DBE on implications of SONA, with Deputy Minister

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

23 February 2022
Chairperson: Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC; Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

President Cyril Ramaphosa: 2022 State of the Nation Address (SONA)

The Select Committee met on a virtual platform to receive a brief from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on the analysis, implications, and impact of the President's State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2022 on the education sector. It also spoke about the impact of COVID-9 on the sector, comparison of recent SONAs and progress by DBE, return of learners to school, and the DBE's learning loss recovery plan.

Committee members appreciated the good work of the Department and asked about addressing poor infrastructure and overcrowding, recovery of learning time loss, the educator assistants programme, the late or non-delivery of food and textbooks, the registration of early childhood development (ECD) centres, learner transport challenges and support provided by the DBE to poor-performing schools. The Committee suggested that provinces with serious challenges should be invited to brief it on these.

Meeting report

Opening remarks 
The Chairperson acknowledged the presence of the Deputy Minister of Basic Education. He noted the role of the Presidency in education and the importance of SONA as a directive for the Department of Basic Education. He outlined the agenda of the meeting. The Chairperson (17:56) speaks in a different language.

Deputy Minister Dr Reginah Mhaule noted the Minister's absence, the Director-General's presence, and the presence of the DBE administrative leadership. The department is doing well and learners have returned to school. However, overcrowding was still a challenge in some schools, because of inadequate school infrastructure. This was highlighted by the President in the SONA, which was pleasing to the DBE as it is now a government concern that Cabinet is taking seriously. The Deputy Minister expressed dismay at communities for not notifying DBE on poor infrastructure concerns but rather airing their grievances on social media. They are aware of the inadequate infrastructure and that SONA is a policy directive for DBE's plans for the year. The matters highlighted by the President will be addressed by DBE and this will be reflected in the Annual Performance Plan. She noted that the Director-General was joining the meeting from KZN and could experience network challenges. If he loses connectivity, Deputy Director-General Simone Geyer will speak on his behalf.

The Chairperson thanked the Deputy Minister and (21:56) spoke a different language. He requested that Dr Stephen Taylor take the Committee through the presentation. 

DBE on the analysis, implications and impact of the President's SONA 2022
Dr Stephen Taylor, DBE Director of Research and Evaluation, said that the strategic direction of DBE is determined by how the sector plan relates to the Sustainable Development Goals. SONA contributes significantly to the setting of annual priorities and deliverables by DBE. A comparison of SONA 2022 to that of previous years shows a focus shift to infrastructure, learning recovery and teacher assistants. 

Dr Taylor provided data on the progress and challenges faced in previous years by DBE and the education sector in early education development, reading, inclusive education, three-stream model, skills development, infrastructure and social cohesion. Reflections on the return of learners to school and the impact of COVID-19 were given. The presentation included the learning time loss recovery plan and what is being put in place to strengthen learning time recovery efforts. Also presented was the monitoring of the return of learners to daily schooling.

Ms Simone Geyer, DBE DDG: Delivery and Support and Acting DDG: Office of Director General, stated that the presentation is detailed and covers reflections on SONA and as well as what DBE has been doing. 

The Chairperson stated that it gave him the courage that DBE is working hard to recover from the disruptions caused by the pandemic. The relaxation of COVID 19 regulations meant the return to normal teaching hours but with the continued implementation of sanitation and adequate ventilation in schools. He expressed concern with the loss of teaching time for learners in primary school, particularly those in Grade 5 and below. He asked what strategies were being implemented to ensure these students recover from lost teaching time. Concern was also expressed for provinces that have performed poorly in the last two to three years. He asked what programmes were being introduced to provide direct support on infrastructure, learning materials and motivation to these schools? 

Mr I Ntsube (ANC, Free State) commended the Presidency and DBE on providing the youth with the opportunity to be teaching assistants. He raised a question about the treatment of teacher assistants by schools. He (75:56) spoke in another language. Teacher assistants were not being used adequately and in a manner that contributed to the improvement of the education system. He emphasized that his concern was a critical issue that needed to be addressed. He advocated for the expansion of the teacher assistant programme to deal with the overcrowding in schools. He raised infrastructure and asked the Deputy Minister to visit Botshabelo in the Free State as 90% of the school infrastructure is ailing. He raised a concern about Free State schools threatening to prohibit learners who are unvaccinated from attending school. This is despite vaccines not being mandatory. He also expressed concern with learner transportation and nutrition. Learners have not received food in two weeks. His final issue was relations between DBE and the Department of Higher Education, and the number of places available in higher education institutions compared to the number of matriculants there are. He urged the Ministry to do a provincial look-through to emphasize the return of learners to normalcy. 

Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) understood the Deputy Minister's issue with the methods used by communities to report poor infrastructure. However, this was a result of frustration experienced by parents and communities in how slowly provinces address infrastructure challenges. In the Northern Cape, there were numerous complaints about schools being overcrowded. Due to the dilapidation of school infrastructure, learners have had to move to schools with better infrastructure. In Kimberley schools with poor infrastructure had empty classrooms and that was due to infrastructure not being fixed timeously.

Ms Christians brought up a school with poor infrastructure that she has spoken to DBE about repeatedly. DBE promised to intervene but has not done so to date. The school principal has tried to intervene but has been sent a letter threatening dismissal because of his complaints. Thus the reason for communities using the media to report their concerns with poor school infrastructure.

She raised educator assistants and teachers in the Namakwa District who have not been paid and the lack of response she received from DBE about this. She asked if it was possible to recover lost teaching time when considering the issues that she has raised.

She asked about the early childhood development (ECD) centres that have not been registered and the interventions put in place by DBE to address this.

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked about DBE's infrastructure rollout plan, specifically for the Eastern Cape. She spoke about the challenges with the lack of transportation for scholars and the late or non-delivery of textbooks to schools in the Eastern Cape. She asked if DBE could assist with any of these.

Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape) welcomed input from DBE and the Ministry. Addressing what the President raised during SONA was dependent on the Committee's oversight role and relationship with DBE. She raised school children uprisings in Malmesbury, Western Cape due to concerns about overcrowding. Overcrowding is a challenge in the Western Cape. She asked about monetary considerations within the DBE infrastructure programme, specifically project in the Western Cape. Poorer communities in the Western Cape faced overcrowding due to few schools. She asked if interventions were being made to combat this in the Western Cape and Gauteng. She had communicated with DBE to ensure children are placed in schools. However, many children have not been placed. There was a lack of political will to build schools in poorer communities.

As part of the Committee's oversight role, the Chairperson suggested that the Committee meet with provinces experiencing serious educational challenges, such as Limpopo. He noted the absence of some provinces at the meeting and that he did not know if these absent provinces had been invited to the meeting. 

DBE response
The Deputy Minister stated that DBE was working hard on addressing infrastructure concerns. The DBE officials would be answering questions and she would provide closing remarks. 

DBE Director-General, Mr Mathanzima Mweli, said that it would be worthwhile to invite provinces to use the experience of the National Assembly. He suggested the Committee should consider a workshop where all nine provinces participated and shared their work and challenges.

DBE could give a briefing to the Committee on the progress it has made in addressing infrastructure concerns. He noted that DBE had given a synopsis on what had been raised during previous SONAs. He addressed the comment on the relaxation of COVID-19 regulations and said that learners and teachers still had to adhere to mask and sanitation mandates.

On the Chairperson's comments on learning time losses with primary school children, the Director-General agreed and stated Dr Stephen Taylor could share in-depth the research findings on this issue. He assured the Committee that mechanisms were being put in place to ensure recovery of lost teaching time. Dr Taylor's presentation covered the strengthening of the curriculum which would be streamlined to provide students with the fundamentals necessary to get learners ready for subsequent grades. Teachers would also be required to conduct assignments on learners to ensure any knowledge gaps were addressed.

Mr Mweli said that support to provinces was being provided through meetings with each province where they assess its challenges and the way forward. Schools that performed poorly were dealt with according to the relevant provisions in the South African Schools Act. These schools were expected to account for poor performance and submit plans on ways to improve.

On vaccination concerns, the Director-General asked for details on which schools were forcing learners to get vaccinated so they could take up the issue with the Free State Department of Education. He acknowledged the challenges faced with infrastructure and that it would be useful for DBE to return to the Committee with a comprehensive report on progress with infrastructure.

The roles of teacher assistants have been set out and details of schools not adhering to this should be given to him. He asked for details of schools failing to provide food to learners as money has been given to provinces.

Mr Mweli agreed that far more matriculants were being produced than there were places in higher education institutions, and discussions were being held about providing more places in HEIs. Infrastructure challenges are being addressed and money is being made available to address these concerns. The spending by provinces of money allocated to infrastructure is also being closely monitored. It was discovered that the Northern Cape, North West, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Western Cape were underspending on infrastructure but have now improved since DBE instituted mandatory meetings.

On learning recovery and overcrowding, the Director-General acknowledged overcrowding. Mobile classrooms were being provided to counter overcrowding in provinces. He acknowledged the uprisings were due to overcrowding in the Western Cape.

Mr Mweli encouraged early childhood development (ECD) centres to register. Ms Geyer had information on the audit done on 0 to 3-year-olds as preparation for the ECD migration to DBE. A meeting on the progress made would be held jointly for the Portfolio Committees on Social Development and Basic Education. Ms Geyer also had information on the registration of ECDs.

The Director-General stated that the Eastern Cape has benefitted the most from the DBE infrastructure programme and the major challenge with Eastern Cape is small unviable schools. He acknowledged the challenges with transportation for learners. He explained the main reason for the late delivery of not only textbooks but stationery too in the Eastern Cape was due to the Provincial Treasury making a late payment in December instead of in June. DBE is working with Eastern Cape Education Department and they have now delivered to 80% of the schools.

Admissions in the Western Cape and Gauteng continued to be a challenge due to inward migration, but DBE is working closely with these provinces to address this.

The Deputy Minister asked if Ms Geyer had anything to add, particularly on ECDs.

DDG Simone Geyer stated that the migration of ECDs to DBE was on track and that the migration would take place on 1 April. A census was being conducted which would conclude at the end of March. The data gathered from the census would also include ECDs that have not been registered. There has been a lag with the registration process and once the migration has occurred, DBE will be expediting the registration process. They were looking for ways to improve the system to streamline the registration system. The Business Intelligence branch in DBE was looking into it. However, this would take some time, but it would occur over the next financial year.

Deputy Minister concluding remarks
The Deputy Minister thanked the Chairperson and requested that DBE be invited to present a comprehensive progress report on the infrastructure programme. The Eastern Cape underspends on infrastructure. Eastern Cape relies solely on the infrastructure grant, whereas other provinces used their own money as well as the money provided by the infrastructure grant. She also asked the Committee to invite DBE to present a report on its readiness for the ECD migration to DBE. She emphasized the importance of oversight in assisting in identifying concerns missed by DBE. It is trying to ensure coverage of all issues but the department is huge, especially with the addition of ECD. She welcomed critique from the Committee 

The Chairperson excused the Deputy Minister and DBE officials.

The Committee adopted minutes from 8 December 2021 and 16 February 2022. The Committee also adopted the programme for the quarter.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

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