Department of Basic Education 2020/21 Annual Report
09 November 2021
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
In a virtual meeting, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefed the Committee on its annual report for 2020/21, providing details of its achievements and challenges in meeting its objectives for the period under review. Its presentation included an overview of the service delivery environment and context, its performance in implementing its programmes, and the financial and Auditor General's reports.
The Committee raised a variety of matters for discussion, including targets which were not reached; the disruption of school construction activities by communities seeking work opportunities; the DBE’s overachievement in having built 32 schools against a target of 24; its efforts to rebuild storm-damaged schools; how it set certain targets, and what informed them; the number of teachers absorbed within the system that were aged below 30; principals who were dissatisfied at the level of support that they received from the district managers, and the reasons for this; irregular expenditure due to implementing agents and infrastructure projects that were underway; and consequence management for implementing agents that inflated the costs of projects.
Members asked about the failure to process invoices within 30 days and consequence management for responsible officials; the delays in the publication of the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) report; plans in place to ensure that there was support for disabled learners; how the DBE would improve remote support to learners to ensure that they were not left behind; the shortage of teachers, and vacant posts not being filled; qualified Free State teachers struggling to find employment; the use of teacher assistants as cleaners at some schools; poor monitoring of underperforming schools, and consequence management processes for district officials who were supposed to visit those schools.
Other issues discussed included the withholding of conditional grants; comprehensive sexuality education and the DBE's response to increasing child pregnancies; progress in tabling the Basic Education Amendment (BELA) Bill and the Second Children’s Amendment Bill (SCAB); strengthening of the DBE's engagement processes; improving critical research; the R1 million donated by the Chinese government towards water tankers; senior management vacancies not being filled; and the recommendation to appoint an accounting team to help the Department to prepare financial statements.
Members indicated they would follow up with further questions in writing, and asked that answers be received by the Committee within seven days.
DBE's 2020/21 Annual Report
Dr Granville Whittle, Acting Director-General, DBE, said that the annual report covered the Covid-19 period, during which there were several lockdowns.
Ms Carol Nuga Deliwe, Chief Director: Planning, Research and Coordination, DBE, led the presentation on the DBE’s planned performance against the annual performance plan (APP) for the 2020/2021 financial year.
Mr Patrick Khunou, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DBE, presented the Department's expenditure for the financial year, as well as the Auditor-General’s (AG's) report.
The activities of the DBE had been structured into five programmes:
Programme 1 - Administration;
Programme 2 - Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring;
Programme 3 - Teachers, Education Human Resources, and Institutional Development;
Programme 4 - Planning, Information and Assessment; and
Programme 5 - Educational Enrichment Services
The annual status bar for indicators constituted a total of 69 indicators, of which 55 were achieved (80%), 12 were partially achieved (17%), and 2 were not achieved (3%). The indicators not achieved or partially achieved correlated with areas around Covid-19 and delays due to the lockdown.
The presentation covered an overview of the service delivery environment and context, the Department's programme performance, the financial report for 2020/21, and the Auditor General's report.
(See attached document for details).
Mr E Siwela (ANC) expressed concern over the continued disruption of construction activities – especially the sanitation by business forums. This problem seemed to persist. Since this problem would be present for a long time, and as Covid-19 did not help matters, what was the DBE going to do to try and mitigate the demands of the business forums that continued to disrupt building or construction activities, and which in the end contributed to unachieved targets?
He had heard that the DBE was building schools, which was quite good. However, what was happening to the schools that had been destroyed by storms? To date, in Bushbuckridge in particular, there were schools that had been blown away. It was almost a year now, and seemingly there was nothing being done to rebuild the schools. Could it be the reason that these schools were not budgeted for, because no one would have budgeted for storm damage? It would be important for the DBE and Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) to try and rebuild these schools, as the failure to do so, in his view, lowered the morale of the educators and learners. This would ultimately lead to poor performance by those learners in their exams.
Mr B Nodada (DA) said one of his big concerns -- and he thought guidance was needed moving forward -- was that the Committee needed to get a matrix which the DBE used to set some of the targets. The DBE should perhaps take the Committee into their confidence when they delivered their APPs, as to how they set certain targets -- for instance, to say that they would look into 90 schools to see whether they were implementing their entrepreneurship programme etc., and what necessarily informed the target. This was so that the Committee could verify the impact thereof on the ground. When the DBE set targets as a department, the Committee needed to see them tangibly impact peoples' lives on the ground. When he had read through the report, which he thought was getting to grasp how the full system worked, it was something that needed to be considered quite extensively as it would help the Committee moving forward.
There was no report that indicated how many teachers had been absorbed within the system that were aged below 30. When could the Committee anticipate this report being available, considering the shortage of staff within the DBE, the need for teachers, and the unemployment crisis that was being faced in the country? There was an indication of 17.8% of principals were dissatisfied or not satisfied by the support that they received from the district. Was it possible to get a full breakdown of which districts or circuits these principals were located in? Could the DBE further indicate what reasons had been cited by these principals that had indicated that they were not necessarily satisfied by the support that they received from the district, and what interventions were going to be made to ensure that the situation in those particular districts or circuits that had been identified were improved?
He said that Mr Khunou had spoken about the irregular expenditure amounting to R3.2 billion, but that R2.7 billion of this was from previous financial years. This still meant there was over R412 million that had been irregularly spent this year, and it had been stated that this was because of implementing agents and due to infrastructure projects that were under way. He had raised this in numerous meetings before, and had asked whether there was any consequence management for implementing agents who inflated the costs of projects that needed to be done – especially things such as eradicating pit toilets and building schools that had dilapidated infrastructure, which were major projects that needed to be dealt with as a Department. If one found implementing agents that were not able to do this type of work and were in fact inflating prices in a budget that was already shrinking, what consequences had been put in place? Were there any implementing agents who had been found guilty of this type of irregular expenditure? Had they been blacklisted? If they had not been blacklisted, what consequence management or interventions had been put in place to ensure that this situation did not recur?
The reason why he said this was because there was a school like Vezimfundo in Mpumalanga that was built for R36 million on a wetland, and there was no consequence management implemented for that particular implementing agent. Yet there was a school in Sterkstroom that was built for R20 million, which was a high-level information communication technology (ICT) school. This meant that there was an inflation of prices in building schools in the public sector. At the end of the day, it was the learners who required the infrastructure facility that suffered at the expense of business people who did not necessarily care about making sure that public funds were utilised efficiently, and who ended up benefiting from the irregular expenditure. He wanted to insist the DBE should indicate what consequence management had been put in place, whether people were being blacklisted when they contributed to the irregular expenditure, and what happened to the officials who were responsible for the oversight, as the Auditor-General’s report indicated that nothing was being done. He wanted to be taken into confidence on this particular issue.
Linking to what he had previously said, there was also R6.9 million that had been lost due to interest on invoices that had not been paid within 30 days. Officials were obviously responsible for processing this. What were the challenges in not processing these invoices in time, and what consequence had been put in place for officials not processing the invoices in time? R6.9 million could definitely be used elsewhere, even if just to eradicate one pit toilet and make sure that learners did not drown in it. Not being able to comply efficiently with the DBE’s own targets actually, at the end of the day, compromised the Department's small budget that was shrinking, and this was really challenging.
Moving on to the ASIDI programme, the last ASIDI report that was published was for 2018, as seen on the website of the DBE. Where could the ASIDI report be accessed and when would it be published on the site and made available to the Committee?
In programme 2, there was a large deviation with regard to the number of learners with disabilities using the Learners with Profound Intellectual Disabilities (LPID) learning programme, where the deviation was at -104% -- and Covid-19 was used as the excuse or reason for this. What plans were in place to ensure that there was support that included disabled learners in this time of Covid-19, especially where special care centres were required to close? It seemed as if learners were even more vulnerable during lockdown, with less support provided to them. How would the DBE improve remote support to these learners to ensure that they were not left behind, especially now that there had been a deviation on this point?
On slide 74, there seemed to be a major shortage of teachers, with only 74% of the posts being filled, and there was a moratorium on recruitment. What plans were in place to ensure that this shortage was addressed, as it had an adverse effect on the ground? With the Minister of Higher Education now having removed education degrees from the South African Schools Act (SASA) list, this meant that these programmes would need to be funded. However, there was a critical need for these professions, so was the DBE working with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to address this shortage? What was the planning regarding this moving forward, considering that there was this particular shortage?
Mr Nodada reemphasised that if, for example, the DBE said that the number of learners obtaining subject passes towards the National Senior Certificate (NSC) was 60 000 as their target for the year, he wanted to know what informed this target. Was it informed by a random number that the DBE thought that they would be able to achieve? Was there some philosophy or rationale behind it? If, for example, the DBE was saying that they had identified 90 schools that needed to be monitored for a specific target, what informed this? How was it broken down to ensure that there was actually a tangible impact on the ground with these targets?
It was commendable that some targets had been achieved. However, his concern was that some of these areas had been consistently bothering him personally. The DBE had indicated that there were reports that were at 100%, but was there linked evidence of increased leaner performance in the classroom regarding the targets that had been set and which were now at 100%?
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) asked the DBE to make further enquiries on what she would be reporting on now -- issues which she had found very disturbing the previous day when she had made an oversight visit. During her oversight, the community had asked her to intervene in the particular school, named Bohlabatsatsi Primary School in Mamelodi. On her arrival there, she had found the principal’s car being washed by one of the education assistants who had started the previous week – including the general school assistants. This was disturbing, as all of them were busy cleaning and scrubbing the toilets, and they had even been asked to bring knives to remove the dirt from the floors without gloves and had been picking up papers. She felt that it was a contravention of the overall purpose of their particular jobs. One of the job descriptions was to support the teachers who taught reading. Reading was part and parcel of the curriculum, inclusive of conducting oral reading fluency.
To date, not a single education assistant had been paired to an educator at the school. They had never even entered the classroom, and were just doing overall cleaning. What disturbed her the most was that two of the screeners were teaching and being used as educators in classrooms, while the school management team members who were educators did not even go to the classroom. The screeners thus did not do any screening job -- the security could be found doing this. This was very disturbing and contravened the job description. What was also disturbing was that the whole foundation section was forced to take Afrikaans as a subject, excluding the mother tongue of the immediate environment to the school. The teachers who were teaching Afrikaans did not know Afrikaans, and also did not have the necessary books, but it was being forced to be taken at the school. This was a problem, and was why the community had asked for an intervention.
The worst part of this situation was that the husband of the principal was an Institutional Development and Support official in Silverton, which was an area to which the principal was subscribing. The principal was also boastful about this, saying that no one would be able to touch her because of her husband’s affiliation to the DBE – including the school governing body (SGB) serving at the school. She asked that the DBE establish people who could go and look into this particular school so that they could bring about a conducive atmosphere of learning to all of those who were employed there. If possible, she asked that the DBE also interview some educators at the school, as there was a lot of discontent that was being experienced at this particular school. She added that the DBE should feel free to engage on this with her.
Mr T Letsie (ANC) had seen that there were a lot of targets that had not been reached in the programmes. When looking at the financial implications, about 97% of the budget had been spent. Of the programme targets that were not met, did all of them combined amount to the 3% of the budget that was left, or had the DBE overcommitted on some of the targets in terms of financial commitments?
Posts that were not filled was one of the targets that were not reached financially. He had received an email from teachers in the Free State who alleged that they qualified through having a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) qualification, which was an National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 7. However, these teachers were struggling to find employment because allegedly the Department in the Free State had passed a policy decision that barred them from employing those who had qualified for teaching through the PGCE qualification. Was this the case? If this was the case, why? There were a lot of allegations in the email, where they were claiming that those who were connected got posts at the Department, but that those who may not be politically connected struggled to get employment. If this data was not available now, he asked that the DBE give this data to the Committee in writing within seven days. He asked that the DBE check on the foundation and primary education stage in the Free State regarding how many vacant positions there were in the province, whether some of the positions were budgeted for in the financial year being dealt with, and the reasons why the positions were not filled if they had been funded for.
He said it looked as if there had been very poor monitoring for under-performing schools in programme 4, as just less than half of the schools that were targeted had been reached. The reasons given were that schools were closed. However, he thought that when one placed a target it should also be taken into consideration that schools would be closed. During the financial year there had been a lot of unforeseen school closures. What were the consequence management processes that had been entered into by the DBE where these district officials were supposed to visit those schools and did not do so? If a school was under-performing, it needed to serious attention and support from the district. If the district failed to monitor and visit these schools to check what they were doing, it was likely for them to be repeat offenders, because they might think that it was business as usual. He implored the DBE to put in stricter measures, especially on poor performing schools. If it meant that district officials had to be stationed two days of every week on site visiting these schools, then it had to be so because the failure to do so meant that the schools would be repeat offenders and were not going to improve.
He also saw in programme 4 that the DBE had set targets and committed funds for conditional grants for HIV, HIV/AIDS, and Life Skills. As part of Life Skills, had the DBE also paid attention to child pregnancy? As had been seen earlier on during the first quarter of the year, there had been a lot of children between ten to 19 years old who had fallen pregnant. In fact, all provinces had recorded a higher number of pregnancies than the previous year. What was being done differently in the current financial year to try and attend to child pregnancies? Perhaps thought should be given to putting in social workers to assist teachers in schools, to deal specifically with such issues? There was a wide range of issues that contributed to this societal problem, and it was not necessarily a school problem. However, because children were within their constituency, he thought that the DBE and the Committee might try to do something. Was there something different that the DBE could come up with so that they did not get to see the high number of these cases moving forward into the following year?
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) said that she had a few broad areas on which she had questions, but that to respect everybody’s time she would follow up with questions in writing for the more detailed questions and asked that answers be received within seven days.
She started with legislation, saying that the annual report did not mention that the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill had been substantially delayed and was already under discussion by this Committee in the fifth Parliament. Where was the BELA Bill now, and what was the timeline for tabling it in Parliament? How were the BELA Bill and the Second Children's Amendment Bill (SCAB) being coordinated? For interest, she was currently in the public hearings for the SCAB.
On stakeholder relations, she trusted that when the Committee was presented with the BELA Bill that it would not need substantial adjustment by the Committee. Did the BELA Bill have support from all stakeholders? Who was on the SCAB task team? Were the ECD providers represented? In what numbers were parents and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) represented? Throughout the year, the Committee had heard from stakeholders, including unions, SGBs, NGOs, and members of the public, that the DBE engagement process needed substantial strengthening.
There was this perception that the DBE engaged merely to impose their view on stakeholders. Was there a stakeholder process which identified interested and affected parties, that guided interaction with them, and measured how they perceived the engagement? If so, could the Committee see it? If not, could it be developed? While interaction with the Committee was not strictly a stakeholder issue, as representatives of the people, the Committee was a key stakeholder. The report did not mention the difficulties that the Committee had in receiving answers to their questions.
When interacting with stakeholders, something which she had brought up several times was research. She thanked the DBE for having featured research in their presentation. What was concerning was that the post of Business Intelligence Deputy Director-General was vacant. This was concerning, because of the critical aspect of research and data. She saw that no research had been concluded in the previous year on bullying, school dropouts, the impact on ECD of the move to the DBE, learner pregnancies, home education, and new educational modalities like online schooling that had grown because of Covid-19. These phenomena needed to be understood, as the DBE could not just get the numbers. She asked that Dr Whittle, in the absence of the Director-General, assure the Committee that this would receive priority.
She asked Dr Whittle questions on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). When the Committee had finally received the final report on the Impact Evaluation of a School-Based Sexuality and HIV- Prevention Education Activity, they had read the following: Few outcomes from the study demonstrated that the revised Scripted Lesson Plans Life Orientation programme had a positive impact on HIV-prevention and related behaviours. In other words, the programme had failed. This had not been mentioned in the report. Was the DBE willing to listen to stakeholders on this matter so that the learner pregnancy crisis could be effectively tackled?
The DBE did not consider the government priority of economic transformation and job creation as a priority. She had seen the one line regarding entrepreneurship, and the challenge with that. With the current electricity supply problem, education could be a growing economic sector if the DBE saw its role as an enabler of the independent sector. She would detail this comment in her written submissions, as she would like to hear what the DBE’s attitude was to playing this role. She welcomed the Annual Report and work of the DBE in its sector. This year had presented many challenges and the Committee looked forward to working with the DBE to drive innovations in the sector.
Mr Nodada said that under programme 1, there was R1 million donated by the Chinese government towards water tankers. How many water tankers had been installed from this donation, and were they currently functional?
The Chairperson commented that in terms of the departmental targets, the DBE was at 80% in this financial year, whilst in the previous financial year they had been at 86%. This was understandable, as the financial year being dealt with was a Covid-19 year, as alluded to by Dr Whittle. According to the DBE’s presentation, under programme 4 they had planned to build 24 schools and had achieved 32, which meant that they had overachieved by eight schools. The fact was that eight schools had been overachieved in a Covid-19 year when everyone was at home and not working. What was it that the DBE had managed to get right during Covid-19 that had allowed them to overachieve? If the DBE could overachieve building schools every year, they would probably be in a better situation.
Under programme 1, there was under-expenditure of R18 million yet there were vacancies that needed to be filled by the DBE. Why were these vacancies not filled? She did not know if she had heard incorrectly, but in the meeting the DBE had been referring to each other mostly as acting director generals etc. Except for the Acting Director-General -- which was known to be because of the Director-General being out of the country -- why had posts which were vacant not been filled by the DBE?
Why was the transfer of funds not made to the KwaZulu-Natal PED for C/LPID?
She congratulated the DBE for moving from a qualified audit opinion to an unqualified audit opinion. However, the Auditor-General (AG) had said that the DBE needed to put in place a team of professional accountants that had the ability to prepare financial statements. The AG had thus indicated that the DBE, as a department, could not prepare financial statements. Did this happen or not?
Due to Covid-19, the DBE had lost many teachers which had created many vacancies. What had the DBE done to try and get those teachers back through recruitment? How were the teachers being recovered?
Due to the manner in which the DBE had handled their finances and tried to achieve their targets, she had missed the fact that it was a Covid-19 or lockdown year, where most people did not know how to deal with the pandemic in the initial stages. The DBE had really tried to make sure that they still delivered to South Africa and all its people.
Mr David van der Westhuijzen, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Infrastructure, DBE, responded on the issues raised around infrastructure. The Chairperson had made a comment about overachievement. The DBE was proud to say that they had achieved 32 new schools in a very difficult year. Part of the answer as to why this could be done in the area of school construction but not in area of sanitation was that the lockdown severely impacted the small contractors, whereas those contractors appointed for the building of schools were higher-graded contractors that could survive the cashflow challenges – which was where the small contractors really battled. In Quarter One there was basically no activity. In Quarter Two, some activity had started but it was not certain, and regulations also prohibited people from moving across provincial borders, so a lot of the workforce was not at the place where work was to happen. The bigger contractors managed to breach these challenges much more effectively than smaller contractors.
The DBE had to put a lot of measures in place to really assist small contractors. It had thus focused on more regular payments, and in some instances had paid the small contractors twice a month and assisted them with direct payments to service providers and suppliers just to get material back on track. The DBE had also picked up that the whole industry was grinding to a halt during lockdown, and when it had opened up there was a severe shortage of building materials. The country had even run out of cement and roof sheets, which had a major impact on getting the momentum going again. It needed to be taken into account that nobody had planned to provide a Covid-19 emergency water supply programme to 3 000 schools or a Covid-19 emergency sanitation programme to over 1 000 programme – this was "snuck in," and the DBE had to fit it in and make it work. Luckily the DBE had succeeded in doing so, but where they had suffered was with the small contractors on both water supply and sanitation. On water supply, the DBE had made it in the last week where they had managed to achieve 101 versus the 100 target. On sanitation, the Department had battled.
The comment about business forums raised a critical issue that needed to be addressed much more widely than just within the construction industry. There were instances where people were shot on site or held hostage, and there were several threats and instances where people were forced to make some monetary payments in order to let a project proceed. The way that the DBE was trying to mitigate this from a construction point of view was to have a very transparent tender process, to stimulate the local economy as far as they could, have minimum requirements for local sub-contracting, and try to create opportunities for local players in the market.
On the comment about irregular expenditure, Mr Khunou had explained that what was disclosed in the financial statements was not for the previous year, but for the entire ten years of the ASIDI. He added that it was a very focused effort to clean out any nondisclosures, to focus on clean governance, and come out with anything did not smell right. These disclosures were in different categories.
What the DBE had found was that they had an implementing agent like the Mvula Trust, which was not a state entity, and which followed its own procurement policies. However, because the Mvula Trust had acted as an agent for the DBE, the AG had insisted that they must follow state procurement policies. Sometimes there was therefore a misalignment, and that misalignment was declared as irregular. It was not as if the money had been lost -- it had been implemented properly and the DBE had built 300 new schools, over 1 000 water projects, and over 1 000 sanitation projects etc. The money was thus well-utilised, but in the disclosures the DBE had focused on opening them up. Moving forward, the DBE had now initiated new actions to expand that into the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) programme. The DBE was also in the process of procuring specialists on state procurement and accounting to assist it. It was focused on maintaining a clean or unqualified audit opinion and to even improve on it.
On the Chinese water tanks, this had taken place in the Northern Cape. If the Committee allowed, he would get the list of specific schools where the tanks were installed and the status of that installation from his Northern Cape colleagues. Regarding the storm-damaged schools in Bushbuckridge, the DBE would engage with the province to get the name of the school to find out what exactly the status was there. There had also been mention of a school of Mpumalanga that was built on a wetland. The DBE was aware of one school in the Delmas area that was built in an area that was subject to marshy conditions, and had previously reported it to the Minister. If this was the school that was being referred to, the DBE could provide those details as well.
On the ASIDI report, the DBE was reporting to various forums on a regular basis – be it the Presidency, the Office of the Ministry, or other interested parties. The DBE had had a resource under the Project Support unit that assisted communications, and from time to time they published some data on ASIDI on the website. Unfortunately, this contract had lapsed. The DBE could take this up with Communications, and put some updated information on the website.
The DBE was constantly driving the issue of consequence management. Regarding inflated costs, the Department had really tried to monitor this carefully. There had been a recent incident where an implementing agent had reported an expenditure which the DBE could not verify. It had eventually issued a letter of demand and recovered every cent of the disputed amount. The DBE was working with another implementing agent where they did not agree with their reported figures, and this was being scrutinised in detail to make sure that there was value for money before any of it was disbursed. There was thus a constant effort by the DBE. Any incidents where there was fruitless and wasteful expenditure -- as per the comment about default interest for late payments -- were referred to the investigations committee.
Mr Khunou responded on the spending of 97% of the budget, leaving about 3% unspent, whilst it was being said that some of the targets were not met. On one of the slides, the DBE had shown a breakdown of the budget per economic classification. Out of the budget of R23.394 billion, R19 billion or 83% of the budget had been transfers and subsidies, which was money that was transferred to provinces for different conditional grants. The transfers and subsidies money had been spent, as was shown in the slide, so already 100% of the 83% of the budget had been spent. Out of the R23 billion, this left the DBE with just R3.9 billion. The R3.9 billion was made up of various things, such as compensation of employees, goods and services etc. Out of the R3.9 billion, the DBE had spent R3.4 billion, which was 88%. Therefore, for the non- transfers and subsidies budget the DBE had underspent by 12% – which was where the non-achievement of targets came in. It would be a bit of a distortion if one looked strictly at the budget and said that 97% was spent, because some of the spending happened regardless. One example of the spending that happened regardless was the 100% transfer of funds to the Funza Lushaka bursary. He was thus just indicating that, on the face of it, it may seem as if there was a misalignment between the underperformance on targets versus the high performance on the budget.
Reporting on the progress of the BELA Bill, he said that at today’s Cabinet meeting the Deputy Minister had presented the BELA Bill on behalf of the DBE. The Cabinet Committee had raised a few issues which they had asked the DBE to go back and look at and come back within a week. When the DBE returns after a week, the presentation was not going to be at a Cabinet Committee meeting, but to the Cabinet. Depending on what type of questions come up at the Cabinet in the following week and what needed to be done going forward, the DBE should be ready to present to Parliament.
With regard to the SCAB, there had been amendments. There had been a big task team of various departments and stakeholders to look at the amendments that had to happen. As part of the big task team, there was a smaller team that had been put together to do the drafting so that once the drafting of the amendments had happened, they could present them to the bigger task team. The presentation to the bigger task team would happen this Friday, 12 November. Once this had happened, there would be presentations back to internal stakeholders, which included the Heads of Education Departments Committee (HEDCOM) within the DBE and the Council of Education Ministers within the DBE. Flowing from that, the DBE could then go back to Parliament, as the SCAB was already at Parliament. The big challenge which may affect the speed at which the SCAB was finalised was the fact that ECD was now coming over to the Basic Education sector with effect from April 2022. Due to the timing difference, and the fact that ECD was still located within the Department of Social Development and it would be sitting in a different department or cluster until April, there was a struggle as to which cluster should own it. The chances were that the amendments would move with more speed after April, when it was certain that the ECD was function was sitting with the Basic Education sector or Department.
On the comment that the AG had recommended that the DBE must put together and appoint a service provider to prepare financials, and whether this had happened, he corrected the Member, as the AG had never actually said that. It had to be remembered that the AG never put its head on a block as to one way of doing things, as it would not want to be seen as dictating to a department in case they were later blamed for overreaching. The body that had made the recommendation was the Audit Committee, which had made the recommendation in October 2019 when the DBE was still in the middle of getting qualified audit outcomes – in October 2019, the DBE had just received its second qualification. Delays had happened in the appointment of the service provider, but those delays had been a blessing in disguise because the DBE had subsequently managed to show that they could actually do financials themselves within the Department and without help from a service provider.
From a finance perspective, the DBE had never believed that the qualification had happened because there was a problem with the financial statements, and had always said that this was not the case. The reason why the DBE had previously kept on getting qualifications was because it was failing to hold implementing agents accountable. If one looked at the last three qualifications, in all of the cases without fail, the issues were because of implementing agents and not because someone sitting in finance could not do financials. In 2018/19, the DBE had actually had a service provider that came in to assist with financials, and it had still received qualifications. He thought that this situation had occurred before, but that it was before his time. It was never an issue of officials not being able to prepare financials, because then there would have been no point in having them and appointing a service provider to do what the officials should be doing.
Positive comments had come two weeks previously, when the DBE had had a meeting with the AG where they were taking stock of the previous audit for 2021 and preparing for the 2022 audit. The AG had commended the DBE and said that in the middle of Covid-19 the Department had managed to move out of a qualification, and had done so such that the Auditor-General was able to finalise its audit and management report a few days before the deadline, whereas other departments had asked for an extension. The AG had even gone as far as saying that, regarding the way that it had run its audit, handling requests for information, etc., that they should keep it up and do it the same way going forward. The AG had also commended the way that the Director-General had demonstrated that he really wanted to improve the audit outcome. The DBE did not believe that it had been the right call for the Audit Committee, two years ago, to say that the DBE needed an audit firm, and he did not believe that there was still room for an audit firm to be appointed.
Ms Emily Mmola, DBE, responded on the issue of irregular expenditure, where the question had been whether there was any consequence management for DBE officials in terms of investigations that the DBE had conducted. She confirmed that there was consequence management in terms of progressive disciplinary processes that the Director-General and the Human Resources (HR) department had followed. Also, in respect of the implementing agent, the Director-General would write to the chief executive officers (CEOs) of implementing agents to request that they provide reports on the consequences where the DBE identified very significant instances of discrepancies, and the interventions done regarding recovery. However, some might take time. She recalled one implementing agent where, in 2019, the DBE had stopped allocating projects as part of their consequence management. The issue of blacklisting had not been done by National Treasury for service providers not to be awarded business, because the implementing agents that were used were mostly public entities. The DBE had thus stopped allocating more projects.
The DBE was making recoveries against the losses that they had incurred. Some cases were still being investigated, such as the R6.9 million interest on the late payment of invoices. This investigation was at the final stage, where the DBE had received comments from various stakeholders. With this transaction, there was also a court process regarding the appointment of a service provider that had been appointed as a consultant to oversee a number of projects in the Eastern Cape. This had further complicated the issue in terms of the work that had already been started, which was from stage 1 to stage 4. Once the DBE had finalised the investigation to get comments from all stakeholders involved in the process, it would finalise the liability.
Mr Paddy Padayachee, DDG: Teachers, HR and Institutional Development, DBE, thanked Dr Thembekwayo for raising the issue related to the education assistants. He asked for the name of the school so that the DBE could start some of the investigations after the meeting. The DBE would come back to the Committee for further details as well, and on another occasion they would share the progress made with the programme of education assistants, and how they were dealing with any misbehaviour in that regard.
On the issue of the report not dealing with educators younger than 30 years old, there was a report available and the DBE would provide it to the Committee Secretary to circulate to Members. A number of Members had raised the issue of the shortage of teachers. The DBE had met with the Committee earlier in the year and had worked with the DHET, which had put out a study with researchers from the University of Stellenbosch. The Funza Lushaka was one source that provided for educators who graduated. Although there were about 13 000 students in the pipeline, only 4 000 were in their final year and would graduate. In the system itself, over 30 000 young educators graduated each year – on average it was around 28 000. The issue most often was that sometimes, in certain subjects, one could not find the required specialisation. There was a supply of educators and there was also an unemployed educator database at both the DBE and PEDs for instances where educators needed to be found. This did not mean that in terms of the fourth industrial revolution, and subjects required, the DBE could find a match. It was an area that it was currently targeting.
As Dr Whittle had indicated, this had been a Covid-19 year, and two things had happened from an HR perspective. There had been two adjustment budgets in the financial year. In the first instance, around June 2020, there had been a cut in the compensation of employees due to some aspect of funding the Covid-19 essentials that were required at the time. There was then the second cut in November 2020, and some provinces were more affected than others. In fact, the province that had faced the biggest challenge was KwaZulu-Natal. The DBE had not seen the crisis emerge, because when schools had returned their major concern had been the issues related to co-morbidities and teachers not coming back to school. At the same time, all grades had not returned to school in June 2020 and thereafter, going towards August/September 2020, there had been rotational timetabling. The DBE had therefore not seen the full impact of the budgetary cuts as would have been seen had they had a normal year. According to the post-publishing norms, what the Minister of the Executive Council had put out should be funded to ensure compliance. What the DBE did not see was that there were no classrooms that were not without teachers, the reason being that provinces tried to manage their compensation of posts.
The report of the DBE had talked about the filling of posts, but these were posts for permanent appointments. What provinces had done in order to manage their budget was, in certain instances, to put in educators on contract appointments. It would then be realised that around January and February that the DBE would be told that provinces were not paying the contract educators, and tried to start paying them only in February. Accounting officers and chief financial officers had tried to manage it in that way, although it was probably not the right thing to do. At times there were also substitutes. The DBE could not provide substitutes, especially when there were co-morbidities as well. However, because of the number of learners that had come back, this had not materialised to the extent that the DBE had wanted. Currently there were complaints at certain times about provinces taking too long to fill posts. If provinces did not fill a post, they would put a temporary educator in place because it tended to be cheaper. At times where a substitute was needed, provinces had methods in which they looked at the circuits and how to deal with it.
With the education assistants that had come on board, the DBE was well aware that they were not there to replace educators, but to support and assist. The example that was given by Dr Thembekwayo had happened, but it was not widespread. However, it was not something that the DBE had wanted to happen. The Department could come to the Committee and present a fuller picture on the matter at the appropriate time.
Dr Thembekwayo commented that the school she was referring to was Bohlabatsatsi Primary School in Mamelodi. She had also just received a call about Luthuli Combined School in Limpopo Province, next to Seshego, where they had been instructed to come to school in overalls for cleaning purposes. Other schools who were watching the meeting today were also sending names of schools where the principals were ill-treating the education assistants. She asked who she could communicate with about this issue.
Ms Liesl Carolissen, Office Administrator, DBE, said that emails could be sent to email@example.com.
Dr Whittle referred Mr Padayachee to the matter raised on the PGCE.
Mr Padayachee said that he had not heard the question, but that if Mr Letsie could provide him with the question via email, then a written response could be provided.
Mr Letsie commented that his question concerned what the vacancy rate of schools in the Free State was, and why teachers who qualified through the PGCE in the Free State were not being considered if other provinces were considering them.
Mr Khunou referred to the acting positions and such positions not being filled, and said it had to be remembered that the report related to the period up until the end of March 2021. The DBE had gone through a few interviews and had filled some of the posts. For example, a few posts that were filled included chief director and director positions. The DBE was thus filling these posts and advertising these posts, but some needed to be re-advertised. For example, one of the DDG positions that had become vacant, which the DBE had already interviewed for, was Dr Mabuya’s position under Branch C. The DBE had also interviewed for the post of DDG in the Director-General’s Office, but a suitable candidate could not be found. As a result, there had been a re-advertisement in the past weekend’s papers. The DBE was filling the posts as they moved along, although it might not be at the speed that it would have liked it to happen or as was required. In the finance branch, over the past four weeks the DBE had interviewed for two director positions.
There had been non-compliance on the LSPID grant, and the DBE had withheld the last tranche. What had happened was that subsequent to the underspending or non-transfer, the KwaZulu-Natal department had applied for a rollover – which was applied for at National Treasury and which had been received. Subsequently, the DBE had seen an improvement in their compliance, although there were still challenges. The transfers of conditional grant monies to provinces were done in terms of the Division of Revenue Act (DORA). There were four tranches, and money was transferred once per quarter. Monitoring was done within the DBE as to whether the funds were being used for the purposes that they were intended, and the DBE also made sure that there was regular reporting on the usage of the funds. In cases where there was non-compliance, especially with reporting requirements, the DORA empowered the DBE to alert the provincial department to say that they were not complying and should submit a report by a certain date. If the provincial department still failed, the DBE was then empowered to withhold the funds for a period of 30 days, and thereafter for good. If the non-compliance happened in the middle of the year, it was easy for it to be made good so that by the end of the year, all of the tranches would have been transferred. If the non-compliance happened in the last quarter of the year, it made it so much more difficult. This was because there would not be much year left to play with and by the time that the province complied, the year would have ended and the money would not have been transferred or spent.
Dr Whittle said that the DBE would find the exact reasons as to why this particular fourth transfer was delayed, and would then communicate it back to the Committee.
Ms Simone Geyer, DDG: Delivery and Support, DBE, responded to the question about the dissatisfied principals, where they were located, the reasons for the lack of support, and what interventions were made. How the DBE arrived at the 17.8% of dissatisfied principals had been based on a survey that was carried out. That information gave the DBE exactly where they were located, so the DBE could provide the Committee with that information. It could also provide the reasons for the lack of support, because the survey went into detail on this aspect. Based on the survey, the DBE had put in place interventions that needed to be made in each of the districts where they were located. Much of the reported dissatisfaction varied from year to year, because the DBE did this survey all the time. Currently, the dissatisfaction was around the extent to which the principals felt supported by the circuit managers that came to the school, and the subject advisors. The complaints were that there were not sufficient subject advisors in specialised subject areas, which went back to the vacancy issue that had been raised earlier about having sufficient people to go and provide the support that was required.
In the case of the circuit managers, the complaints were about the scope of work and the number of schools that they were able to visit in a radius. Where the provinces had not actually aligned their district policy to make educational sense, circuit managers still struggled to go and attend to the schools on a monthly basis. If there were 300 schools that needed to be visited, one could see that there was a problem in getting there and providing a good service. If there were only 20 schools, a greater service could be given. It was thus about how the DBE continued to align the municipal boundaries of what the policy talked to in order to make educational sense and be manageable so that the circuit managers could actually do the work. Those interventions had been put in place, and discussions with the provinces had happened to see exactly how it could be done going forward. It was thus an annual issue that differed from year to year based on the matters raised and the interventions put in place.
Another question had been about underperforming schools or poor performing schools, the extent to which this was monitored, and how it could be ensured that there was better consequence management for what went wrong. Regarding the number of reports and monitoring that the DBE did throughout the year, and in particular around the instance of poor performing schools, the examination results were analysed. The DBE analysed both the matric examination results and, going into detail, zoomed in per subject to determine exactly what the poor performance was per subject, per district and per school within the district. It looked at the other results as well, because it provided very clear indicators of the extent to which they needed to put measures in place to support the schools. Regarding what the DBE then did about the poor performing schools, they had an analysis that indicated those districts that were poor performing, because within those poor performing districts one would find the poor performing schools. Here, the DBE had put in place a mentorship programme at a national level.
There were three provinces -- the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, and Northern Cape -- that were in the worst categories of poor performing districts. The DBE had put in place a mentorship programme in those specific districts with the aim of bringing them up to the standard required to meet the threshold of what took them out of being a poor performing school or district. As results improved and the performance of the districts and schools improved, the benchmark and standard were increased. There were quite a few mentors that the DBE had appointed in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, for instance. The task had been to work with all of the officials in the districts around clearly identified interventions that would ensure that the DBE brought the district's performance up in terms of how they were preparing the teacher to teach, how they were preparing the district in various administration areas, and how they were preparing principals to ensure that they became good leaders and helped to manage the performance of their schools. Specific interventions were also being brought in for the subject advisory service to assist in terms of specific subject areas where difficulties had been picked up.
For now, these were the interventions that the DBE had in place. Over time, what went with that were the various other interventions and support programmes that the DBE had introduced overall in trying to help improve the learners' performance within the system. There were thus a number of other measures that had helped, especially over the Covid-19 period. Such measures included how the DBE had tried to utilise the Woza Matric programme, how it had tried to introduce programmes across the system that helped through television, radio and video recordings, and looking at various platforms of Moodle where the DBE had introduced learning materials, as well as hardcopies of learning materials to support the intervention. All of this was added on top of the mentorship programme, to help. As the DBE tracked and monitored, the purpose was to ensure that there was an improvement.
Ms Deliwe said that there were different sorts of research conducted across the different sections of the DBE. On the policy programmes, research was part of the policy process, as well as reviewing and refining the policy process and monitoring how effective it was. This could be done at the level of a programme, in which case the policy programmes and policy programme owners or responsible line function would do so as a matter of developing their problem analysis, the policy and what it was addressing, and monitoring and refining the policy. Over and above that, there was a Research, Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation (RCME) unit which looked at research that supports medium to long term outcomes, planning, monitoring and tracking. These were quite different, but they were related. The research process within the DBE was run within the programmes, but was also run in terms of the sector outcomes in the RCME unit. The National Education Evaluation and Development (NEED) unit, which was the unit that dealt with educational development, also did some research that was related to the value chain from the school level to the district level at the lower end of the system. The NEED unit focused on those issues that affected quality improvement at the school and classroom level. There were thus different sorts of research.
When the DBE was aware of the need for coordination of some of the research, the Department and the RCME unit sat to coordinate it. However, it was also the responsibility of policy owners to do research and to commission research in their own specialist area, with guidance from the research unit. The Committee was thus right in terms of research capacity, and the need for it. The government could not provide the research capacity on its own, and relied on partners to do research with them. There were also a lot of intergovernmental arrangements and partnerships around research inputs. A lot of NGOs and other state entities like the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) did research that was related to some of the work that the DBE did. It actively promoted these kinds of partnerships with academic institutions. She knew, for instance, that in Branch S it was mentioned that there was a lot of work with other stakeholders around research interest and social cohesion issues etc. that were done by the Human Rights Council and other agencies, which were of mutual benefit in terms of realising socio-economic rights.
Target setting was a conversation that the DBE had almost every year around how they were set. Depending on what targets they were and what the function of the national department was, the DBE was able, within the context of the National Development Plan, which was medium to long term, to address developmental targets of the country, and also to try to domesticate those within the sector through the action plan. The DBE had a sector plan that looked, for example, at the trajectory of reading competency as indicated in learning assessments over a period of time since 1990. This began to point to areas where it was possible to get to, and areas where the DBE would want to be going in relation to growth in reading competency, maths competency, numbers and percentage of Bachelor passes etc. Some of the targets were thus related to where the DBE was before, and the growth possibilities. Even its learning outcome targets were related to them. However, over and above these targets, there were some targets which the DBE knew that they had to deal with in relation to just a specific need. A lot of the targets were also related to infrastructure.
A lot of the targets for the DBE and the nine PEDS were also embodied in the sector outcomes and how those nine provinces, as implementing arms, and the DBE worked together to get to where they wanted to be in terms of the sector over a five to 15-year period. The targets that the DBE had within its APP were thus a combination, but were based on the DBE’s function, growth trajectory and expectations. It was also doing some analysis on previous targets and how they had performed over time. This would be presented over the next two months within the DBE, and the information could also be brought to Members of the Committee. It was therefore a fairly scientifically-informed evidence-based process, which was the approach in most cases, taking into consideration the capacity, the resources allocated, and the expectations in terms of both over time.
Dr Whittle suggested that the DBE would await some of the detailed questions and respond to them in detail. The one issue that Ms Sukers had raised was around DBE consultation. In the previous meeting, Director-General Mweli had taken quite some time to explain the formal process as outlined in legislation, but had also added that during the Covid-19 period in particular, the DBE had consulted often and widely. One of the issues that the Director-General had raised was that the Minister had initiated a forum coordinated by the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) that brought together more than 250 civil society organisations that the Minister, Deputy Minister, and the Director-General prioritised in terms of meeting with them on a quarterly basis. He added that under the Covid-19 period they had met even more often than that. This was in addition to conversations with civil society. The DBE also met regularly with key stakeholders including SGBs, the independent school sector, and teacher unions. These often happened separately, with meetings coordinated by the Director-General and separate meetings coordinated by the Ministry. However, the DBE would welcome those questions and would certainly respond to them.
On the issue raised by Mr Letsie around teenage pregnancies, the DBE had met with the Committee a month before and had made the point that what Covid-19 proved was that education was protective for children – a point which was often made. During the Covid-19 period, there had been a rise in the number of teenage pregnancies. The DBE expected that there was going to be an increase in the incidence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It also knew that, based on some of the reports that were produced during the course of the Covid-19 period, there were increased rates of abuse and gender-based violence (GBV). The President had even referred to GBV as a second pandemic. The DBE knew that what was needed was to try and get children back to fulltime school as soon as they could. These were discussions that were happening within the DBE, and which would happen with stakeholders over the course of the next couple of months to ensure that they normalised schooling as much as they could.
The Chairperson thanked the DBE, and commented that they had adequately responded to all of the issues raised by the Committee. Members and the DBE had over-worked today, and she thanked everyone for availing themselves to be a part of the two meetings. The Committee would meet with the DBE at a later date.
The meeting was adjourned.
Mbinqo-Gigaba, Ms BP
Adoons, Ms NG
Letsie, Mr WT
Mashabela, Ms N
Moroatshehla, Mr PR
Nodada, Mr BB
Siwela, Mr EK
Sukers, Ms ME
Thembekwayo, Dr S
Van Der Walt, Ms D
Yabo, Mr BS
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