In a virtual meeting, the Department of Basic Education Quarter 3 performance 2021/22 indicated 90% of targets have been met while 10% have been partially achieved.
In the discussion, the Committee enquired about the infrastructure backlog, monitoring in schools and the implementation of the National Reading Plan. The relationship between scholar transportation and the closure of small and unviable schools was fleshed out. The Chief Financial Officer addressed concerns about the underspending in the Eastern Cape and the possibility of fiscal dumping as the financial year draws to a close. Audit outcomes and strategies for avoiding findings by the Auditor General were also discussed.
Opening Remarks by Minister
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga expressed appreciation for the opportunity to present the report to the committee and to receive input on the work that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) is doing. The presentation will highlight areas where the DBE is making progress in areas where they continually faced difficulties. The Minister acknowledged the leadership from the other parties in the Committee.
Department of Basic Education Quarter 3 performance 2021/22
Ms Nosipho Mbonambi, Director for Strategic Planning, DBE, provided the performance of DBE activities in its five programmes as elaborated in the Annual Performance Plan:
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
Programme 5: Educational Enrichment Services
Major Quarter 3 highlights included:
• Minister launched the MTN online school in October 2021
• Deputy Minister and Eastern Cape MEC for Education through Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), handed over Nkululeko Raro Primary School to Mbuqe community
• Director-General undertook oversight visits to 12 Kwa-Zulu Natal schools.
• 897 490 candidates enrolled for the November 2021 Grade 12 National Senior Certificate exams.
• Over 270 000 young people have been recruited and placed in schools in phase II of the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative
• Over 41 500 markers appointed to mark scripts at 193 centres across all nine provinces.
Mr Pat Khunou, DBE Chief Financial Officer, presented the Quarter 3 financial report (see document).
Mr B Nodada (DA) said that there has been a failure to meet annual targets. DBE indicated in March that there is still a backlog of 35 sanitation facilities, 101 schools for water provision and 41 replacements of schools with inadequate structures. He recalled that there was a promised new special-purpose vehicle that will improve infrastructure development in schools. How will this mechanism be different from the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI)? What is the budget allocation and annual objectives for this mechanism? He asked that the Committee be updated on this considering there have been challenges with ASIDI.
He asked if there are provinces or districts that have not yet implemented the National Reading Plan? Why has the provision of electronic devices to special needs schools not been prioritised? How much of the budget has been allocated to equip these schools with the necessary technology in Quarter 3? Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West have the lowest percentage of textbook delivery. He asked if this statistic is referring to top-up textbook delivery or overall textbook delivery. If the latter, what plan is in place to address the non-delivery of textbooks?
How does the DBE determine the number of schools monitored? He asked if DBE would consider increasing oversight especially in vulnerable areas in its 2022/23 Annual Performance Plan (APP). Could the Committee be presented with a report on the schools monitored for information and communication technology (ICT) once Quarter 4 has been completed? He asked for an additional report on the Funza Lushaka bursary programme detailing how many students are studying or have graduated in each province.
Is there tangible measurement of how the quality of teaching and learning has increased due to targets being met? He expressed concern that fiscal dumping has taken place at the end of the financial year. He asked for reassurance from the CFO that this is not the case. Spending should not take place without meeting targets.
He will ask about the South African School Administration and Management System (SA SAMS) and Learner Unite Record Information and Tracking System (LURITS) as a mechanism to track school dropouts on another occasion as he is not convinced it is the only effective way to do so.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said that his questions were on scholar transportation and the merging of schools as the one cannot be divorced from the other. Some schools warrant merging but she was concerned about inadequate scholar transportation. He asked how DBE intends to address scholar transportation when merging schools. There is an anomaly in the Eastern Cape where the province has underspent. Has the money been returned to the DBE? Why has the province underspent? Is this accidental or is it due to incompetence within that department? This will hamper the provision of quality basic education in these communities.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) acknowledged the work done so far by DBE and noted the challenges it faced, especially the infrastructure backlog. There has been improvement since the 2020/21 report; this is commendable since the country is still recovering from COVID-19. She shared the concern about scholar transportation. Scholar transportation is especially necessary in rural areas where students have to travel far to school. On the monitoring of schools, she asked what assistance is given when challenges are identified at a school. She acknowledged the MTN online schooling that is available to remote schools and expressed gratitude to the stakeholders outside of DBE that grant this assistance to learners.
The Chairperson asked how DBE is planning to improve audit outcomes. Has DBE implemented the recommendations made by the Auditor-General? Have there been improvements since their implementation? She asked about the low spending due to the delays in receiving invoices from the implementing agents. What is DBE doing to remedy this? The Quarter 3 expenditure for Programme 4 is lower than projected and was attributed to underpayment of capital infrastructure assets. She asked why there was underpayment.
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, DBE Director-General, confirmed that the special purpose vehicle is going to be headed up by Infrastructure South Africa (ISA) to help government to deal with the infrastructure backlog. The purpose of this vehicle will be to elicit investment from the private sector. The private sector will bring in money and the government will repay the private sector investors. This would mean that the infrastructure backlog would be solved more quickly as funds could be appropriated faster. It will deal with the broader infrastructure backlog, not only focusing on the education sector, it will also aim to revive and resuscitate the rail and road network. The Northern and Eastern Cape have been identified as provinces where this programme will be piloted. The DBE, National Treasury, Public Works, ISA and the Presidency were some of the stakeholders included in that meeting where it was agreed that a common understanding would be established.
The Reading Plan was implemented by all provinces. The Director-General chairs meetings each year where reports are given on the implementation of reading programmes. Additionally, a monthly meeting convenes at department level where progress made on State of the Nation Address (SONA) commitments are reviewed – it is here that a number of line functions give feedback confirming the implementation of the National Reading Plan. He will need to find out how this translates into district plans.
The DG replied that learners with special education needs are ahead with 442 schools covered by telecommunication companies (telcos). They not only provide connectivity but also special devices. The plan is to cover all schools for learners with special education needs, then multi-grade schools, then quintile one to three schools and lastly quintile four to five schools.
Textbooks from the new catalogue were delivered in 2012. Provinces are thus only replenishing what is already there, top-up, which would not exceed 30% ordinarily.
On DBE monitoring, it depends on the size of the project and the funds available. If the resources available for monitoring increase, so will the number of schools monitored. Where there is a crisis, resources will be provided to send monitors where desperately needed. Apart from DBE monitoring, provincial and district officials also do monitoring on the same issues. The team managing the monitoring of the ICT in schools can share the results with the Committee at the appropriate time.
On Funza Lushaka, there are few universities that are training teachers for technical subjects in their education faculties. DBE is in ongoing discussions with the heads of education faculties to increase the uptake to realise the vision of the three-stream model.
The matric results and the regional and international studies that are conducted can bear testimony to the improvement. In technical subjects, students performed better than they had since the introduction of the subjects in 2018.
The DG explained that the LURITS and the SA SAMS are not the only way to track learner dropouts but it is a reliable means that helps DBE determine the extent of the dropout rate. He agreed that there could be other means to determine the extent and impact of the dropout rate. DBE is working with NGOs such as Zero Dropout.
The DG agreed that there is a relationship between learner transport and the closure of small and unviable schools. All nine provinces recently met to discuss plans on this matter; they will continue to meet once a quarter.
The underspending in the Eastern Cape under the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) has led to about R200 million being moved to Kwa-Zulu Natal. This is due to a number of issues such as capacity challenges and the relationship between the Provincial Treasury and the Provincial Education Department.
On the infrastructure backlog, DBE has turned a corner – unlike previous years they are set to meet the annual targets. He echoed the concern about learner transport in deep rural areas, especially in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
He assured the Committee that they have been working hard to improve audit outcomes. The major items are currently irregular expenditure and misstatements in the annual financial statements (AFS). He asked the CFO to elaborate.
Mr Khunou, DBE CFO, assured the Committee that fiscal dumping is not taking place. The nature of infrastructure building means that 100% of the budget does not always get used in one year as schools are in the process of being built and not all schools are budgeted to be built in one year.
In 2020/21, DBE improved from a qualified to an unqualified audit outcome. The Auditor-General placed emphasis on the uninvestigated R3.2 billion irregular expenditure over the years. In 2019/20 the Auditor-General had raised concern over the inability to verify irregular expenditure on infrastructure projects. In 2020/21 DBE went out to the implementing agents and tracked all irregular spending in ASIDI since 2011. This is why the irregular expenditure is reported as R3.2 billion. Only a fraction of that amount is for 2020/21. R2.7 billion was from previous years. The CFO assured the Committee that in 2021/22 that number will not be nearly as high.
A further challenge was the restatement of the AFS. DBE would get reports from implementing agents (IA) to record in the AFS but by the time the Auditor-General audits the information it is found that the information has changed since it was reported. This is the reason for the restatement. This year, DBE will receive the financial statements for the past eleven months up to February. They will then work with these statements to ensure more accuracy.
On delays in IAs submitting invoices, the CFO replied that there has been an improvement. This links to the question of underspending on capital assets. IAs are paid through financial tranches; only after they have spent money do they provide DBE with invoices. If they do not provide invoices it is marked as an advance. Only when the invoice is provided does DBE log it as an expense. Previously, the IAs caused delays by not providing invoices which meant that the spending could not be recorded. To remedy this, DBE has tightened up the process of giving additional tranches. An IA must have provided at least 90% of invoices for the previous tranche. This is why this fiscal year the spending will reflect more closely to 100%.
Mr Ramasedi Mafoko, DBE Director: Physical Planning and Rural Schooling, gave feedback on the R205 million transferred from the Eastern Cape to KZN. No funds were returned to National Treasury. For the funds to remain in the sector despite the challenges faced in Eastern Cape, the funds were transferred to KZN. The reason Eastern Cape faced these challenges was due to the majority of the contractors not being active and on site. This is due to non-payment or delayed payment in the previous year due to COVID-19 related budget cuts. Contractors refused to go back on site. They are working on a recovery plan for the Eastern Cape. This includes the accelerated process of rewarding replacement contractors, bringing forward projects due to start later in the year, taking to procurement projects where design had already been completed, and reallocating some portfolios from a non-performing IA to another IA. In Quarter 3 they met with the individual IAs to follow up on the implementation of this recovery plan.
Mr Mafoko confirmed the delays on the part of the Eastern Cape Provincial Treasury. Intervention was already too late for some projects as the approval only came in January which caused under expenditure in the province. In preparation for 2022/23, DBE has met with the province, technical team and IAs. A planning workshop has been held. They will meet with the Eastern Cape team again the following week through the DG’s meeting which is held every Friday.
Mr Bheki Mpanza, DBE Chief Director: Information Monitoring and Evaluation, added to the response on transport and closure of non-viable schools. The DBE has developed guidelines to assist provinces when they set out to merge or close small and non-viable schools. The Rationalisation of Small and Non-Viable Schools guidelines detail the process that provinces need to follow if they close or merge such schools. One of the prerequisites included in these guidelines is that if there is no budget available for scholar transportation, the school cannot be closed or merged. The closure of some KZN schools is being halted for exactly this reason. He suggested that these guidelines be workshopped again.
Mr Nodada enquired about the monitoring of school nutrition at schools. He asked why this target has been only partially achieved. What happened to the discussion to provide two meals a day?
Dr Granville Whittle replied that not meeting this goal had to do with the logistics of when the exams were held during the final 2021 term due to the pandemic. Plans have been put in place to improve this. On a second meal, Western Cape and Gauteng are serving two meals. DBE has started the process of piloting the provision of breakfast during the last financial year, working with private stakeholders. The intention is to phase-in breakfast over the coming years. Currently, it is limited due to budget and high food inflation but DBE plans to have it in place for quintile one to three schools soon.
The Minister and the DBE delegation were thanked and dismissed from the meeting.
The Secretary took the Committee through the draft Second Term Programme.
Ms Adoons requested that the oversight in Mpumalanga be done in conjunction with the visit to provinces when the Committee returns from recess.
It was noted that Ms Suckers had requested that her petition be moved earlier to 3 May 2022.
These changes would be effected as approved by the Committee.
The minutes of the previous meeting are approved.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.
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