Online Learning; DBE 2020/21 Quarter 4 performance; with Ministry

Basic Education

24 August 2021
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Tabled Committee Reports

With both the Minister and Deputy Minister present, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) reported it fully achieved 90% of its targets, as set out in the Annual Performance Plan for 2020-21, and partially achieved the remaining 10%. This compares with 61% of targets fully achieved and 28% of targets not achieved at all in the 2019/20.

The Chairperson expressed her satisfaction with the report and said that finances were used effectively despite the challenges of operating during difficult times. She did, however, express her concern at the Department’s underspending of finances allocated to children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities, and said that these learners are special and they need to be treated as such.

About online learning, the Committee heard that as the Covid-19 pandemic has adversely affected the basic education sector through temporary school closures to reduce the spread of the virus. Various remote learning interventions had been implemented to mitigate the pandemic's impact on learning. DBE, in collaboration with the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT), provincial education departments and partners has implemented Remote Learning Programmes which include: remote lessons via broadcasting (TV and radio) and online platforms; as well as, virtual classrooms. Benefits of the programme are an interactive online education platform for educators and learners leading to effective and efficient teaching and learning; it is accessible to teachers and learners anywhere and anytime using different web-enabled devices; it equips learners with 21st century skills for the workplace; and supports the emergence of a new type of school.

Members’ wide-ranging questions included the criteria for hiring ‘top subject teachers’; filling vacancies at DBE and teaching vacancies at schools; DBE positions filled by people from Cuba; details of DBE’s overseas offices; compliance with the Protection of Personal Information Act; progress in recovering irregular expenditure on Covid-19 measures; overspending on Goods and Services; safeguarding valuable assets; replacing pit toilets; infrastructure project completion and consequences for non-performing contractors. South Africa’s high teen pregnancy rate as recently noted in the media was raised with the Committee stating this needed a more detailed discussion and agreed that DBE cannot be expected to deal with this on its own.

Meeting report

Committee Report on oversight visit to unrest damage to Gauteng and KZN schools
The Chairperson reviewed the Committee Report of the joint oversight visit of Portfolio Committee on Basic Education and the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture to KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Provincial Education Departments.

Ms Sukers (ACDP) commented that there was a disconnect between the Committee Report and the actuality of events on the ground. The feelings reflected by people on the ground were not captured in the report.

Minister Angie Motshekga suggested that the recommendations be structured to DBE's mandate at a national level and to the provinces according to their provincial level mandate.

The Chairperson agreed with the suggested changes and the Committee Report was adopted as amended.

Overview by Minister
Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, said the reports to the Committee on Quarter 4 and online learning speak for themselves. The Department is doing whatever it can to return learners to school. She called on the Committee and Parliament to appreciate the hard work and progress made despite all the difficulties the Department faces. Referring to recent media reports and noting it was not on the agenda, she said teenage pregnancy and Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) will be brought to Parliament for discussion. It needs to be discussed as she will face questioning about the fact that 10 year olds are falling pregnant and being sexualized. She appealed that the subject be opened for discussion as it is serious, especially considering it is Women’s Month and there is the continuing battle against GBV.

Mr G Hendricks (Al-Jama-ah) replied to the Minister's comments on CSE and teenage pregnancy and said his party’s position on the subject is well known. He suggested the Minister take into account the efforts of the late Zulu queen who did a lot of work on this and the programmes she implemented resulted in fewer teenage pregnancies. He suggested that the Minister directs DBE to look into some of the methods used in that programme as the CSE creates a lot of controversy.

The Chairperson said Mr Hendricks abused the correct opportunity to speak. He does not normally attend these Committee meetings. Members have the opportunity to speak at a certain point which he did not observe.

Department of Basic Education Quarter 4 performance
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, DBE Director-General, said the Class of 2020 defied the odds and has done better than previous years in all facets except in the overall pass rate. He said 65% of female learners have passed with distinctions which is outstanding considering the conditions the exams were written in. In comparison with 2019, it is almost a miracle how the performance was much better under Covid-19 conditions than in previous years which had more conducive conditions.

Major highlights
• Combined 2020 November Examination Results: Despite the COVID-19 pandemic challenges and against all odds, the Class of 2020 persevered and ensured that more than 75% of candidates attained the National Senior Certificate (NSC).
• On 22 February 2021, the Minister released the NSC results with overall pass rate at 76.2%, which is a 5.1% decline from the 81.3% achieved in 2019. 
• Overall number of candidates who achieved Bachelor passes in 2020 is 210 820, an improvement of 13.3% from 2019. This represents 36.4% of the total number of candidates.
• 74 165 more learners wrote the 2020 NSC examination compared to 2019
• 440 702 candidates attained NSC, an increase of 30 796 from 2019
• 24 762 more candidates attained admission to Bachelor Studies compared to 2019
• 65.0% of distinctions were attained by girl learners, including distinctions in critical subjects such as Accounting, Business Studies, Economics, Mathematics, and Physical Science.
• Director-General visited and monitored 175 Marking Centres for the 2020 NSC Exams
• Director-General visited and monitored 164 construction sites for the SAFE Programme in addition to weekly meetings with the implementing agents CEOs
• 13 085 Funza Lushaka bursaries were awarded for Initial Teacher Education by 31 March 2021.
• Deputy Minister visited three provinces - Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo - to monitor compliance of  Covid-19 protocols for the phased-in return to schools. Schools and provinces complied with the directives and schools re-opened with few incidents.

The Director-General went through the performance indicators for each of the five programmes and noted the corrective measures for those targets that were unachieved. The financial report explained the expenditure variances and the measures taken to mitigate these.

Implementation of Online Learning
Mr Seliki Thlabane, Chief Director: MST & Curriculum Enhancement, DBE, presented an update on the implementation of online learning in schools. Remote learning interventions include:
• Broadcasting (TV & Radio)
• Zero-rating of educational sites
• Virtual Classrooms (see document for implementation plan and progress)
• Online Content & Support Resources – National & Provincial Educational portals, School websites, Educational Organisation portals.
• DBE, in collaboration with NECT, is implementing the Remote Learning Programme
• The Radio Lesson Broadcast Programme targeted SABC and community radio stations
• Currently 487 educational websites including provincial and national education department portals, school websites and free private sector portals have been recommended for zero-rating (see document for details on online content resources).

Ms D Van der Walt (DA) noted the online education presentation stated that learners will have available to them a ‘top subject teacher’. She asked what the criteria will be for appointing the teacher and who will appoint this teacher. She asked if DBE has communicated with the university which has also commenced an online learning high school system, and if a response has been received. On DBE vacancies, not too long ago there was Ministry reply to a parliamentary question which indicated several DBE positions filled by people from Cuba. She asked why DBE is employing people from other countries and if there is a database of all the experts in our own country who can fill those vacancies. If not, why are we not? She asked for an explanation of overseas offices in use by DBE – where and what they are for and their cost per annum.

Ms Sukers (ACDP) did not see a reference to DBE ensuring compliance with the Protection of Personal Information Act. Recently the Gauteng Education Department disclosed information of more than 10 000 learners and other privacy breaches occur regularly. She asked how DBE is planning on becoming POPIA compliant and guiding the provinces to be compliant as well.

She noted that R628 million from the School Infrastructure Backlogs Grant was allocated to the Education Infrastructure Grant to assist Eastern Cape, Free State, KZN and Northern Cape whose infrastructure budgets were under pressure due to unexpected expenditure on Covid-19 protection measures. What is the DBE progress in recovering the irregular expenditure on Covid-19 measures as a lot of it happened in the provinces.

Ms Sukers expressed how horrible it was to visit KZN and see the condition of the toilets that schoolgirls have to use. She asked for an update on the toilets in schools in the provinces they visited, especially due to the historical context of those schools and the poor infrastructure associated with them. She asked for an update on how far DBE is in recovering the R240 million in irregular expenditure from previous years as part of a commitment the Director-General made to the Committee.

She asked what research DBE is doing or planning to do on teenage pregnancy and with whom they will be engaging to address this vital national challenge. She heard the Minister say that it is an issue which needs to be addressed again by Parliament and by the Committee and she supports that sentiment. There is a need for a discussion on the report which came out, especially on pre-teen pregnancies. She can see its impact as she did oversight in clinics where nurses told her the number of pre-teens coming in – even before the report came out. The Committee needs to address the report and it cannot be addressed in isolation. The reason there was an uproar on Comprehensive Sexual Education was because of the manner of engagement DBE used, and it circumvented the rights of parents. She will not go into detail on CSE but emphasised the need for the Committee to engage on it. A lot can be said about what DBE gave as research when it motivated for CSE and in that engagement it repeatedly said that CSE has been in our schools since the year 2000. The research on the ground is now showing how successful the programme really is. 

Ms N Adoons (ANC) thanked DBE for the reports and for their best performance ever for Quarter 4. Her concern is if DBE will be able to maintain it. She expressed her grief over the 2000+ teachers who lost their lives. What impact has this had on the vacancies and the progress which the Director-General reported on?

She was concerned about the overspending on Goods and Services which reflected an increased expenditure of more than 200%. She asked what this was spent on and the effect of the increased expenditure on the budget.

She appreciated the progress in ICT and online learning. She has seen some schools in Gauteng and the Western Cape which have implemented the Smart classrooms and online lessons. She was concerned about safeguarding those assets, as organised crime and criminals are targeting the infrastructure in schools. She asked what the plan is to ensure that the new technology and infrastructure is safe and secure.

On the comments by the Minister on teenage pregnancy, she agreed it is a topic which requires a serious discussion and proposed a special meeting dedicated to finding solutions for this.

Mr B Nodada (DA) said he would have liked the Minister to comment on DBE’s intention of scrapping the upcoming school holiday. He agreed that teenage pregnancy needs to be discussed thoroughly to come up with possible solutions especially due to concerns that it may contribute to the high school dropout rate.

Some time ago he mentioned a special school in Mpumalanga which had converted some classrooms into a hostel. He also visited a special school called Golden Step in the Pinetown district. These schools have challenges with not having enough psychiatrists, physicians and social workers on site, as well as a lack of necessary equipment and support. However, the Learners with Profound Intellectual Disability Grant has been underspent. He asked why the grant was underspent when there are special schools that lack these necessities. What is the plan to equip the schools with the equipment and support they need to fully spend the grant allocated to them. The presentation noted on slide 66 there are teacher vacancies not filled, he asked the reason for this when there are so many teaching graduates who are unemployed. There are vacancies left by teachers who lost their lives – why is there a delay in filling these vacancies? Covid-19 seemed to be repeatedly used as a reason for the poor monitoring of contractors who have been inadequately hired. This is a problem because when DBE allocates tenders for work to be done, it should be done timely, cost-effectively and, most importantly, of a suitable quality. The target was proper sanitation in 600 schools but only 200 had been completed. What plans have been put in place to catch up on the infrastructure backlog as adequate sanitation in schools is crucial?

He noted a recent news item about sanitation in schools looking at past tragedies of learners passing away in pit toilets at schools. Sanitation is a massive issue particularly in provinces like Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KZN. What is the plan to catch up on the infrastructure backlog as Covid-19 is given as the reason for the target for 600 not being met? He asked about what consequences are being put in place for implementing agents who fail miserably to meet their targets. Those contractors should be completely struck off the roll and not be used anymore. They create more costs starting a project and not finishing it, resulting in additional costs for DBE to find another contractor to complete it. The cost of the end product is then ridiculously inflated due to these contractors.

He asked what plan DBE has to prevent the leaking of NSC exam papers this year as it happened in 2020. The responsibility of the Minister and DBE is to play an oversight role to ensure the provinces do their jobs. With this in mind, what is the plan for preventing exam papers from being leaked?

On the broadcasting strategies to teach learners, how does DBE actually measure the effectiveness of these strategies?  Are there success stories? What is the cost of these strategies? He recommended that, along with online broadcasting, that CDs, USBs or emails be used as an additional support mechanism for kids without internet access, especially in rural areas. He also suggested collaboration with internet stores nationwide to allow learners to use their facilities to access these materials. He asked if there was engagement with these stores if learners can use their facilities and what the cost of this would be. What measures there are for learners without internet access at all? In addition to virtual classrooms, has DBE considered online high school like the system the University of Cape Town (UCT) is planning to implement as this will alleviate pressures on physical schooling for both learners and DBE. He recommended DBE have an online learning or homeschooling policy to ensure learners at home follow the correct curriculum and quality learning standards and outcomes are achieved. He noted the need for developing the online space and suggested engaging UCT to make presentations on how to go about doing it and how it can help DBE alleviate the pressure of physical schools. Has DBE conducted international best practice research on delivering class online and what is the most effective mechanism in developing countries so we can adapt that to our niche environment? What measures are being put in place to accommodate learners with learning or physical disabilities to have access to these platforms and how accessible are these platforms to those learners?

The Chairperson commended DBE for the report and the performance during the pandemic. She expressed her unhappiness at the underspending on learners with severe and profound disabilities. There is a reason they are called special needs children and they need to be treated as such. Therefore the finances meant for them should have been used fully as they need devices on a daily basis. She cannot find any justification for the finances meant for them to be underutilized.

The report stated that construction work was prohibited due to Covid-19, but the same report alluded to poor management of contractors by implementing agents resulting in low output. She asked if any work was done at all or did lockdown cause all progress to stop? What measures are in place to improve the inadequate monitoring at all levels, particularly the fast-tracking of the [inaudible] projects. In underperforming schools, in the Quarter 4 specifically, it was reported that DBE visited 13.6% while they were supposed to visit 75% of schools. She understands the target was not reached due to Covid-19 but commends the Director-General at a personal level for visiting schools all over the country. His reasoning for his allocations speaks to what he has seen. She expressed concern that it cannot be him alone doing it and recommended that other officials do visits so that allocations can be made based on what they see on the ground.

Slide 92 noted the Annual Performance Plan (APP) for 2021/22 was compiled and sent to Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) and it noted that there is a need to improve the APPs in the provinces. She asked what the problem was with the APPs in the provinces. Were there particular provinces that needed to improve or was it all provinces in general? She requested the  APPs from the provinces for understanding as it helps to align the differences between the provinces with the national mandate.

She asked if physically disabled learners write the same three-hour exam papers as abled learners who themselves have difficulty in finishing in three hours.

She asked for a status report on the National Investigation Task Team and if the investigation is being fruitful.

Last week there was a presentation on gender-based violence which is a pandemic. She noted two recent incidents in the Eastern Cape and called it a situation which calls for prayer. She asks how effective DBE’s efforts to educate adolescent girls about these issues are. Did it touch lives? Are there people who can say the programme assisted them?

Ms N Mashabela (EFF) said that graduates with Post Graduate Certificates in Education are complaining about being denied teaching posts in schools where there are vacancies. What is being done about that? How many district directors are women and what empowerment programmes are there for women seeing that most of the delivery of education happens at that level. She asked if there is reliable data for learner dropouts for 2020/21.

Minister's response
Minister Motshekga noted that she could not answer all the questions as she had to leave soon and the rest of the questions would be answered by the Director-General and other officials. The reason for the overseas office is that DBE is the lead department and often hosts other departments such as Higher Education and Sports and Arts and Culture at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Cuban teachers will not be in the class themselves; they are merely there to support the maths and science teachers in the classroom. The Department calls them ‘Cuban experts’ and there are only 20 of them but they will provide the full report on this.

The PEDs are the employers of teachers and not DBE itself. All DBE can do is report to the Committee but they do not have the power nor the right to employ teachers. The National Department interacts and communicates with the provinces and nudges them. Most of the time the provinces respond only by noting budgeting or infrastructural concerns.

Without hiding behind provincial competency and other excuses, funds voted for at a provincial level get accounted for at a provincial level. That is why there is a provincial legislature committee  to monitor and report on budget resources. If there was irregular expenditure on PPE by the province, all the National Department can do is report on how much was spent. If recoveries are meant to be made, then it must also be done at provincial level as those funds fall outside the National Department competence and responsibility. She reminded the Committee of the constitutional concurrent competences of national and provincial government. As a national department they are not there to implement – that responsibility falls in the hands of the provinces. DBE was given responsibility for two specific projects which are the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) and Maths, Science and Technology (MST) schools. She knows that Members are referring to the old Bantu Education schools where there are no libraries, no labs and the infrastructure is falling apart. However, the funds for infrastructure belong to provinces and are accounted for at the provincial level.

She is glad that teenage pregnancy and gender based violence has been raised by the Committee as serious problems. This is a national matter. We must address this scourge. It is a serious problem and it is something it cannot be dealt with by one sector. She told a story about visiting a province and facing an outcry and repeatedly being asked about teenage pregnancy in schools. She replied that she should be asking the community why they are sending pregnant children to school as it is unlikely that the pregnancy is caused at schools as schools are open places – it is most likely to happen in the community. Everyone including the national education department must accept their responsibility in educating and conscientising people to ensure they can look after themselves from the basis of knowledge. She elaborated on a comment made by Ms Van Der Walt that a 10 year old girl falling pregnant is statutory rape, by saying it is more than rape, it is absolute cruelty to impregnate a 10 year old, it is unthinkable. The next time the Committee meets they will agree on what to discuss in the CSE because parents never complain about not being consulted about issues such as bullying or healthy lifestyles. At which stage does DBE have to consult more than normal curriculum processes? Maybe sexuality is different as it is perhaps a holy exercise and brings human beings to life, but this will be consulted more. She is prepared to be guided differently on the topic of sex.

In the spirit of confidentiality, she replied to Mr Nodada and said the school holidays are not being scrapped, despite losing teaching days to Covid-19, they are merely making an effort to recover those days. The Deputy Minister will speak on the recovery plan, and has been convening meetings weekly as a leader of the infrastructure chair.

They are constantly trying to improve their homeschooling system, there is room for innovation, different thinking, different delivery and the issues raised are in the basket. DBE has been briefed by the UCT team that is working on the online schooling system. SABC will have expert teachers, and even the winter schools being run by DBE have teachers who are the top teachers in the database of top teachers.

Special learners have a special dispensation for exam times which those children with mild disabilities can apply for. DBE legally requires evidence that the child is mildly disabled, for example with dyslexia. There is a whole dispensation in the system for kids with special needs.

Director-General response
Mr Mweli thanked the Members for the appreciation conveyed. As public servants, they are privileged to be in the positions they are in and they do not want to disappoint the Committee by not accounting properlyfor their actions.

On the top teachers, as the Minister explained, they are selected based on an impeccable track record of performance and not just experience. The record must prove they produced results at a high level. For example, for Maths in a low performing province, no teachers or markers are selected who have a track record of below 60%. In higher performing provinces, the threshold would be increased to 80%. If children across the whole country are to be exposed to a potential candidate, the threshold would be raised even higher. The standard is high even for markers as a minimum of three years of an impeccable performance track record in Grade 12 is required.

On online schooling, DBE met with the UCT vice-chancellor, Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, and worked very closely with her as she chairs teams dealing with maths education and she shared the idea with DBE. The Minister was invited to the launch of UCT’s online school. UCT is not the first to launch an online school as there are a myriad of online schools all over the country.

Mr Mweli echoed Mr Nodada’s concerns on policy and regulation in the field of online learning and homeschooling. Mr Thlabane and the Telkom team, made available by the outgoing CEO Mr Maseko, are busy developing these regulations and policies to alleviate some of the pressures of physical schooling through having the option available for learners to do their schooling online. DBE has been working on this for a year now and he received a report one month ago on the framework and areas which will inform the policy and regulations so it will be completed very soon.

On the vacancies, DBE employees are sought after elsewhere and their posts become vacant – some employees apply for promotion within DBE while others apply for promotion outside of DBE. The Director-General of Sports, Arts and Culture as well as the former Treasury DG, Lungisa Fuzile, come from DBE. The vacancies are therefore as a result of employees accepting jobs elsewhere.

On the Cuban experts occupying DBE positions, this is due to an old agreement between South Africa and Cuba. The Cubans in these positions are maths and science experts and they are regulated differently and they are not necessarily placed on the DBE organogram. They are here to help subject advisors and this sort of expertise is not easily found on the DBE database of graduates which is why they continue this arrangement with Cuba. The Cuban experts help the subject advisors and curriculum specialists at both national and provincial levels. They also support teachers at school-level as maths and science experts. There is a memorandum in place regulating the agreement between Cuba and South Africa.

On the overseas office, DBE has been nominated to host all departments for UNESCO activities at the Paris, France office and the costs for running it will be provided. In other countries, the function runs on its own and reports to the presidency. In South Africa this function falls under DBE.

Mr Mweli said the Minister explained the National Department responsibilities especially ensuring compliance with legislation and monitoring compliance with Basic Education policies in terms of other legislation. Provinces have their own accounting officers, they have to appoint information officers and they have to comply with POPIA. His responsibility as DBE DG is that DBE and every employee complies with POPIA. The provinces have their own accounting officers who will have to ensure that they comply.

On the Goods and Services expenditure, the R600 million was used for emergency sanitation and water for Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal and Limpopo. Of the R600 million, his last information according to Rand Water, was they were able to use R74 million, the other portion DBE paid for portable sanitation will be confirmed and made available. He confirmed that the R600 million he spoke to the Committee about was for emergency sanitation and water to get schools ready to be able to reopen after the lockdown regulations eased.

On the progress in recovering irregular expenditure, information will be made available and the investigation has led to the recovery of irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure such as Ka Ri Gude. Quite a large amount was recovered amounting to about R60 million.

On infrastructure delivery is the responsibility of the provinces. Education is a concurrent function of national and provincial legislative competence which set out the national and provincial department responsibilities.

On teenage pregnancy, DBE does its own research but it also does work with universities and other agencies which are doing research as well. Dr Whittle is the relevant line function manager who can confirm the precise parties they work with on pregnancy in minors.

Mr Mweli acknowledged Ms Sukers' strong views on the subject of CSE. The Minister had commented on the matter adequately and he asked if he could please leave the matter at that. There can be debates and discussions going forward but he knows and respects her views on the subject.

He thanked Ms Adoons for her appreciation on the progress and challenged all Committee members to look at the Quarter 4 performance report in comparison to previous years, and quoted Charles Dickens in saying it was "the best of times and also the worst of times."

Under ideal circumstances a vacancy level of 10% due to attrition, retirement and the slow rate of filling vacancies would be permissible. Higher than 10% is cause for concern but there are a number of other factors to consider. For example, the KZN provincial department is under serious financial stress, particularly its salary bill. DBE is meeting with Treasury on 26 August to demonstrate to it the impact of the budget cuts in filling even teaching vacancies. In some provinces, departments on the verge of collapsing and if something is not done, teaching and learning will definitely collapse.

On the impact of online learning on teaching, the impact is noticeable if you analyse the results and even from interaction with schools where schools said that the overall pass rate was negatively affected by not having access to teachers for certain subjects. DBE is working with provinces throughout to address filling vacancies particularly at school level.

On the impact of overspending on the budget, they were able to take this from the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG).

Mr Mweli  said that Mr Thlabane will respond to questions on the online programmes. He has a team doing desktop research and comparing what is happening in online programmes in other countries. Online learning is not as effective as face to face learning and the results reflect this in first world countries as well. The people thinking online learning is a silver bullet do not know about its poor effectiveness. A report was published on online learning and ICT and it indicates that the results of online learning are not good for schools at all and may work better at universities because students are already independent. For the lower grades, it is even worse.

On the safeguarding of assets and equipment at schools, provinces which can afford to deploy security personnel are doing that, but for the most part provinces are not able to do that. It is known that government’s policy on safeguarding assets is that it is more expensive to cover assets with insurance therefore the assets and equipment are not insured. There may be some rethinking on that given the rate at which valuable assets were lost, especially during the recent unrest, but he cannot confirm that.

In reply to Mr Nodada, he stated that not everything you hear in the media is true. He is aware of the Sunday Times article reporting that school holidays may be scrapped, that is not true and a final decision has not yet been taken. At this point, they only have recommendations available and they have not even deliberated on the matter yet, but it will meet soon to discuss the matter.

On learner pregnancy, he acknowledged that everyone agrees that there is a need for a meeting specially dedicated to that.

On Masinakane special school in  Mpumalanga, DBE will visit the school to inspect what is happening there as well as at other special schools.

Mr Mweli  said the very learners with severe intellectual disabilities that the grant budget provides for and stipulates what activities they must participate in, are not available as some of their parents have not returned the learners to school to date. These are learners with severe intellectual disabilities and some are sometimes in hospitals where they require very special attention and they are not being made available to participate in these activities. The grant was not underspent due to officials not doing their work but rather because the learners were not there for the grant money to be spent on them.

On the slow progress at construction sites, DBE stands to be advised by the Committee as the Ministry holds DBE to account every week. He is only in his office on Mondays and Tuesdays, the rest of the week they visit construction sites and due to this: regional managers, implementing agents, engineers, quantity surveyors and project managers were dismissed and some were reported to their regulatory authority. He asked what else can be done to address contractors who do not fulfill obligations. He confirmed that implementing agents who do not meet their obligations are not allocated projects in the future. The Independent Development Trust (IDT) is one of these implementing agents which do not perform and it is not allocated any more projects for this reason. He emphasised how few implementing agents – there are only 10 across the whole country. They have had contractors’ contracts terminated. Mr van der Westhuijzen (DDG: Infrastructure) and his team are now prioritizing penalties because in terms of the Joint Building Contracts Committee (JBCC), there are contract penalties which should be imposed. The projects will be finished even if at the end of the day all the non-performing parties are reported to Treasury and blacklisted. However, they are doing their best. He acknowledged that the performance might not be excellent but in history it has never been as good as it is now especially in areas other than sanitation. The focus on sanitation will be increased this financial year and he puts his hand on the block for drastically different results than what were reported for 2020/21.

On the plans to catch up on infrastructure, they are monitoring and they have work plans. Since February, he went on site every week and every week there are always complications.

On the plans to avoid leakage of papers, he acknowledged that it is a difficult problem to address as the conscience of human beings makes it difficult to prevent, even when you use the best security technology in offices. Due to the human element, it cannot be completely ruled out. He said there were a few years where there were no exam paper leaks but unfortunately it does happen. It does not just happen here, it happened in France and Malawi as well. Every time DBE reviews its systems, it comes up with new measures. He hopes that they reach a point where this does not happen at all.

CDs and USBs are in use already under a programme called ‘Flip the classroom’. This offline learning is for learners who do not have access to online content. Mr Thlabane will answer if there has been collaboration with internet stores nationwide because he is not aware of it.

On measures to help learners with special education needs, there are devices at the schools to help these learners. However, learners must be at school to benefit from these and it becomes difficult to help these learners when they are not at school. All special schools have these measures to help these learners. He requested Members visit the schools to look at the measures put in place.

He thanked the Chairperson for commending DBE. On the impact of Covid-19 on construction it is a combination of things. In some cases there was no activities on site at all due to lockdown, the other issue is poor management of contractors which is being dealt with through imposing penalties and they are compiling reports to give the implementing agents. He said they have gotten some contractors to work two shifts because social distancing requires that less people can be present on construction sites therefore completion will take longer as a result.

On underperforming schools, he said they will do their best to encourage everyone now that they have been inoculated, more officials will go out to schools and monitor, because we cannot expect teachers to leave their homes to go and teach at schools when officials do not go out and monitor these schools. They will take their example from the Minister and thanked the Chairperson for the compliments.

Mr Mweli  explained that some provincial APPs do not include sector performance indicators. Copies of the APPs of the PEDs will be shared with the Committee.

The Accommodation and Compensation Policy for examinations accommodates not only learners with disabilities but also learners with other impediments such as writing slowly.  They will apply the policy which makes scribes available for learners who write slower than others. These learners flourish at university.

Mr Mweli  replied that DBE will look at the status report of the National Task Team which investigated the leaked papers and the findings will be communicated to the Chairperson’s office.

He said Dr Whittle will address the Adolescent Girls programme and how effective it is.

On the reliability of data on learner dropout rates for 2020/21, he will provide the findings from the research done by Dr Stephen Taylor who is the head of research at DBE.

Dr Granville Whittle, DBE Deputy Director General: Educational Enrichment Services, acknowledged the question about teen pregnancy research and said DBE did a comprehensive study on teenage pregnancy a few years ago identifying the factors that lead to teen pregnancy. It was conducted by the Human Sciences Resources Council (HSRC) and that report is available and will be made available. On the effectiveness of the Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) programme, about five years ago, there were about 2500 new infections for HIV in adolescent girls and young women and this has been reduced to around 1 000. The prevalence study conducted every five years by HRSC is showing good progress even beyond the 1000. DBE would be happy to present these studies to the Committee for it to assess.

Deputy Minister Regina Mahaule appreciated comments by Members as they will help DBE improve going forward and with the monitoring of provinces.

The Chairperson communicated to Members that they were invited to attend the Portfolio Committee for Social Development meeting the next day on the update on migration of Early Childhood Development (ECD) from the Department of Social Development to DBE.

The Deputy Minister said her understanding was that it would be a joint committee meeting and expressed her disappointment. She said she would really appreciate if members of the Basic Education Portfolio Committee who are available could attend that meeting.

The Chairperson thanked everyone and asked for follow-up questions but there were none.

The Committee adopted the minutes of 17 August and the meeting was adjourned.

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