Priorities for the Next Five Years: Department briefing

Basic Education

16 February 2004
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Meeting report

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
17 February 2004
PRIORITIES FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Chairperson
Prof S Mayatula ANC

Documents handed out

Department's presentation on priorities for the next five years.

SUMMARY
The Committee's annual budget had been drastically reduced, resulting in all planned overseas visits for this financial year being cancelled. The Committee expressed a keen interest in the Department's role in combating HIV/AIDS as well as the specific deadliness for free education for the poorest 40 % of students, and further enhancement of teacher qualifications. The Department would release a document at the end of March 2004 that would clearly stipulate what the Department expected from teachers and vice versa.
This meeting was the Committee's last for the Parliamentary session.

MINUTES
Prof S Mayatula said this meeting would be the Committee's last for this Parliamentary session. All Parliamentary Committees' budgets had been reduced for the coming financial year. This Committee's budget had been reduced from R993 000 to R393 000 so most overseas visits had been cancelled. The overall Parliamentary budget had been reduced from R66 million to R22 million.

Ms Mentor (ANC) asked whether the new budget was for the entire financial year ending February 2005 or only until the April 2004 elections.

Prof Mayatula said the budget allocations were for the financial year ending February 2005. This meant the Committee would not have had any overseas visits for two years in succession. During the previous year (2003), the Committee had failed to execute its planned visits to Nigeria and Ghana. In 2005 the Committee wished to visit Ghana and Timbuktu as part of African Renaissance initiative.

The minutes of the 3 February 2004 Committee meeting were adopted with only one technical amendment.

Director-General's presentation
Director-General Mseleku listed some of the highlights during the last ten years. All Apartheid structures had been dismantled and a single education system had been established. Among the remaining challenges were the low literacy rates among 24 - 65 years olds and the low mathematics and sciences pass rates.
(See Presentation atttached.)

Discussion
Mr R Ntuli (DA) said it appeared that the Department was in favour of school uniforms. School uniforms had countless advantages such as that the uniformity created between rich and poor students was especially advantageous in the South African context. Mr Mseleku said the Department was not reviewing uniforms but rather the high cost thereof.

Mr Ntuli asked what role NGOs were currently playing in the educational system and the Department's views on the performance of Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETA's).

Mr Mseleku said they were reviewing the SETA's performances and it appeared management issues and corruption were the main constraints. The Department wanted to focus more on the SETA's service delivery and said there was always room for improvement.

Mr Ntuli asked how teachers, especially mathematics teachers, were responding to the Department's policy on continuous education.

Mr Mseleku said the Department was in the process of rolling out the revised curriculum and were conducting an audit of mathematics teachers in the educational system. The problem was not purely the need for mathematics teachers, but also for those who could teach basic financial competence. The quality of mathematics education was improving and there was a need to focus on youth development and mechanisms to deliver vocational skills.

Ms Mentor thanked the Department for the great work done during the previous ten years. She suggested the Unesco education benchmarks should be constantly highlighted and integrated into the Department's planning for the following ten years.

Mr Mseleku said a general difficulty with most of the education benchmarks was the definitions of concepts and criteria. With regards to access to basic primary education, South Africa was ahead of most international benchmarks, yet it was acknowledged internally that much more should be done. This raised the importance of South Africa participating in the establishment of international criteria. The difficulty with international criteria was that they tended to accommodate either the highest or lowest common denominators. The measure of quality was a contextual matter but South Africa could still benefit from international benchmarks. Schools too should be evaluated against their own past performances.

Ms Mentor suggested since one of the highest priorities of government was poverty alleviation, the Department should consciously focus its procurement policies on the '2nd or informal economy'. Many pens, pencils and other school requirements could be locally produced instead of imported from Europe that could create much needed jobs.

Mr Mseleku said the issue of procurement was more a Department of Trade and Industry competence than a Department of Education one.

Ms Mentor thanked the Director-General for differentiating between HIV and AIDS as this was often publicly perceived as the same illness. The Department could play a vital role in educating the community on the differences. Wellness or hygiene education could play a significant role in mitigating the affects of HIV/AIDS and subjects such as sanitation and nutrition could help instill lifelong values in children. The influx of migrants into the Western Cape and Gauteng could have a rapid negative impact on the number of classrooms available in these provinces and she urged the Department to monitor student migration.

Mr Mseleku said the Department was focussed on all possible measures to mitigate the spread of HIV/AIDS. One aspect of the department's holistic approach was to study how teachers were affected by workplace policies, sick leave and other related issues.

Ms Mentor said the recurring debate on the quality of school education should be entertained, concluded and put to rest as it resurfaced every year after the publication of matric results.

Mr Moonsamy said there was no doubt that the ANC government had made great strides in improving education. He asked for a timeframe for when free education for the poor would be established, and for raising the qualifications of under-qualified teachers.

Mr Mseleku said there was no shift in their policy of free education for the poor. The voucher system was an one example of subsided education but could have the perverse consequence of poor students migrating to schools in wealthier areas. The Department preferred to fund and assist disadvantaged schools to reach the standards set by the best schools in South Africa. Within a year or two, the Department would be able to provide free education to the poorest 40% of the nation.

Mr Moonsamy asked about the current learner: classroom ratio and suggested the Department look at some of the experiences of Latin American literacy campaigns.

Mr Mseleku said the Department did not want more than 50 students per classroom. The classroom backlog would not be reversed soon because of insufficient funding. Public-private partnerships could expedite the building of more classrooms but if left to its own budget, the Department would take years to fill the backlog. On the second question, he said the focus had previously had been on attaining Matric. The Department now preferred to focus more on numeracy and literacy, as was the cause for much of the success in Latin American nations.

Mr T Abrahams (ANC) said he was pleased with the focus on quality education. He did not see much being done in the realm of career guidance as too many students with tertiary education ended up unemployed. Effective career guidance during the last three years of high school was sorely needed to guide students in the proper career direction

Mr Mseleku said career guidance was very important but should be seen as part of the overall support services afforded to schools. He emphasised that this was a longstanding problem in South African education.

Mr Abrahams said his rural constituency in the Cederburg was, like many similar communities, "on the decline". It was painful to see the difficult circumstances children experienced in the pursuit of education. Primary school children had to wake up early to catch a school bus and travel 50-60 km to school. In the afternoon, the small children had to wait outside before the bus embarked on its trek back home. Many children had do endure these challenging conditions without being properly dressed, many going barefoot.

Mr Mseleku said the Rural Education Committee was looking at such issues. The Department believed that no child should be compelled to travel more than 10 km to school. Boarding schools were often considered as a potential answer but social implications should be considered, especially the disruptive affect this could have on family relations. Priorities in education were too numerous to meaningfully engage in any one discussion as early childhood development, tertiary education etc, all contained numerous urgent priorities.

Mr Mseleku said the matter of enhancing teacher qualifications was a more long-term issue. It took a minimum of one year to fully qualify one teacher. Most teachers who had taught for more then ten years could anyway qualify immediately through the Recognition of Prior Learning. Many teachers were considered qualified at their time of graduation a few years ago, who have been pillars of the education system were now told they were no longer qualified. The department was not deliberately stalling on the further qualification of all teachers but proper compensation and other planning had to be effected to accommodate fully qualified teachers.

Mr W Doman (DA) said in his constituency in Retreat, Cape Town, most schools were of an academic nature. He questioned whether students would be receptive to converting a portion of the existing academic schools to vocational institutions. He emphasised that more vocational education was necessary in his constituency to ensure job security and employability.

Mr Mseleku said the Department could convert many of the existing academic schools to vocational ones but they would not be of the desired quality. The Department agreed with the need to expand vocational schooling in South Africa, but questioned the feasibility of converting existing academic schools.

Prof S Ripinga (ANC) said improving the qualifications of teacher should be a priority , especially considering the implications of Curriculum 2005. He commended the Department on the improvements in primary education but cautioned that a many children were still outside the system. He asked about plans to help children who were not allowed to attend school by their parents or who were compelled to work.

Mr Mseleku agreed that too many vulnerable children were falling through the cracks, such as street children, child-headed families and illegal child labourers. The Department had not taken legal action against anyone for not allowing a child to attend school, but the Department of Labor should also be consulted as this fell into their jurisdiction as well.

Mr Mseleku said the some well-off schools were now catering to many poor students although these schools were not classified as being disadvantaged schools. The Department cautioned against the perverse situation where students flocked in droves to wealthy schools at the expense of more conveniently located ones. This and related school funding issues would be presented to the public for discussion in the near future.

Mr Mseleku said the Department would release a document at the end of March 2004 that would clearly stipulate what the Department expected from teachers and vice versa. This would help both the Department and teachers gain a much clearer understanding of their respective roles and obligations.

The meeting was adjourned.

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