The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education convened in a virtual meeting to receive an updated status report by the North West and Free State Provincial Education Departments on the implementation of its recommendations following a Committee oversight visit to the provinces in January 2022. However, it decided not to allow the Free State Department to present its report, as it had been submitted only on the morning of the meeting, and Members did not have enough time to go through the report and prepare its response.
The Committee was briefed on the progress made in the North West province at schools within the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District, and schools in the Ngaka Modiri Molema District. It heard that the provincial Department of Education had engaged with Treasury, which had advised them on the companies that could help them deal with issues related to the demolition of asbestos structures in the province.
The Department was struggling with its compensation of employees budget but had been fortunate to receive an additional budget from Treasury to augment it. Regarding the provision of information communication technology (ICT), the Committee heard that the Department had procured state of the art assistive devices for all types of prioritised difficulties in learning, including the blind, the deaf and those regarded as having severe and profound intellectual disability. The ICT hardware and software was currently being customised for the learners to be able to use as soon as possible. The gadgets had also been populated with Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS)-related materials. The Department had also procured tablets for the mainstream further education and training (FET) learners and laptops for the educators.
The Committee appreciated the efforts made by the Provincial Education Department in implementing its recommendations but was concerned about the timeframes for the implementation of some of the recommendations. They wanted to know the timelines set by the Department for filling vacant posts for professional staff, as well as the number of the posts that needed to be filled. The Committee also wanted to know how the Department would ensure the delivery of water, as well as the timelines for doing so at the North West School for the Deaf.
The Department said that in most areas where it could not provide water to schools, water was provided through boreholes to ensure that all the schools had access to water. The boreholes were sunk because there was no other option for water provision. The North West was a mining province and in some instances, the water that was found underground was not suitable for human consumption. In instances where there was piping from municipalities, schools were supplied with water and in other instances, schools were supplied water through the delivery of water tanks.
The Chairperson welcomed Members of the Portfolio Committee, the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, and delegations from the Department of Basic Education (DBE), North West Provincial Education Department, and Free State Provincial Education Department. She said that although Committee Members might have felt tired because of the busy day that they had had, having attended the plenary, the meeting with the two provincial departments was equally important.
Late submission of Free State presentation
Dr Reginah Mhaule, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, said that the DBE and provincial departments were well-represented in the meeting and were ready to give their respective briefings to the Committee.
The Chairperson said that the presentation from the Free State Provincial Education Department had been submitted only on the morning of the meeting, and the Committee could not allow its researchers to go through it. She said that none of the Members of the Portfolio Committee had sufficient time to go through the presentation. She asked the Members to deliberate on how to move forward.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said that it would not be fair to have the Free State adjudicate and advise on the presentation, because it was the Committee that had identified findings and the Committee’s expectation was that the two provinces would showcase how they had responded to the findings. It would not be fair for the Members to discuss the presentation without having fully prepared, and proposed that the Free State Provincial Education Department be given another opportunity in another meeting.
Deputy Minister Mhaule said that there was a bit of confusion because the Free State Department had submitted a report to the DBE to feed some information well in time, but they had not sent the report to the Portfolio Committee as the North West Department had done. The report that was submitted by the Free State Department to the DBE was not fully responding to the issues and recommendations that were raised by the Portfolio Committee, as it needed more information to be added by the DBE. There was a misunderstanding between the DBE and the Free State Department which had led to them submitting their report to the Portfolio Committee only on the day of the meeting, and the DBE had received the complete report only the night before the meeting.
Mr E Siwela (ANC) said that when departments were asked to provide reports or presentations, it was imperative that they provide them on time. He supported Mr Moroatshehla’s suggestion that the Free State Department should be invited at another time so that the Committee could also go through their report and get enough time to prepare.
Mr B Yabo (ANC) said that the Committee usually expected to receive reports or presentations at least three to four days before the meetings, and receiving the report from the Free State Department on the morning of the meeting did not give them enough time to process the content. He suggested that the Committee be given adequate time to process the content of the report before it could make any comments on it.
Mr Tate Makgoe, MEC for Education in the Free State, apologised to the Portfolio Committee for the confusion between the Free State Department and the DBE. He asked that they be given time to rectify the matter and allow the Committee enough time to go through the report.
Mr B Nodada (DA) supported the points made by the other Members of the Portfolio Committee and added that it was important that the Committee receive reports in time so that it could do thorough research on what was in the reports to inform themselves and prepare their questions.
The Chairperson said that the Free State Department would probably have a chance to present their report when the Eastern Cape and KZN Provincial Education Departments presented their reports to the Committee.
Report on implementation of Committee recommendations following oversight visit to North West
Ms Mmaphefo Matsemela, MEC for Education in the North West, said the report would show the status and implementation of the Committee's recommendations, in line with the sector priorities of basic education. The Department was trying to implement these priorities through the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) and the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF).
Mr Mzwandile Mathews, Acting Administrator: North West Department of Education, said that they had covered all the schools that the Portfolio Committee visited the last time they were in the province. They had realigned their planning and delivery modes to be able to account to the Committee on the matters that it had raised. Some of the directives received from the Committee were work-in-progress, and the Department was interacting with critical stakeholders within the province on a continuous basis. They did follow-ups in some of the schools that were visited by the Portfolio Committee through telephonic, physical, and virtual meetings.
He said the Chairperson had implored him to prioritise Onkgopotse Tiro Comprehensive School, and the Department had physically gone to the school and tried to address the matters raised by the Committee and other matters. In certain situations, they had had to consult the legislation because there was some encroaching of functions between the school management team and the school governing body (SGB) in relation to deficiencies in the SGB in executing their legal powers.
Dr Shadrack Mvula, Acting Deputy Director-General: Districts, North West Department of Education presented the status report on the implementation of recommendations of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education following its oversight visit to the North West Province in January 2022. He presented the actions taken by the Department in schools within the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District, as well as schools in the Ngaka Modiri Molema District.
In the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District, one of the schools that were visited was the North West School for the Deaf, and one of the Committee’s recommendations was that the Department should engage the Department of Health to consider prospective doctors/therapists that must be placed at special needs schools to do their practical year and provide a much needed service to schools within adequate timeframes, as special schools were a priority.
As part of its response, the Department was in consultation with the Department of Health to address the question of rotational visits by their professionals to the North West Secondary School for the Deaf. The processes for the filling of vacant posts of professional staff had been prioritised for the 2022/23 financial year, as the compensation of employees (CoE) budget had been approved. As an interim measure, their consultation with the Department of Health would continue.
At Maquassi Hills Secondary School, one of the Portfolio Committee’s recommendations was that the Department should review the building infrastructure and ensure there were more brick-and-mortar permanent structures, and expedite the move to ensure brick-and-mortar structures to replace temporary structures within adequate timeframes. In response, the Department had delivered ten mobile classrooms in April 2022, and a project of brick-and-mortar classrooms would start in the second quarter of the current financial year.
In the Ngaka Modiri Molema District, one of the schools visited by the Portfolio Committee was the Retlametswe Special School, and one of its recommendations had been that the Department must ensure that the school acquired the necessary extra classrooms, including six spacious standardised classrooms and five specialised classrooms, a needlework centre, physio room, dining hall and kitchen, consumer studies room, as well as a computer laboratory within adequate timeframes. In response, the Department had ensured that the District priority list was receiving attention, and this was done to address the challenge of overcrowding and the shortage of classrooms.
At the Onkgopotse Tiro Comprehensive School, one of the Portfolio Committee’s recommendations was that the Department must ensure that the new bus required was included in the school's business plan and that there was a budget for the bus. In response, the Department had ensured that the procurement process of a new minibus was at an advanced stage while in the meantime, the district temporarily loaned the school a minibus until its new one was procured. A meeting was held with the principal of the school on 19 April to provide guidance on the development of a business plan for the 2022/23 financial year, and a system had also been put in place to review and validate the implementation of the school’s business plan.
MEC Matsemela thanked the DBE for giving the North West Department of Education a team of administrators, as the Department had stabilised under their leadership. She said that if their projects had not been affected by the Preferential Procurement Regulations (PPR) of Treasury, several projects could have unfolded in a convincing way. The PPR would be looked at broadly by government to see if it would not prevent some projects from moving forward.
Some of the schools included in the report used waterborne or ventilated improved pit (VIP) toilets, which were often mistaken for pit latrine toilets. The waterborne toilets were approved in terms of the norms and standards, and the Department had been advised accordingly by the Department of Water and Sanitation that they could use this type of sanitation, especially in the far-flung areas where there was water scarcity.
Regarding the asbestos issue, she said that the Department had engaged with Treasury, and it had advised them on the companies that could help them deal with issues related to the demolition of asbestos structures in the province. Once the asbestos demolition process started, there would be no communities around the schools so the process unfolded safely.
Mr Mathews said that in terms of executive committee (Exco) decisions, scholar transport in the province was provided by the Department of Transport (DoT), and there was a court judgment which had kept the scholar transport process in limbo, as the DoT now had to provide scholar transport on a monthly basis. This had caused challenges for learners who were identified as needing to use this transport. The Department continued to pay invoices for the scholar transport, but this arrangement remained a big challenge.
The Department was struggling with its CoE budget, but it was fortunate that it had received an additional budget from Treasury to augment it. The shortage of specialised and promotional posts, and the vacancies that were a norm in the province, were going to be a thing of the past. All the promotional and specialised posts, as well as circulars for those posts, had been signed for those posts to be advertised.
Regarding information communication technology (ICT) provision, he said that in the special schools, the Department had procured state of the art assistive devices for all types of prioritised difficulties affecting learning, including the blind and the deaf, as well as those who were regarded as having severe and profound intellectual disability. There were four schools at which learners would share the gadgets and use enrolments within the schools to prioritise those items.
The ICT hardware and software was currently being customised for the learners to be able to use it as soon as possible. The gadgets had been populated with Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS)-related materials, and the Department had also procured tablets for the mainstream further education and training (FET) learners, as well as laptops for the educators.
Mr Moroatshehla said that what was important was that the North West Department had attempted to implement several recommendations of the Committee. Implementation of some of them would take time because they were process-related matters and with such matters, there was a single common denominator, which was the inability to put timeframes for projects. He wanted to know the timelines set by the Department for filling vacant posts for professional staff, as well as the number of the posts that needed to be filled.
He said that there were water challenges in the majority of the schools in the province, and wanted to know how the Department would ensure the delivery of water and the timelines within which they intended to do so. On the scholar transport challenge, he wanted to know the longest distance in kilometres currently travelled by learners to schools, as well as the interim measures currently used by the Department to address the scholar transport issue while awaiting the response from the DoT.
Mr T Letsie (ANC) said that he was impressed with the progress made by the Department in the province since the Committee’s visit in January, as there had been several challenges. He also asked for the timelines of filling vacant posts for professional staff, which professional jobs were vacant in the North West School for the Deaf, and the number of those jobs that had been filled. He also wanted to know if appropriately qualified and experienced prospects had been found. He asked how the Department would ensure the delivery of water, as well as the timelines for doing so, at the North West School for the Deaf.
Regarding Maquassi Hills Secondary School, he wanted to know if the posts of principal and two Departmental Heads have been filled, considering that the school had been provided with its final post provisioning norm (PPN). If the posts had not been filled, he wanted to know the timelines of when they expected to do so. He asked the Department to provide the Committee with the memo that they had used to request scholar transport from the DoT.
On Letlhasedi Combined Farm School, he asked for a progress report on the Department’s engagement with the DoT on the transport challenges. On Ikalafeng Special School, he wanted to know if the school had procured Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM) and whether the school had any shortages in this regard. He also wanted to know the timelines for the filling of the vacant school-based promotional posts, and when the Department would conclude the promotions.
On Nkagisang Primary School, he asked about the progress that had been made with the DoT regarding the request for additional transport for the school, as well as the committed increase of transport. He also wanted to know how often the Health and Safety District official of the Department held the workshops to address gangsterism, as well as the progress of those workshops and their targets.
He wanted to know how the Department was monitoring the Tiang Primary School’s follow-up with the company that installed E-Learning connectivity in the school to ensure Wi-Fi functionality. He also wanted to know if the Department had any plans to develop a library at the school and if there were any programmes in place to support that.
On Cocekani Technical High, he wanted to know the actions undertaken by the Department to address the zoning issues in the school's admission policy. When would the revised admission policy be completed?
Mr Siwela asked how long the Department was going to wait for the processing of the appointments of identified prospective candidates for the vacant positions in Ikalafeng Special School. Regarding Nkagisang Primary School, how would the Department address the mine social environmental issue by the end of June 2022 if they had not appointed a quantity surveyor yet?
The Chairperson asked how the provincial Department dealt with the cost implications of sourcing funding for most of the issues that were raised by the Committee, including school renovations, cutting grass, etc. She also wanted to know how long it took the Department to resolve some of the issues. She said that the Makgwe Primary School faced a lot of issues between the SGB and the school management team, and the Committee had left that school without having resolved some of the issues that were raised during its oversight visit.
Response by North West Provincial Education Department
MEC Matsemela said that all the office-based promotional posts, including circuit managers and advisors, had been advertised and appointments had been made. On school-based promotional posts, the Head of the Department of Education in North West had signed off a document to the Accounting Officer to sign off on the advertisements for the posts last week.
She said that in most areas where the Department could not provide water to schools, water was provided through boreholes to ensure that all the schools had access to water. The Department had learnt a hard lesson from the North West School for the Deaf when four pupils from the school had lost their lives in 2014. The Department had decided to upgrade its security presence at all the schools and ensured adequate provision of resources for the learners in special schools.
Mr Mathews said that there was load shedding in the North West province, their connection had been cut off and they could not hear all the inputs from the Portfolio Committee. They would ask for help from the Committee Secretary to share the meeting recording so that they could respond to the Committee in writing within seven days.
Regarding water provision for schools, he said that boreholes were sunk because there was no other option for water provision. The North West was a mining province and in some instances, the water that was found underground was not suitable for human consumption. In instances where there was piping from municipalities, schools were supplied water and in other instances, schools were supplied with water through delivery of water tanks.
Regarding the timelines for appointments, he said it was difficult for the Department to set timelines when they put out advertisements for vacant posts. The advertisements had not been posted on the intended date because there was a problem with the CoE budget, and the Department could not advertise nor do anything relating to the vacant posts until the money was released by Provincial Treasury.
He said he and the Head of Department (HOD) were provided with a long list of vacant posts dating as far back as 2019, and they had instructed that an audit must be done on whether those posts were still substantive and whether there was a need for those posts to be advertised. In some cases, they had decided to readvertise and managed to get the people that were recommended as incumbents to take up the posts. These included psychologists, therapists and language interpreters. In some instances, when offers were made by the Department, some of the people had already taken up positions elsewhere -- either at a similar level or in other positions.
He said that there were a lot of schools that faced challenges similar to Makgwe Primary School, where the relationship between governance and management seemed to be severely broken. The Department did its level best to try to normalise the situation within the schools in the province. Part of the tension between governance and management in these schools came from a decision that had been taken by the province to assign all schools as section 21 schools. Some school principals wanted to control everything, including powers that they did not have in law and there were tensions about who controlled the finances of the schools. Dealing with the situation in Makgwe Primary School was a process that required time.
The Chairperson agreed to allow the North West Provincial Education Department to respond to the outstanding questions of the Committee in writing.
She thanked the Deputy Minister and the delegations from the North West and Free State Provincial Education Departments for their availability and participation in the meeting and allowed them to exit.
The Committee considered and adopted the minutes dated 10 and 17 May 2022, with no amendments.
The meeting was adjourned.
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