In a virtual meeting, the Committee was briefed by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on the state of preparedness for the 2022 academic year.
One of the main challenges identified during the briefing was that thousands of learners remained unplaced for the new academic year. Late applications continued to be a problem despite massive advocacy on application cut-off dates by the provinces. The challenges were twofold -- parents ignoring the published closing dates, and informal settlements that spring up around established communities, making it difficult to predict expected numbers ahead of the new year.
The Committee was concerned about the situation in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the Western Cape. Gauteng still had more than 276 000 unplaced learners, KZN had 226 142, and the Western Cape 29 550. A Member said something needed to be done about rich parents being able to send their children to former Model C schools, with their low classroom occupancies, while the children of poor communities had to cope with 40 to 50 learners in a class, and generally did not have access to the internet for online education.
The Department said the South African School Administration Management System was a DBE-maintained school administration application that was supplied to schools free of charge and currently used by almost all schools in eight provinces for the purpose of reporting. The system was designed so that schools could register new learners, generate new class lists, and record learner attendance, among other things. It was suggested that this system be used to assist in placing unplaced learners.
The Select Committee heard that the DBE had over the years conducted school readiness monitoring to identify any challenges that may impact on effective teaching and learning at the beginning of each year, and strived to address them promptly at the appropriate level of the system. However, a Member suggested that testing school readiness at the beginning of the year gave the Department limited time to take remedial action if schools were not ready.
The Committee asked about the vandalising of schools in KZN and Gauteng during the July unrest, and the progress in repairing the damage; how it was preparing to prevent the looting of schools while they were closed; and whether the welcomed teaching assistants' posts could be made permanent appointments.
Inland schools were expected to open on 12 January 2022 and coastal schools on 19 January 2022. However, these dates were dependent on the progress of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Chairperson said the focus of the meeting was specifically on how ready the individual provinces were for re-opening schools in 2022. The online registration system which some provinces use, helped to reduce the lines when it was time to register learners, and also helped with reducing stress around that time as well.
Deputy Minister's opening remarks
Dr Regina Mhaule, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, said the Department of Basic Education (DBE) had learnt many lessons during the Covid-19 pandemic and were becoming more effective every day. This was one advantage the pandemic had had, despite all the other hardships it had caused. The final matric examinations had run very well. There had been minor glitches here and there, but when one administers more than 700 000 people, challenges could be expected.
She thanked the Members of Select Committee for the support they had given the DBE in difficult circumstances throughout the year. The Department was ready for 2022 and the Minister would be announcing the results on 20 January, and the MECs would make the announcements for their provinces on 21 January. The Chairperson was cordially invited to the announcement of the results.
Mr Hubert Mweli, Director-General, DBE, echoed the Deputy Minister’s sentiments and said that 2021 had been extremely difficult. However, the leadership within the Department from the Minister, Deputy Minister, MECs and oversight structures within Parliament such as the Select Committee, had enabled the sector to soldier on and instill courage in public servants to keep it afloat. At this point of the year, the Department would like to convey appreciation and gratitude, because it was doubtful whether they would have been able pull through without this leadership.
The information in the presentation came from the DBE's engagement with the provinces to indicate their individual state of readiness, and was a quite comprehensive and all-round assessment of the state of readiness of the provinces. The Department had also assessed its own readiness in terms of policy activities in order to ensure that 2022 proceeds seamlessly.
School Readiness Monitoring for 2022
Ms Simone Geyer, Deputy Director-General: Planning and Delivery Oversight Unit, DBE, covered a broad range of activities to indicate the Department's school readiness monitoring for 2022,
No changes had been made to the COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) since they were approved in September 2020. It was noted that every school had a COVID-19 focal person responsible for the orientation of learners and staff on the SOPs. School principals and school governing bodies (SGBs) were responsible for ensuring that the SOPs were implemented. It reported that 455 360 education personnel were vaccinated using the single dose J&J vaccine. However, these figures excluded the education personnel, who received the Pfizer vaccine.
The Department of Health (DOH) had released a statement on COVID-19 vaccination of 12 to 17-year-olds.The DOH had not started vaccinating persons under the age of 12 years. A meeting was held with the COVID-19 vaccination focal person in the DOH and the Integrated School Health Programme (ISHP) Task Team on the matter. The meeting concluded that:
- DOH would facilitate a meeting between the two Ministers (DOH and DBE) to discuss the matter for the Basic Education Minister to release a statement;
- Currently, the DOH was not vaccinating children in schools;
- Any vaccination on site (in a school) would require consent forms to be signed by parents or guardians, as directed by the ISHP Policy; and
- Any vaccination off-site would not require the ISHP consent forms; however, the ISHP would encourage learners to vaccinate and bring guardians or parents where possible.
South African School Administration Management System (SA-SAMS)
The education sector required data for planning and reporting on the performance of the sector in order to support institutions and policy changes -- for example, school, learners and educator information, learner academic performance, and Grade 12 National Senior Certificate (NSC) registrations. The data collected was then used for planning to support institutions and improve performance in the sector, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic intervention period.
SA-SAMS was a DBE-maintained school administration application that was supplied to schools free of charge and was currently used by 98.6% of schools in eight provinces for reporting. It was designed to assist schools with their administration and reporting. For example, schools could register new learners, generate new class lists, maintain attendance registers, and so on.
SA-SAMS was policy-driven and was updated quarterly according to sector needs. This ensured uniformity of policy implementation and standardised reporting, and assists with monitoring and ensures integrity of the reported data. The Education Management Information System (EMIS) Circular 1 of 2022 would inform schools on all the required data fields needed for reporting, and would include learner biographical data and learner academic performance, educator and staff data, and school/institution information.
It was established that the right to education must be extended to everyone, including undocumented and foreign-national children. DBE Circular 1 of 2020, which advised all provincial departments and schools of the Eastern Cape (EC) Phakamisa judgment and its implications for undocumented learners, must be used as a point of reference. The judgment and circular direct that all provincial departments of education and schools in South Africa must align their admission rules and practices, including school funding practices, with the judgment. Despite the judgment and Circular 1 of 2020, cases of learners being denied admission to schools continued. Some schools outside the Eastern Cape province were reluctant to admit undocumented learners, arguing that the High Court judgment and circular were applicable only to the Eastern Cape. The number of unplaced students in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the Western Cape, was identified as being very high.
Late applications continue to be a problem, despite massive advocacy on the application of cut-off dates by provinces. The challenges were two-fold:
- Parents who ignore the published closing dates, and parents from rural communities who move to big cities at the beginning of the year to lodge applications.
- Informal settlements that spring up around established communities due to the influx from rural to urban areas also present a challenge, making it difficult to predict expected numbers ahead of the new year.
Furthermore, English-medium schools were perceived as providing better quality education, and also faced an annual challenge of managing and accommodating all the applications they received. Some of these challenges led to insufficient schools in urbanised areas and the ever-present demand for spaces at schools of choice. The tension between the rights of school governing bodies (SGBs) to determine admissions policies in terms of the South African Schools Act, and the rights of parents to access education at schools of their choice, was also a challenge. In provinces where learners were admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, local learners who did not apply on time experienced challenges with placement. Pre-closure assessments would look into these challenges, particularly in Gauteng and the Western Cape.
The Department undertakes an annual monitoring from January to March of post provisioning, focusing on compliance with the norms, processes and timeframes. It was noted that there were delays in most provincial education departments (PEDs) in declaring final post establishments due to delays in securing and confirming availability of funds following budget cuts affecting the allocation for compensation of employees. Research showed that only five of the nine PEDs were able to distribute the final establishments to schools by 30 September as regulated, while the Eastern Cape had not distributed post establishments to schools by 25 October. Furthermore, PEDs were expected to begin with the provisional placement of graduates in identified vacant posts for 2022.
Learner and Teaching Support Material (LTSM)
Grades R-12 national catalogues of the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS)-aligned textbooks were developed to support the implementation of CAPS. Retention and retrieval of textbooks was the highest in the North West, KZN and Gauteng. The Department provided LTSM, and guidance on how it should be used. It looked at the progress of procurement, how far provinces were for school readiness, how much money provinces had put aside for LTSM, and how far the Department was in achieving universal coverage in the process of delivering learning materials. Provinces used three models to procure materials. They could procure everything on behalf of schools, procure on behalf of Section 20 schools, and provide funding for Section 21 schools, who would procure their own materials.
The DBE and its partners had developed approximately 1 100 titles of state-owned content resources consisting of:
- 137 titles of state-owned textbooks for high-enrollment subjects;
- 344 Grade R to 9 workbooks;
- 594 Graded Reader and Big Book for Grades 1 to 3 in all 11 languages; and
- 24 titles of Grade 12 Mind the Gap Study Guides.
PED e-learning portals and platforms were zero-rated, and provide access to free educational content resources that include video lessons, apps, eBooks, interactive revision material, assessments and teaching plans. The private content resource portal includes the MTN Foundation and Siyavula Foundation online high school maths and science practice platforms, the Vodacom digital classroom, Telkom's e-Education and the MTN Y‘ello Ed platform. The DBE, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the Department of Communications and Digital Technology (DCDT) and mobile network operators would implement the virtual classroom solution in 17 selected schools.
The mobile network operators would provide all the Grade 12 learners with information communication technology (ICT) devices, connectivity, training and technical support for 17 months. Teachers would also be trained on how to use the solution. Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Liquid Telkom had finalised the connectivity solution at their selected schools. MTN, Rain and Telkom had already delivered the learner devices and installed the virtual classroom solution at their selected schools.
Coding and robotics
The coding and robotics curriculum was based on four pillars -- application skills, internet and e-commerce skills, data and information management skills, and computational thinking skills and coding.
However, there were challenges. The monitored schools showed that challenges include shortages of coding, robotics and ICT resources, network connectivity for teaching and learning, security of procured resources, and teacher resources.
National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP)
The DBE and the PEDs would ensure that:
- Funds were transferred to schools.
- Contracts were in place for the delivery of food and fuel.
- Food deliveries and adequate supplies were in stock.
- Volunteer food handlers' daily attendance to prepare meals.
- NSNP committees were in place to ensure operational compliance/functionality.
- Joint monitoring with the NSNP team to ensure feeding on the first day of schooling; and questions on feeding are covered in the joint monitoring tool.
Infrastructure: water, sanitation, furniture, and learner transport
In preparation for the reopening of schools and to ensure that schools were ready for teaching and learning, the DBE identified risk areas and requested provinces to provide remedial actions to ensure that these were mediated against, to ensure that teaching and learning could commence on the reopening of schools. The focus areas were on new schools, renovations, repairs, storm damage, vandalised schools, classroom shortages, infrastructure hotspots, maintenance, availability of school furniture, repair and rehabilitation, school furniture specifications, and the interprovincial task-team.
This was to ensure that plans were in place to ensure that learner transport was available on the reopening of schools. The learner transport-desired outcomes include:
- Timeous delivery of service;
- Rate of road accidents reduced;
- A coordinated approach in relation to planning and implementation;
- Learner transport operators that adhere to road traffic regulations;
- A vehicle maintenance plan and technical support for emergencies;
- Viable and sustainable operations;
- Uniformity of services and tariff structure; and
- A coherent performance monitoring system.
One of the critical observations during the monitoring of 60 of the 75 districts in quarters one to three in the implementation of the National School Safety Framework (NSSF), was the non-functionality of School Safety Committees (SSC). Districts reported lack of training in a number of schools on the NSSF and the protocol for management and reporting of sexual abuse and harassment. School fencing needed to be prioritised to ensure the security of learners, educators and staff, including the infrastructure. In May 2021, the DBE had launched a road show through a high impact event with the Minister and Deputy Minister, using a multi-sectoral, inter-departmental approach to address the scourge of violence in schools, including bullying and cyber-bullying in particular.
Social cohesion and equity
Since the advent of COVID-19 in 2020, the social cohesion programmes were suspended, alongside the sport and enrichment programmes. Some of the programming was migrated for delivery on to online, digital and virtual platforms. This encouraged more time for school readiness and APP monitoring. In 2022, the DBE was prepared for both eventualities of face-to-face and online delivery, with all the innate challenges for each format.
The annual performance plan had also made provision for the implementation and monitoring of the national strategic plan (NSP) on gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), and the protocol for the management and reporting of sexual abuse and harassment in schools.
School sports and enrichment
The monitoring in 2022 would focus on the readiness of schools to resume or reboot these learner support programmes within the COVID-19 context.
The Chairperson asked what progress had been made at schools that were damaged by the unrest in KZN and Gauteng in July. How far had the Department come in repairing the property that was damaged, and recovering furniture and computers which were stolen? His heart went out to the Golden Steps School for children with disabilities in KZN, as their computers were stolen and their workshop was looted, as was the case with many other schools. How ready would these schools be for 2022?
South Africans were moving from rural areas towards urban areas, so what would happen, for example, in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Gauteng, where classroom shortages may be a consequence of this? Would the Department provide mobile classrooms to remedy this, especially considering that classroom shortages would already occur due to social distancing requirements resulting from Covid-19 restrictions?
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) said the presentation showed the DBE's readiness for 2022. He asked what plans the Department had for learners who dropped out during the Covid-19 period -- was there any leeway for those learners if they wanted to return to school when it reopened next year?
There was an increase in Covid-19 infections at the time of the meeting, which was leading to a fourth wave. What plans were in place for learners to get vaccinations to avoid this threat as schools prepared to reopen again?
How had the findings of the annual school readiness visits informed the preparation for school readiness for the upcoming year?
He welcomed the fact that the DG and his team had done schools visits in lieu of infrastructural oversight. To what extent did schools still experience vandalism? Vandalism took place during the Covid-19 period -- was it something the Department was now able to handle, or had it eased off since the first outbreak of Covid-19?
Ms A Maleka (ANC, Mpumalanga) asked what the Department was planning to do about shortages in learner transportation and roads? How many unqualified foreign educators with fraudulent qualifications did the Department currently employ? What was the Department doing to prevent this from occurring?
Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape) said that the report indicated that the DBE was ready in many areas. However, she was worried about the Western Cape, because every year it was the same story and, up until yesterday, there were 29 000 unplaced learners in the province. She received calls from parents who had applied for their children to be placed in schools early in the year, but were still struggling to get their children into schools.
The presentation indicated that an old story was popping up again, not only in the Western Cape, but throughout the country, and it involved the DBE and the school governing bodies on placements. It had been highlighted that Gauteng and the Western Cape faced this problem every year, and it could not continue like this. During previous deliberations, one of the issues which had been highlighted in engagements between the Committee, the DBE and the Department of Social Development (DSD), was the lack of social workers in schools. She was trying to find answers for parents who were going through struggles. Sometimes they were placed in schools in the last month of the school year, and experienced a lot of trauma in the process.
When would they get to a situation where, at the end of the school year, there was enough place for children to attend schools? It was a constitutional right. What was being done in collaboration with the Western Cape Education Department specifically? When one looked at the former Model C schools, there were plenty of places available, while poor children from rural areas were in classrooms with 40-50 learners. In the previously Model C schools, there were 10-15 learners in a class. How could one address this disparity? It was annoying that there were certain people with money who could do everything, and the poorer children must be out of school. It was time to look into the practice of children not having their constitutional right to be part of the school system fulfilled, while people with money could have their rich children in affluent areas in the Western Cape attend school very comfortably. They could not continue like this.
She commented that on paper, the Department could be very ready, but in practice they might not be so ready. Her heart bleeds because the same problems arise every year and the same answers were given every year. One could give answers to the poor people who called her day and night. It was not only the poor people in the Western Cape who complained. There were people from previously disadvantaged communities who had empowered themselves and become part of the middle class, whose children were refused at previously Model C schools because they were not white enough, despite the national policies of the DBE. She did not know what the DBE was going to do to intervene because this could not keep happening every year. People were traumatised because their children were not placed in schools.
The Chairperson intervened, and said that the Members should maybe write to the Provincial Departments where there were complaints of recurring issues. The Committee could call any MEC to explain their situation where it may be necessary.
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KZN) said that in KZN there was a large number of kids being raped or kidnapped while walking to and from school. Would the problem of scholar transport be solved in 2022?
She welcomed the Teachers Assistant Programme. Because there was a need for teachers’ assistants, why was there not a programme to hire these assistants on a permanent basis? For example, in a school where a teacher taught on a seven day cycle, they would spend four days on administration and only three days on contact time. She believed that these teachers’ assistants were thus needed on a permanent basis to address this.
On security in schools, most schools would suffer vandalism when the schools closed, and in January a lot of repair to the infrastructure would be needed. Could the Department find proper and qualified security guards to guard the schools? Could these guards be in-sourced rather than using an external company?
What plans did the DBE have in the pipeline to address classroom shortages in light of Covid-19?
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) said there was a huge issue with parents in the Northern Cape complaining that their children had not been placed in schools. What was the Department doing about learner placement, specifically in the Northern Cape, but also in the other provinces?
Would rotational timetables in schools continue in the new year? In the Northern Cape, children were going to school for two days one week, and three days the following week. In light of Covid-19 infections increasing again, would the rotational timetable remain, or would other plans be made? With the rise in the number Covid-19 cases, how would the DBE help teachers and learners with remote learning? The Northern Cape had specific challenges due to its vast terrain, but also because of bandwidth and network issues within the province.
Was there collaboration with the Department of Health? The Omicron variant was causing younger children to fall ill. Was there collaboration with the Department of Health to vaccinate these children or to spread awareness within schools, especially primary schools, as it seemed that Covid-19 cases would rise among younger children?
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked about the renewal of the contracts of temporary educators, and whether there was a plan regarding the late delivery of stationery?
Mr Mweli responded on the number of learners who had dropped out as a result of the impact of Covid-19, and said that in 2020 there had been 13.1 million learners in the system, which was an increase of 500 000 learners from 12.6 million learners in the previous year. In 2021, there were 13.4 million learners, which was an increase of 300 000 learners from the previous year. The Department did not dispute that learners might be dropping out, but wished to bring to the Committee’s attention that more often than not, when people calculated the dropout rate they would say, for example, that 1.4 million learners had entered school in Grade R and in Grade 12 there were 800 000 learners, and would ask what had happened to the 500 000 learners. Many people forget that at the end of Grade 9, many learners choose to go to further education and training (FET) colleges, which now had over 800 000 learners. In their calculations, these people thus forget about learners choosing the pathway of FET colleges, and say that they got lost in the system. This view was held by highly respected academics and professors in South Africa. It was incorrect, and one should account for learners who opted to attend FET colleges. The official figure was that the dropout rate in the entire system was between 11% and 15%, which was not what people purported it to be. If the learners who dropped out as a result of Covid-19 choose to return, they would be accepted back into the system -- no learner would be rejected. The Department was conscious of age-appropriateness due to concerns over returning learners being of an inappropriate age for the grade they returned to.
On the monitoring during the reopening of schools, the findings which deal with infrastructure take some time to be acted upon, due to the financial constraints of the provinces. Many of the findings were indeed acted upon. The Department went back to Parliamentary oversight structures to report on what they found during their oversight visits and what their plans were. The Department was unable to act on all of the findings, but those which they were able to act on, they did.
Vandalism was a major Achilles heel to government, as well as the general public. Now that schools would be closing, the damage which would accrue as a result of vandalism and theft was anticipated. Schools had been linked to police stations through a system called Adopt a Cop, but as everyone knew, when schools closed during the festive season, the South African Police Service (SAPS) also had to contend with crimes in broader society and could not pay as much attention to schools. At the same time, as government, there was no money to employ security at schools. The general workers programme went a long way in this regard -- although people were not trained as security personnel, they could keep watch and deter criminal elements from vandalising and stealing from a school by simply being there.
On the Teachers Assistant Programme, he agreed with Ms Luthuli that the assistants must be employed for much longer than the three to six months which they were currently contracted to do. This notion had been proposed to National Treasury, who had not rejected it but had not accepted it either -- they would look at the resources and check whether it would be possible to retain their services over a much longer period, like three years. Perhaps over time they could be absorbed into the system permanently. They did not ameliorate only the problem of easing the burden on teachers, because in one-teacher schools, if the teacher was absent, no teaching took place. The assistants came in handy in these cases, especially if the teachers fell ill. The majority of the schools with assistants were in deep rural areas, and were usually one or two teacher schools.
Scholar transport was a problem, especially in KZN. KZN had the largest number of learners in the country and experienced serious financial challenges as a result of budget cuts. In one financial year, it had R5 billion cut from its budget. With this budget cut, it was likely to bring their Education Department to its knees and undermined the intentions of the sector and the DBE to provide adequate transport to learners, not only in KZN but across all the provinces. This was beginning to affect the sector, and at some point the DBE would report that they were unable to appoint new teachers because of the budget cuts.
He said fraudulent qualifications occurred not only among foreign educators, but also among South African citizens. These matters were dealt with by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the South African Council of Educators (SACE), who could provide the exact figures. The numbers had gone drastically down to the point where one barely hears about it. This was because SACE insists that they must confirm that individuals had the requisite licence to teach before these individuals could teach at schools.
The reason why the phenomenon of unplaced learners was so prevalent in the Western Cape and Gauteng was because of the inward migration in those provinces, which was unprecedented compared to other provinces. Narrowing the Western Cape to Cape Town, there was a problem of the favourable classroom population in former Model C schools which had been raised with the Western Cape Education Department. At the beginning of the year, he had gone to the Western Cape and met with the Head of the Department and the Premier, who had intervened and got the Provincial Treasury to allocate money for mobile classrooms to be made available for learners to be placed, as it had precipitated into a very serious crisis. This was an annual, ongoing problem, particularly in Cape Town. The problem was that there was not enough land designated for schools -- land in Cape Town, Johannesburg and neighbouring towns was used for commercial purposes, and schools were not considered, they were an afterthought. He was not sure to what extent virtual classrooms would assist in addressing this problem, but the idea was that affluent people would make use of this so that more brick and mortar facilities would be made available for learners who did not have the means to do so.
Part of the readiness for 2022 was that provinces had to procure mobile classrooms to address overcrowded classrooms and ensure that schools did not become super-spreaders of Covid-19.
Regarding the lack of social workers, the grant for learners with severe and profound intellectual disabilities had enabled the Department to deploy social workers at the provincial and district level. However, they were unable to deploy them at schools because the grant only allowed for deployment at the provincial and district levels. The grant allowed the Department to provide psychologists, social workers and therapists, which helped with assessing the placement of learners and dealing with their psychosocial issues. The Department also used other means, such as lay-counsellors and young people who were employed from the HIV/AIDS grant, to assist in this regard. Lay-assistants would also be able to provide support to learners in the absence of qualified social workers. The Department also used institutions of civil society, such as religious bodies, to work with learners, particularly under the conditions of Covid-19, to help learners deal with issues such as trauma due to losing a loved one. Universities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who provide online services were also being used to provide psycho-social support to learners.
On unplaced learners, he did not want to make commitments which would not be fulfilled, but what he could say was that he was extremely optimistic as the numbers this year were much lower than those of the previous year and the year before. Over time, the challenge would be overcome. With virtual means of learning and teaching coming into the picture and attracting middle and upper class members, brick and mortar space would be made available for the poor. The University of Cape Town had already announced and launched their online school, and many others would be launched soon as well. A draft framework had been developed to regulate this.
He had been shocked to learn that a mining area close to Springbok had started to experience a problem with the placement of learners as well, but they had been working with officials to address the problem. This problem was experienced in areas of economic activity, because people flocked there in the hope of finding employment and a livelihood, but this was not prevalent in every town of every province.
Referring to assistance with remote learning to learners, he said this could be available to learners whose parents were affluent, particularly to quintile four and five schools, but with quintile one to three schools whose learners came from less affluent households, this would not be available to them, in all honesty.
On collaboration with the Department of Health, Dr Faith Khumalo and Dr Granville Whittle of the DBE sit on the Ministerial committees, including the working groups of the DoH and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), who give the Department the data they use for their risk-adjusted differentiated strategy, so there was collaboration with the DoH.
On the vaccination of learners, the DoH was not keen to go the same route which they had used for educators and other workers. The Department still wanted to persuade them that with the low traction from the general public, the resources should be directed to schools so that learners could be vaccinated. The DBE officials who worked with the DoH had updated the Department on the Omicron variant and how it affected learners.
The Department was preparing for the opening of schools, and preparing for the release of the matric results now that examinations had ended.
On the renewal of contracts for temporary educators, the Department had been working with provinces so that when schools reopen, a problem did not arise where schools operated without teachers because contracts were not renewed.
There were some challenges with the delivery of stationery in some provinces, such as the Eastern Cape, but the Head of Department had assured him that mechanisms had been put in place to prevent learners from being compromised by the late delivery of stationery in that province.
Ms Geyer referred to unqualified foreign educators with fraudulent qualifications, and said there was a certain procedure available in delict which made it a criminal offence for any person to have fraudulent qualifications, irrespective of whether they were a foreign national or a citizen of South Africa. The moment that the verification of their qualifications through SAQA was approved, or they detect that an individual’s qualification was fraudulent, the procedure was initiated. It had always been able to be monitored, because all qualifications must be verified by SAQA. Initially, individuals may be able to get into schools due an urgent need for a teacher, but they would not be able to stay there very long and the moment the fraudulent qualification was detected, the criminal procedure would be initiated.
There were no exact details regarding the scholar transport problem in KZN, as reports had not reflected it. They had indicated that everything was under control in terms of the target. There was a shortfall in the number of learners who should be transported, but they had indicated that they were in discussion with the Department of Transport around increasing the number of buses on the route.
Everyone in the school system would welcome making teaching assistants permanent, but this was part of the Presidential Youth Initiative, which was a Covid-19 relief mechanism to help schools in particular. There were no examples of teaching assistants being a full-time position, which was required in the school system, as there were set requirements to be a teacher. Because of problems with Covid-19 protocols, help was needed to relieve the schooling system by handling the cleaning, learner temperatures and other sanitisation protocols, which was what the assistants were tasked with. The concept of a teacher assistant as a full-time position in the schooling system was one that had not yet been realised. The problem with making these assistants permanent lay in that detail. What would they do; how would they assist the teacher; what qualifications would the position require? These were the questions which would need to be asked before they could create and avail funding for such positions. The teachers in schools really welcomed the assistance that they received, and the initiative had also done wonders for job creation.
Deputy Minister's comments
Deputy Minister Mhaule said there was very little that the Department could about learner vaccination. The DBE worked well with the DoH on immunisation and other matters which compelled collaboration. Because vaccination had been introduced as being optional, the DBE had not made it mandatory yet as part of the governmental policy, so they relied on parents. There were parents on social media who would criticise and condemn in order to dissuade other parents from vaccinating their children, but the Department would spread awareness to encourage vaccination in the hope of fully opening the country and schools again.
She said the problem of unplaced learners existed not only in the big cities. It was rife across all the provinces, but because many people migrated to the big cities for employment, it was concentrated there. For example, she lived in White River, where there were only two schools, one primary school and one high school. There had never been an increase in the schools. When she was MEC for Education in Mpumalanga, she had budgeted for extra schools in White River and other towns, but there was literally no land as private developers did not leave any space for social amenities. These two schools now had to cater for more people, and more classrooms had been added to accommodate the influx of learners, but the schools were now bigger than they were supposed to be. A myriad of private schools also pop up as a result of this lack of schools and they use people’s houses as their schools, and use bedrooms as classrooms. The DBE was working with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) to ask municipalities to avail space to build schools.
On remote learning, the Department did not work alone and depended on the Department of Communication for connectivity at schools. If learners were at home, it still became a challenge, because they could connect schools but if learners had to work from home they could not guarantee them connectivity, which was a problem. There was a plan to meet with the Minister on improving remote learning.
Vandalism was a problem, especially when schools closed, as people looted schools for furniture among other things. Most of the schools which were damaged during the July unrest had been renovated. In Gauteng, they were 97% complete with repairing damage from the riots. The remaining 3% were those schools where it was not easy for the Department to fix schools while the learners were there, and they planned to fix them while the schools were closed. The plan was the same for KZN, where R14 million had been allocated by Treasury to fix the schools.
The administrative block of the Golden Steps School had been vandalised, but it had now been renovated. She thanked the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for assisting KZN with some of the renovations. In some of the schools, the entire school was not vandalised, only certain classrooms, and those classrooms had been fixed. UNICEF had said they would assist in completing those that were not finished, and even offered to replace an entire school, but the officials from the KZN Department of Education had told them that only part of the school had been vandalised.
Dr Mhaule said making temporary teachers permanent could not happen for all temporary teachers due to the nature of their appointment. For example, if they were appointed because a teacher went on maternity leave, when the teacher returned from maternity leave they would return to their position.
The Committee considered and adopted the minutes of the Select Committee meeting on 30 November 2021.
The meeting was adjourned.
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