments so that they can be blocked on the public servant verification system, Persal.
See presentation attached for further detail
The Chairperson thanked the presenters from both the Department and SACE for the presentations. She invited Members to engage with the presentations.
Ms D Van Der Walt (DA) said that she was initially going to refer to slides six, seven, 12 and 14 from the SACE presentation. However, SACE had raised a very important matter that she was going to engage on. She stated that, in June 2021, there was another case of an 11-year-old pupil who was raped in KZN. The teacher who allegedly committed the crime appeared in the Magistrates’ Court in Madadeni. From the presentation, it was mentioned that there is another case of the Grade one pupil in Soshanguve, who was also raped. Her question was, is this the third incident or were the three before this specific incident?
Ms Van Der Walt indicated that the Director-General would recall that she was once actively involved in Setotolwane School of the Blind and Deaf in Polokwane. In the presentation, it had been mentioned specifically that blind learners are having a hard time. She said it would be great to know who knows about it, and she further agreed that there should be consequences for principals who do not report such cases, as they cannot go unreported. She said the situation reminded her of the South African Police Services (SAPS) that fail to report issues of violence against women, and she asked how the Department was fixing it. She reminded the Department of a pupil named Michael, who fell in a pit toilet and the Committee fought tooth and nail to ensure that young pupils, especially Grade ones, do not go to a distant toilet alone because it is unsafe, especially because the toilets themselves are bad.
Ms Van Der Walt reiterated that, in Soshanguve, a sixy-year-old pupil went to the toilets alone and allegedly got raped on the school grounds by a general worker, who could have been a school teacher in some instances. She said she gets so angry if teachers fail to send another learner or themselves to accompany small children, who are in their foundation stage, to the toilet. She emphasised that it was something she could not comprehend. How, on earth, does one send a Grade one pupil to a faraway toilet on their own? What is Basic Education really doing?
She asked for clarity on the number of incidents at the school in Soshanguve and also the steps that are being taken daily to ensure that girl children, specifically little children, do not go to the toilets alone.
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) stated that the information, as presented before the Committee, was centred on educators but the recent case that happened at Khensani Primary School in Soshanguve involved a four-year-old child who was raped by a gardener. She said the problem in the scenario is that there are four gardeners at the school who wear the same uniform. On the day in question, they were all putting on masks. As a result, it is difficult for the child to identify the person who actually raped her. The case is still on-going with no arrests having been made at this point. She noted that these gardeners and cleaners are all service providers in the schools and asked how these service providers can be accommodated for in the project because the scenario is now taking place in a different mode altogether.
Ms N Mashabela (EFF) asked the following questions in relation to teachers reported to have conducted sexual relations with learners: how many teachers have been struck off the role in the past two years? What are the processes of investigation when teachers are found to have contravened the Teachers’ Professional Code of Conduct?
She raised the following questions: why is it that after so many years with a clear and urgent need does SACE not have offices in every province, despite the fact that the Department of Basic Education has offices in every province? Why has SACE failed to follow the Department’s footprint and be everywhere? Lastly, what communication campaigns has SACE put in place to promote its work and services as an organisation?
She indicated that the Committee never gets to hear of SACE unless there is an incident that would have occurred forcing the entity to respond.
Mr B Nodada (DA) raised the following questions: of the teachers who have been reported for sexual misconduct and abuse, how many of them are still employed and working in schools at the moment? How many of them have been criminally charged? For those that are criminally charged or all of the offenders and alleged offenders, were the background checks done with criminal records or the sexual offenders’ list? What is the challenge of vetting teachers, as the Department has indicated? Between those reported and those teachers that have been dismissed as a result of these reports, what is the dismissal rate from SACE? Over and above the reporting of incidents, what are the measures, programmes and plans that have been put in place to prevent sexual assaults from happening again in schools?
He asked the Department to explain how the success of the Boy to Girl Education Movement is measured.
He referred to slide 17 of the Department’s presentation, which mentioned the Violence Prevention Forum. He asked for further elaboration on the Forum, the role it plays in preventing violence, the success, if any, and the effectiveness of the Forum in performing its mandate.
Mr Nodada indicated that slide 30 was not clear on how the Department monitors the success of the mentioned GBV programmes and asked for clarity. How does the Department measure success or monitor these particular programmes to see the impact on the ground?
He noted that there are a few programmes that focus on teachers or teaching girls how to get out of violent situations. He asked if the Department plans on creating programmes that focus on boy children in violent prevention, for example. He indicated that this particular question was very close to him as a person who has a foundation that seeks to develop the boy child and would appreciate an answer in that regard.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) appreciated the presentations that were made during Women’s month. She said the presentations are relevant in that they give the Committee an opportunity to discuss the Gender-Based issues that the President pronounced as being a pandemic that the country is concurrently facing with COVID-19. She emphasised that the Portfolio Committee had received the information at the level at which the issues are being dealt with in the education sector.
She appreciated the progress in the 2020/21 financial year, as reported by SACE – especially with regards to charging principals who are not coming forth with information. She hoped the progress will go up to community or household level so that they will be able to report these cases even when they happen at home. Some of the cases of sexual harassment that are not reported start at community level and some of them are even at household level.
She reminded the Committee of the challenges that are already in society, such as abuse of alcohol and drugs, and indicated that these challenges lead to the proliferation of sexual harassment cases. She appreciated the information that highlighted that the cases are going down to the level at which communities are getting sufficient information to deal with perpetrators.
Ms Adoons asked SACE if there has been any progress in the reported cases, if comparisons are made with previous years. Are the cases being reported declining? Is there an improvement in respect of reporting because of the measures that are put in place, including in the education sector? She indicated that it was important to hear if there has been any improvement because the Committee might sit and assume that there is progress but, when it comes to the reality, there are a lot of cases that are happening, and the battle is being lost.
She recalled that Members spoke a lot about the case of the seven-year-old and insisted that it is a thorny issue in the country that a child at that age is abused in that manner at school where they are supposed to be safe and that there has not been any arrests in relation to the case. She said that the incident raised the question whether or not the matter is being taken seriously. How can the case go to more than two weeks with no arrests having been made? What is really the challenge that is preventing the case from being finalised?
Ms Adoons highlighted that the presentations indicated that there are many cases of sexual assault and at least with some of them there is progress. But with regards to the one involving the seven-year-old, there has not been any progress.
She asked the following questions: how are communities relating to these campaigns or projects that are in place to ensure that the Department addresses the Gender-Based Violence that is happening in schools? What is the participation rate of the communities and parents?
Mr E Siwela (ANC) made reference to the rape case and indicated that it was sad that employees who are supposed to ensure that schools are safe havens for children and other employees are perpetrators themselves. He asked in relation to that particular incident, whether or not it is not DBE policy to ensure that children are escorted, at least by an adult, when they go to toilets. He asked: if that is the case, will the school involved be held accountable or it is just the case that it has happened?
The Chairperson thanked the Committee Members for their participation and indicated that the presentations were informative. She reminded the Committee of a hot presentation that was made by the Department, as led by Dr Whittle in 2019, on the CSC and sex education. The presented resulted in a hot debate in which Members got emotional and there was an issue of parents raising serious concerns about sex education and how it must happen in the schools.
She noted that the Department had presented that they are offering sexual reproductive services to secondary learners and asked for clarity on the nature of services being offered. She indicated that Basic Education, just like the Health Sector, is very broad. As such, the Department needed to be specific in telling the Committee of the services being offered to secondary learners.
She stated that the Department had presented on lesson plans piloted by USAID in seven Provinces. Her question was: which Districts are those that are piloted?
The Chairperson referred to slide 30 of the Department’s presentation in which the Department indicated that there are no indicators on Gender-Based Violence in the 2020/21 APP. She said there was an agreement in the meeting that GBVF is a second pandemic in the country and asked why the issue was not reflected in the APP. Her questions were: why is it not reflected in your APP? How serious is the Department taking the issue if it cannot even reflect it on the performance plan?
She noted that the Department had presented that there are no social workers that are allocated to schools and asked how many schools or Provinces were social workers allocated to. She indicated that, during the Committee’s oversight visits, there were schools in need of social workers to no avail, and when the Committee raised the issues, Members were told that there is an intergovernmental relation with the Department of Social Development. However, there are currently no social workers deployed in schools, so that when they are needed, they are able to respond to issues.
She stated that the percentage of cases reported was 73% in KZN, 68% in Gauteng and 61% in the Western Cape. She asked of the interventions made or currently being made to ensure that the percentage number of cases reported is reduced.
The Chairperson raised a question regarding the prevention of re-employment of former educators charged of misconduct. She asked if the Department had means to make sure that the educators appear on the database as charged with misconduct, particularly if it is rape, so that they are not redeployed. She asked: if that is the case, what is the reaction from Teacher Unions with regards to that?
She reiterated that the both presentations were good and well crafted.
Deputy Minister Mhaule appreciated the engagement from Members and indicated that the questions asked were very relevant. She stated that, for some of the questions that require specific numbers, the Department was not in a position to provide the numbers. The question requiring the Department to give a rate will require the Department to revisit the figures, calculate the rate, come up with specifics and submit a written response to the Committee.
She said the question that requires for the specific number of teachers that were struck off the roll due to sexual misconduct will be responded to in writing. If, however, the CEO of SACE has the information requested, that would be a bonus. She requested that Members should not ask specific questions for numbers because the Department might try to speculate which might not be helpful.
She asked the Director General to respond to the questions and stated that she would address the Committee at the end.
Mr Hubert Mweli, Director-General, Department of Basic Education, thanked the Committee Members for raising important questions. He highlighted that the issue of the learner in Ga-Rankuwa involved a seven-year-old pupil. He stated that, as the meeting was going on, he had been briefed by the MEC and Head of Department (HOD) and they indicated that the victim was a seven-year-old pupil. He noted that some Members had referred to a four-year-old and the Department was not aware of that case. He requested for further information in respect of the case involving a four-year old child, as that could be a different case from the one the Department was aware of.
Mr Mweli indicated that, in respect of the case involving a seven-year-old, according to the information from the MEC and HOD, four general assistants at the school have been suspended. The MEC informed him that the education sector was doing all it can to put pressure on SAPS to do an identity parade as quickly as possible so that the perpetrator is brought to book. MEC further indicated that the learner insists that it is the general worker that raped her and everything is now dependent on SAPS to do the identity parade.
He reiterated that the Department was unaware of the alleged case involving a four-year-old and was requesting further information from the Committee. He reminded Members that in the main, a four-year-old will be in the care of the Department of Social Development and not Basic Education. In instances where four-year-olds are with the Department of Basic Education, they will be at Learning Centres attached to Primary Schools, which are currently very few.
He stated that, in terms of policy measures that address the incidents, the Department is now isolating Grade R classrooms from the rest of the classrooms so that, if a Grade R learner goes to the restroom, they are accompanied by a teacher. Grade R learners are generally not many and, if there is an assistant, then when the teacher accompanies the learner to the restroom, the assistant always remains to supervise the students that remain in the classes. As such, it is more manageable. However, to the best of his knowledge, there is no policy that says that Grade one students must be accompanied by a teacher when they go to the restrooms.
He reiterated that it was not part of the Department’s policy that Grades one, two and three should be accompanied by a teacher to the restroom. However, based on the incident that happened, there was need to discuss with Heads of Education to see if there is an intervention that can be put in place. He highlighted that another question that arises becomes: what happens to those that remain in the classroom when a teacher accompanies one pupil? The learners become a liability that the Department carries. He emphasised that the Department would look into the matter and stated that there was going to be a special head core meeting on 18 August 2021. He promised to look at the agenda of the meeting to see if the matter can be discussed. If not, then the matter would be discussed where earliest possible or could be discussed as part of policy review and then tabled at CEM.
Mr Mweli indicated that he was attending the meeting from a site where he is monitoring infrastructure and, from an infrastructural point of view, it was the Department’s plan to build Grade R toilets very close to the Grade R classrooms and separate them with a fence. He stated that the Department did not have a similar policy for Grades one, two and three as yet but it was something that the Department will have to look into.
He said the Department measures the effectiveness of the implemented programmes by the level of reporting and awareness among learners, among other indicators. The fact that the reporting has gone up shows that the interventions are working. The Department also measures effectiveness through the level of occurrence of incidents. If the general population in the schooling system is aware and combative, then the level of occurrence goes down.
He noted that there were also some mechanisms that are used to measure effectiveness such as the international test. The international test assesses the level of awareness and picks up on whether the interventions are making a difference or not.
Mr Mweli expressed his gratitude towards the Portfolio Committee for appreciating the efforts and progress that the Department has made so far. He thanked the Members for reminding the Department that the issues of sexual violence are a broader societal problem that begins in respective households then spill over to the communities, and that schools, as a microcosm of society, do reflect on the prevalence of the cases.
The Director-General (DG) indicated that the Department is expected to carry out disciplinary actions against perpetrators at provincial level. Over and above the processes, SACE also carries out its own processes in terms of the ethics of the teaching profession.
He highlighted that the Department holds a forum that meets regularly; it is made up of the National Consultative Forum, the Association of School Governing Bodies and the Professional Bodies in Education for public ordinary schools and for public schools for learners with special needs.
He said that the differences that have been noted in communities with respect to sexual education have been based on beliefs, particularly what people subscribe to and what they believe should and should not be taught to children. The DG said he also has his own belief system, and some Members of the Portfolio Committee also have some strong views on the issue of sex education, based on their beliefs. However, it is difficult to try and reflect all these different views when carrying out matters of public education.
He indicated that it is not every important thing that the Department handles that gets to be reflected in the APP. There are quite a number of areas of responsibility for the Department, including at school level, in offices and also the teachers that are employed; it is not possible to include everything in the APP. He however believed that the gender issue is important enough and, as such, the Department will have to discuss with the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) to try and come up with ways in which issues of Gender Based Violence can be reflected in the APP. He emphasised that the Department will look into how the issue of gender violence can find expression in the APP.
Mr Mweli stated that social workers are there as part of the multi-disciplinary team, at both District and Provincial level, but there are very few schools that have the pyscho-social analysis experts. These are available mainly in schools for learners with special education needs. The majority of the experts are located and District and Provincial level as multidisciplinary teams that go out to schools for learners based on identified need.
He indicated that it was fortunate that the Department was on the same wavelength with Teacher Unions on matters involving sexual abuse and Gender-Based Violence. He said that, of all the five Teacher Unions, there is not even one that seeks to defend teachers in this regard. All that the Unions do is ensure that procedures are followed but they do abhor sexual abuse and violence that involves educators.
Dr Whittle indicated that the Department encourages schools to have a roaster available for playground monitoring as part of the National School Safety Framework. Schools are encouraged to conduct an analysis of where the most incidents occur and then provide adult supervision to those particular sections of the playground.
He agreed with the DG that one of the existing blindspots with regards to toilet facilities has to do more with physical infrastructure, which the Department is already addressing. Another blindspot has to do with what happens when a child has to leave the classroom during class time, particularly the kind of measures the Department can put in place to ensure that those children can be supported.
He noted that the issue of boys has been an area that has been neglected over the last 20 years or so, not only just by the Department of Basic Education but broadly speaking. There is clear evidence now that boys are falling behind educationally, that fewer of them are accessing higher education, and that they are abused more or less at the same rate as girls at the moment – something that the SACE presentation reflected as well. As a result, over the next little while, the Department will try to coordinate a range of role players in the sector. He said there is clarity on the evidence based for the kind of programmes that work well for girls but the Department is in the dark in terms of what works for boys.
Dr Whittle indicated that the Violence Prevention Forum that the Department refers to is a forum that coordinates a range of organisations, both civil society and government as well as academic institutions. The organisations that are coordinated are increasingly working with the Department to provide evidence based on what works for boys. Going forward, the Department will obviously want to begin to programme more systematically into the basic education sector, in respect of measures that work for boys.
He highlighted that the Department has worked with a range of development partners over the last year to begin to acquire resource-based for the purpose of coming up with policy measures that work for boys. The Department is also reorienting the Conditional Grant for Life Skills so that, in dealing with issues affecting girls, the Department can also begin to address those issues causing boys to lag behind and drop out at a higher rate than girls.
He stated that, as part of impact assessment, the Department conducts a survey on a four-yearly basis into school safety, and the survey picks up issues around sexual abuse, corporal punishment and bullying that are tracked over time. He said he was happy to report that, over the last 10-15 years, those rates have consistently gone down, although not at the level that would be acceptable. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, because of COVID-19, the Department has not yet conducted another survey. However, there are discussions that are already at an advanced levels with one of the universities to roll out another survey towards the end of this year. He promised that the result would be submitted to the Committee once the survey is finalised.
Dr Whittle said that there is an evaluation that is being conducted for Girls and Boys Education Movement (GEM/BEM) but more around functioning of the clubs and how we can go around strengthening that. The Department has already spoken to UNICEF – a major partner on the GEM/BEM clubs – about an impact assessment for next year. If the Department manages to secure the appropriate resources, then the assessment will be conducted. He stated that the Department has introduced an alumni component as part of the programme for learners who finish high school, so that when they go to universities they can continue to work with the Department in schools and plough back what they would have benefited from the programme.
He indicated that the issue of self-defence for boys is part of the programme that he earlier referred to as being something that the Department will come back to.
Dr Whittle highlighted that the Department has been implementing the comprehensive sexuality education programme as part of the South African Curriculum over the last 20 odd years. The Department continues to innovate around how it can improve the provision of life orientation and life skills in schools. He referred to his earlier remarks on the Conditional Grant on Life Skills and said that it was part of the broader initiative to improve the development of the new life orientation textbooks that will come into the system in the year 2022 to improve training on comprehensive sexuality education for both in-service and training teachers.
He indicated that the programme, as part of comprehensive sexuality education, has been around for a long time. However, what caused the controversy at the time was the development of these lesson plans that were piloted. He reminded Members that some people objected to some of the images that got used in those lesson plans. After consultations with the Council of Education, the Minister, Deputy Minister and Director General, the Department has since removed most of those issues that have been offensive to people but the programme is continuing for implementation.
Dr Whittle indicated that from the top of his head, he could not recall all the Districts that were piloted as part of the USAID initiative, but the information could be provided to the Committee in writing, after the meeting.
He said that the Department unfortunately does not have the requisite resources to provide social workers to every school, but is innovating around the issue as indicated by the Director-General. He reiterated that the Department has multifunctional teams that are operating at District level.
He stated that the Department also provides about 4 000 learner support agents to schools at the moment, and they are provided to schools that are in high risk Districts. The Department recently received some additional funding from the US government to employ another 400 young people on three-year contracts – meaning that they service an additional 400 schools. The young people have already come into the system and are currently undergoing training for the provision of very basic pyscho-social support to learners in schools.
He stated that, if an educator is found guilty of sexual conduct involving children in terms of the guidance that is provided to Provincial Education Departments, the educator is banned from the profession for life. There is no way for an educator, who would have been found guilty in terms of these guidelines issued by the Department of Public Service and Administration, to come back into the system. The Department has had support from organised teaching in respect of that.
Dr Whittle highlighted that the Department offers a range of services, most of which are done through mobile clinics available to schools. In Grades five and six, the Department provides the HPV, which is a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer. There is also a range of health screening services for oral health, vision, speech, nutrition, mental health, psycho-social support and anaemia. In addition, the Department provides basic education on how to prevent the spread of, for example, tuberculosis, HIV, STI, teen pregnancy and then provide testing onsite for HIV, pregnancy and STIs. There is also provision for opportunities for children to report to the nurse on site during the visit.
He stated that the Department has absolute referrals, and these are referrals for things requested by learners to the local clinic. There are services that are not provided for onsite such as ERTs or when a child is positive for HIV, that child needs to be referred to the local clinic for medication, TB management, voluntary male circumcision, which is also done off-site and any kind of contraception other than condoms that children require. In all these cases, the learners are referred to the nearest local health facility.
A Department official indicated that the Department has been in agreement with the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) and the reason why an amendment to the Employment of Educators Act was introduced is that misconduct cases involving learners are very sensitive and many of the parents do not want their children to go through a number of processes.
He stated that, in the past, the educator had to be charged by the Provincial Education Department and then go for arbitration and the medicals, which would put a lot of stress on the learner, the parents and everyone else that needed to testify.
He said the Department used to have most of these educators finding their way back into education because there used not to be a clause in the Employment of Educators Act that prevented re-employment. However, in 2021, the Department came up with the re-deployment clause with regards to educators found guilty of sexual assault or relations with a learner – that they be barred for life. The initiative protects both the Department and Government in terms of vicarious liability. He indicated that the measure is also regarded as preventive by SACE; the Department, SACE and the ELRC discuss these matters on a quarterly basis.
A Department official emphasised that the re-deployment policy complemented the block persal, which the Department implemented. If an educator decides to come back to service, the system automatically chucks out the appointment of that particular educator previously found guilty of sexual misconduct.
Ms Mokgalane said that, in respect of the educators that would have been struck off the roll, their names are sent to the six Provincial Education Departments (PEDs), as well as the National Department of Basic Education, to make sure that they are blocked against persal, as indicated. Also, that gives SACE an opportunity to check if they are still in the employ or not. She indicated that it is often possible to find one or two, but the majority would be blocked. In the case that one or two are identified, SACE would need to inform the Department for assistance in ensuring that these teachers are blocked.
She said that independent schools and SDBs are always encouraged to check with SACE before they employ an educator, as they do not have a common human resource system. The schools are encouraged to check with SACE so that they can be assisted to close the gaps that might be there to allow a convicted educator to jump from the public schooling system into the independent schooling system. She indicated that the mechanisms are working really well and even though there might be one or two cases that fall into the cracks, the measures are generally extremely effective.
Ms Mokgalane stated that SACE is working collaboratively with Teacher Unions, and the observation is that all the five Teacher Unions have GBVF programmes. During disciplinary hearing proceedings, Teacher Unions choose to represent an educator and do not defend the educator; this is a good thing, as it sends a message that the Unions denounce sexual misconduct cases in schools. The Unions have been upfront about sexual misconduct and during Women’s month, as they have been having programmes on gender issues. For example, SATU hosted a bigger men’s conference to confront and deal with gender issues.
She emphasised that educators found guilty of misconduct are marked in SACE’s registration database. Their names are not completely deleted but are soft deleted, in IT language, so that when an investigation is being done against them in terms of employment, the IT department can be in a position to pick that up.
She indicated that it was difficult to respond to whether there has been a decrease or increase in the reported cases. However, there can be said to be an increase mainly because of the awareness that is being raised across the entire sector. As a result, parents, communities and everyone else involved are becoming increasingly aware that reporting has to be done for such cases.
She referred to the presentation by SACE that showed trends that speak to a recorded increase in the reported cases of sexual abuse. She stated that the fact that sexual abuse is not moving from second position throughout the five years and this being the sixth year shows that the numbers are continuing to go up and rise, instead of going down.
Ms Mokgalane said that she was aware that a number of questions had been raised as to whether there has been any campaigns on the part of SACE, and she emphasised that there has been a number of programmes implemented. She referred to the SACE presentation, which indicated that there are projects that are running that should be run across from teacher education and development continuum. This means they start from the faculty of education and the student teachers, moving to newly qualified educators, to the practicing educators.
She highlighted that the sessions that are conducted with the material and research available are across the entire teacher education continuum to make sure that there is no gap or a situation in which educators move from higher education into schools with a deficit. So, in order to deal with the deficit model, SACE has a structured way of dealing with education information and awareness advocacy, communication across the entire continuum. She stated that this is why SACE works actively with student teacher movements and also together with the Teacher Unions, PEDs and educators.
She indicated that SACE holds specialised webinars on sexual misconduct issues, on the Code Professional Ethics on violence against each other, in terms of sexual abuse, LGBTI issues and broader teacher safety. These webinars are held every second day in a week during schools terms, and to date, there has been around 8 300 webinars that were successfully conducted. She added that it is quite surprising that educators are joining these webinars without complaining about data or any other related technical issues.
Ms Mokgalane indicated that, where possible, SACE has been providing funding for some of the educators so that they are able to join. Once the lockdown levels are down, the SACE team will also go into the field to ensure that there is assistance for those educators that are in remote areas that cannot be in position to access improved connectivity. She reiterated that there has been awareness and SACE is doing some research on what else can be done over and above advocating for the Department to run awareness programmes as the numbers continue going up. She stated that there must be something that both entities are not looking at, and the research that is on-going should be able to provide some ideas on how best to progress. In terms of the research, SACE is looking at the profiles, demographics and nature of a typical sexual offender in the schooling environment and teaching profession.
She highlighted that it was difficult to give the exact number of educators that are still employed despite allegations of sexual misconduct. However, she said from her experience working with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in the past two years, there is only one time where SACE found an educator in the National Sexual Offenders Register. She reiterated that all that SACE can do is to forward the cases to SAPS and it becomes the prerogative of SAPS to ensure that the matter is finalised.
She explained the Committee that for one to be listed in the National Sexual Offenders Register, they should have been convicted of sexual abuse, and as long as they are not convicted, then their names do not appear in the Register. As a result, it is possible to have maybe 5 000 educators that are sexually abusing children but are not listed in the Register due to a lack of conviction; this remains a challenge. SACE has been religiously reporting the cases to the Department of Social Development so that the educators are declared as unfit to work with children.
Ms Mokgalane said that SACE always reminds educators of the importance to choose to be ethical. Awareness campaigns can be done by the National Department, PEDs, SACE or Teacher Unions. But ultimately, it remains the sore responsibility of the teachers to choose to be value-based people with a moral compass – who choose to use their values and conduct ethical evaluations. She said that it remains a teacher’s responsibility to say “this is a 15-year-old, and l cannot be sleeping with her, as it is as good as sleeping with my daughter.”
She emphasised that there is not much that SACE, as an organisation, or the Department of Basic Education, can do to 100% prevent GBV, as it remains the responsibility of an individual, based on the awareness given, that he chooses to be ethical.
She stated that SACE would send the information to the Portfolio Committee’s Secretary on the exact numbers of teachers struck off the roll so that the information can be circulated to the Members.
She highlighted that, when cases of sexual offences are reported to SACE, the team conducts an investigation first, which will determine whether there is actually a case or not. The Council then takes a decision on cases that proceed, those that fall away and those that are recommended for disciplinary hearing based on the evidence or facts gathered. She agreed with the Committee that issues of sexual violence are matters of everybody in communities.
She indicated that parents usually soil the fate of their children and 90% of the cases that SACE is not able to solve is because parents are involved. Some parents are being bribed and some hope that the teachers will marry their children. She said that there was an incident in KZN where parents were fighting for their children to be sleeping with teachers – the rationale being that, if that happens, then they have a better chance of making sure that they have got money, as the learners could be married by the teacher.
Ms Mokgalane stated that there is a bigger societal issue that would require to bring in the society, children and everyone into the picture to make sure that the second pandemic is fought collaboratively. Before COVID-19, SACE was having a structured programme in which the team would visit churches and the Methodist Church was leading the programme to make sure that we get our communities in that particular space and be able to deal with them accordingly.
She highlighted that SACE would address the issue of provincial offices at a later stage when it comes before the Committee to present on the annual report. Currently, SACE has presence and visibility in six out of six provinces. SACE will take decisions to ensure that by the time the term of office for the incoming Council that will be inaugurated by the Minister expires, SACE will be having offices in the remaining three provinces.
She said that it is unfortunate that SACE does not have the same resources as the government, the Department and Provincial Departments. The other entities have resources appropriated by Parliament to help set up structures and human resources across the entire countries so as to be able to deliver services accordingly. On the contrary, SACE largely depends on the R15 per month currently coming in from educators, and it will not be possible just to have the nine provinces fully staffed at a go.
She reiterated that there are campaigns to deter sexual misconduct and encourage compliance. However, it is more than compliance and more about choosing to uphold ethical standards and maintaining those standards of the teaching profession.
She indicated that in the case of the seven-year-old, the role of SACE is to check the extent to which there was been negligence on the part of the school; if there is, then there are processes that will have to be followed. However, currently there are no cases of negligence that have been picked up, but SACE will continue working closely with the Department of Education in Gauteng so that those issues can be identified.
Ms Mokgalane stated that the case of the KZN teacher who raped a pupil must be in SACE’s books. She promised to check and send feedback to the Committee through the Committee Secretary.
Deputy Minister Mhaule thanked the DG and the CEO of SACE for comprehensively answering the questions.
The Deputy Minister stated that she had been ticking on her last and believed that all the questions had been responded to. She asked the Chairperson to help her identify any questions that were still outstanding, if any.
The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister and her team for their responses; she indicated that she was of the view that the questions had been adequately answered. She asked if there were Members who felt that their questions had not been responded to.
There was no indication of dissatisfaction by any Member.
The Chairperson thanked both the Department and SACE for their presentations. She emphasised that issues related to Gender Based Violence are a second pandemic in South Africa, and everyone has a responsibility individually and collectively to take part in preventing the cases from happening and speaking out for those that cannot speak for themselves.
The Deputy Minister thanked the Chairperson and the Committee for the opportunity and indicated that the Department was looking forward to the next interaction.
Consideration and Adoption of Committee Minutes
The Committee considered and adopted its minutes of 1 June and 3 August 2021.
The meeting was adjourned.
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