Draft Rural Education Policy (school closure, rationalisation, mergers): DBE briefing

Basic Education

06 September 2022
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


Draft Rural Education Policy

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefed the Committee in a virtual meeting on the draft national framework on rural education, including the process of rationalising and merging small and non-viable rural schools.

The Department reported that the framework was no longer a draft, and had been officially adopted as the national framework on rural education. It outlined the five pillars of the framework, stating that it was all based on ensuring that learners received a quality education.

It described the process of rationalising schools, which involved the closure and/or merger of small non-viable rural schools. It gave an assurance that such decisions were not taken lightly, pointing out that there were statutory procedures that it had to follow before closing a school.

The Committee raised questions about the budgetary allocations of the rural directorate and the Department's plan to incentivise teachers to go and teach in rural schools. It questioned whether a socio-economic impact assessment had been done on the rural education framework.

Members criticised the Department for the lack of detailed information on the progress of the rationalisation process. They asked about the financial impact of merging fee and non-fee schools on the parents of the affected children. They also wanted to know exactly how many schools in the country had been earmarked for merger and closure, and where they were located. Doubts were expressed as to whether the framework was capable of implementation.

The Department responded that it did not close or merge schools on a whim, and that the whole process took a long time. It said the South African Schools Act required that children be admitted to public schools, regardless of their ability to pay the fees. It promised to obtain detailed information regarding the rationalisation process from the provinces, and report back to the Committee

Meeting report

The Chairperson said the day's meeting was necessitated following the filing and hearing of a petition tabled by Ms M Sukers (ADFP). Ms Sukers, alongside members of the community, had appeared before the Committee which had listened to them, and it had been concluded that the Department would come back before the Committee and brief them on the rural education policy, together with the rationalisation involved. This was to help the Committee understand the policy better itself, what it entailed and how it was to be implemented.

Draft rural education policy

Dr Phumzile Langa, Director, Rural Education, Department of Basic Education (DBE), said that her presentation would give the Committee a broad overview of how the Department was supporting rural schools and the need for a framework, and would also explain the transition from a framework to a policy.

She said that rural schools had always been a part of the educational system, so provision needed to be made to support them and develop a national framework for rural education. The purpose of the framework was to give guidance to the development context through specific relevant and sustainable programmes for improving the quality of education in rural schools. The framework made provision for quality education, and assisted the Department from a one-size-fits-all, to a more relevant programme.

On 15 December 2017, the draft rural education policy was gazetted for public comment, after which several organisations submitted inputs. The Council of Education (CEM) Ministers had recommended that the rural education policy be converted into the rural education framework. The policy, developed after consultation and research, had been taken back to the provinces, which had agreed with the CEMs' earlier recommendation.

On 7 July this year, the draft framework was presented to the CEM and was approved. There was no draft framework -- rather, a national framework for rural education that had been officially approved. The content of the framework had not changed from what it was when it was termed a policy.

She said the framework had five pillars.

The first was access and inclusivity, where they had made an endeavour to first define what a rural area was within the South African context, as well as the classification of the rural schools. The definition and classification of rural areas were important for implementing the framework. The classification of these schools was informed by a set of indicators that included location, physical terrain and educational facilities and teacher-learner ratio.

The second pillar was mobilising rural communities, which had become important because the Department had noticed a disjuncture between the education and the community around it. To deal with that, the framework proposed, among others, the recruitment of educational assistants (EAs) to provide support in curricular and administrative activities and mobilise the school community in development initiatives.

The third pillar was harnessing the existing curriculum to better respond to the needs of the community. To offer quality learning, the Department intended to formalise agriculture as a teaching subject throughout the system, and enhance the teaching of arts, culture and sports by placing value on indigenous activities and resources inherent to the rural environment.

The fourth pillar was the recruitment, retention and development of teachers, which was a challenge in rural areas because of the distance between locations, poor infrastructure and service delivery. The framework proposed the creation of a teacher incentive package that went beyond finance, and included teacher development, career progression, accommodation and other essential services.

The final pillar was support for schools in unique circumstances, such as small primary schools with 135 learners that offered multigrade teaching. The framework recommends that a minimum number of teachers be determined for primary and secondary schools, as well as using EAs to support teachers in these schools. The framework also sets out the role and responsibilities of the DBE from the national level to the school Level.

Dr Langa said that the conclusion of the draft policy had taken a while because they wanted to conduct proper consultation and research to develop a good framework. This included piloting projects like the Rural Education Assistants Project, which involved 188 schools in Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The project aimed to enhance the livelihoods of unemployed young people in rural communities, piloting the use of EAs to improve the quality of education in rural schools.

Mr James Ndlebe, Director: Education Management and Governance Development, DBE, said the merger and closure of public schools was provided for under the South African Schools Act. The process was also regulated by the regulations on the minimum uniform norms and standards for public school infrastructure, which provide the minimum capacity of learners in primary and secondary schools. The rationalisation of schools also meant aligning the misaligned schools to ensure that there were only two types of schools in the country -- primary and secondary schools. The aim of the rationalisation and closure of schools was to promote access to schools, improve the quality of education, and expedite the resources of schools.

The primary objective of the rationalisation of schools was to carefully plan and systematically execute processes to ensure continued universal access by learners to quality education in a rational, cost-effective manner. Rationalisation was not a mechanism for reducing schools, or a means for addressing poor performance. The Department had a constitutional mandate that included the provision of quality education to learners, and one of the concerns surrounding these small schools was the quality of education. The quality of teaching and learning was compromised by multigrade teaching and teacher overload.

The factors that the Department considered when they wanted to merge or close schools included the number of learners, curriculum considerations, accessibility of schools, as well as the school infrastructure. The Act provided the conditions under which the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) could decide that the closure of schools must happen. The process in itself took about three years, within which the MEC would be studying the trends of that small non-viable school. The closure of a school could not happen unless consultations had been held and written notices issued to all the relevant interested parties.

He said that to strengthen the team, the Director-General (DG) had established a steering committee headed by the Deputy DG. The project committee was composed of members of various officials within the DBE, and these committees were replicated at the provincial level. The mandate of the committees included the provision of a platform to discuss, address and align policy matters related to the rationalisation of the closure and merger of schools, as well as to monitor the progress of the closure and merger of schools at the provincial level.

The role of DBE was to ensure the establishment of provincial task teams, provide training to provincial task teams, monitor compliance with the laid down procedures, and address appeals to the Minister.

The biggest issues that had arisen during the rationalisation process was the lack of consultation, and even where there had been consultation but agreement between the community and the Department was not reached, the Department went ahead to close the schools for the benefit of the children.

He said that the Department had provided the Committee with the terms of reference for the framework, guidelines for the rationalisation and realignment of public schools, as well as the standard parameters for the closure and merger of micro public schools, which provided further details regarding the rationalisation and the issues that had been considered.


Ms M Sukers (ACDP) said that the presentation was an excellent example of a situation where what was happening on the ground and what the DBE presented to the Committee differed. A petition that dealt with a micro-school in the Western Cape had been brought before the Committee. The checklist as presented by Mr Ndlebe, on what procedures the Department was supposed to follow, had not been followed in this case.

She said that it was the duty of the Committee, as Members of Parliament, to ensure that the constitutional rights of the rural communities were being upheld. These rural communities had a constitutional right to determine where their children went to school and how they were being educated. The issue was serious, and the Committee needed to ensure that the Department was held accountable.

One of the most egregious things that had happened with the school in the Western Cape was that the Committee had been informed that the school had been gazetted closed -- but the closure had been gazetted in May of 2022, which was following the appearance of the provincial department before the Committee. She found it unacceptable for the Department to behave in such a manner, and then to ask the Committee to consider its presentations. The Committee had not been provided with any statistics or figures that indicated the seriousness of the matter at hand. She had written to the Department through the Chairperson asking for the figures which it had not addressed in the presentation. Without these figures, the presentations were meaningless. She observed from the presentation that the lowest number of schools scheduled for closure were in the Western Cape. She asked for a list of the specific schools by name.

She said that according to the DBE's presentation, a total of 3 255 schools were slated for closure. The Department had also not provided the number of workers who would be retrenched due to the closure. She gave the example of the school in the Western Cape, which was being kept open due to protests. She said that community donations were feeding the children at the moment.

Ms Sukers asked the Committee to take note of what the Department presented and what was actually happening on the ground, and to remember its responsibility to keep the Department accountable for what it says.

She was concerned by the lack of oversight by Parliament over rural schooling, and the lack of transparency or provision of relevant information by the DBE and the provincial education departments. She was using the school in the Western Cape as a case study for the Committee to see in real time the consequences of rushed rationalisation.

She that one of the reasons parents of the children in the Western Cape school had been unable to agree with the Department was because it did not have a transport plan. She asked the Committee to consider the emotional and social impact of the closure and/or merger of schools on the communities if the learners were allowed to see their parents only once every month, or when the Department was able to provide transport.

Ms Sukers asked for the status of the written questions forwarded to the Department. The DBE needed to clarify when the Portfolio Committee had been informed of the decision to move from a policy to a framework, and exactly when this had been indicated to the public who had provided their input. She also asked whether a socio-economic impact assessment had been done as required by Parliament when any policy was released for public comment. What was the nature of the research that the Department had mentioned during the presentation? She noted that there was no research in the DBE research repository, and no research plan in its plans up to 2023. She wanted to see the research done on the health, social and psychological impact which the closure of these schools with historical value to these communities, would have on the learners.

She wondered how many schools in urban areas had extra mural studies to ensure quality education. She asked for the framework to be provided to the Committee so that they knew how many schools were being targeted for closure, and a follow-up meeting once the Department provided the Committee with the facts and figures of the framework. She asked whether any alternatives to the closure of schools were being developed. She had first-hand experience of what it meant for communities when schools were being closed. She also had experience with how provincial education departments were not following laid down procedures that violated the constitutional rights of parents and children. The school in the Western Cape was one of those schools. It had been closed before the notice in the Gazette.

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said that the presentation by the Department had been very well-oiled. It was one thing to have such a very smart presentation, but another to have a very different situation on the ground. The Committee should not be oblivious of that fact.

He said that it was the responsibility of the Department of Education in every country to provide quality public education to its own children, because education was at the core of any civilisation or development in any given country. The principle of rationalisation within the Department was indispensable, as it was unavoidable. This was why the Department which had been summoned to present its report on the whole issue of mergers and/or closure of the small and unviable schools. He insisted that this was a formidable necessity.

Research statistics have proven that small and micro schools made teaching and learning quite difficult, if not impossible, because the teacher-to-student ratio made education an impossible task to implement. Mr Moroatshehla wondered whether the modus operandi was the challenge which all the stakeholders had to face, without side-lining each other.

In his opinion, the Department was on course, but it was possible that the implementers on the ground might be problematic. Instead of pointing fingers at the Department, the Committee should help it come up with viable ways to make the process of addressing rationalisation, such as the merging of schools, a possibility. The extent to which the Department was consulting ought to be brought into the spotlight, because consultation was a relative term which might mean different things to different people. The manner of consultation must be checked closely and corrected if found to be lacking.

When discussing transport, he questioned whether the officials on the ground did so in the true sense of the word, as the lives of many children had been lost because of unroadworthy vehicles.

He said that aside from coming up with good and/or viable policies, there was a need to monitor what was actually happening on the ground. He pleaded with the Committee to assist the Department in doing things correctly, since the process of rationalisation was unavoidable. The presentation was good, and that all it needed was the support of the Portfolio Committee so that the provision of basic education to the children could be a viable objective.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) said that the community consultation process was problematic for her, because the voices of the poor communities were not considered. This had been echoed and demonstrated by Mr Ndlebe, who had said that if the communities refused the merger of schools, the DBE just overlooked the opinions of the communities and continued with the process of closing or merging the schools.

She asked what kind of support the district departments offered to learners and their parents moving from rural or farm schools to a new school.

She also found it problematic that the Department was recommending the review of the poverty score of merged schools, following the merging of fee and non-fee schools to determine the ranking. There was a possibility that the new ranking would create a financial disadvantage for the learners and their parents due to the fees.

Dr Thembekwayo asked what the Department did to recover lost or stolen tablets that had been provided to learners. She was concerned that many communities would be coming to report their dissatisfaction to the Committee over how the rationalisation process was being done.

She commented that from the arrogant way the provincial department responded to the poor community, it should be expected that the same arrogant responses would come from the very same presenters in protecting what they had presented before the Committee today. She advised the DBE first to get the consultation process right and ensure that the interests of the communities were taken into account.

Ms N Mashabela (EFF) said that it was not clear how the implementation of the pillars of the framework presented by the Department would be monitored and administered. She sought clarity on how the framework differed from the norms and standards the Department largely failed to implement, especially in rural areas/schools.

She said there were many young people in rural areas who were qualified and yet unemployed. What strategies had the Department put in place to use these young people? How much of the budget was allocated to the rural directorate, as the funding allocation should indicate the seriousness of the matter?

Mr B Nodada (DA) asked if there were any linkages to other departments, such as the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, on how best to ensure the framework was effective from the DBE's side.

How did the Department plan to encourage people to participate in the framework if the budget kept shrinking, particularly for the rural areas, or was there a plan to ensure that this framework was implementable?

He was of the opinion that what was needed was not a centralised system or policy, but rather a policy that would be unique to the circumstances of each rural area. There were different types of rural areas, each with its own set of circumstances. He referred the Department to other African countries which had had notable success with education, but did not draft generic policies.

He did not think the way the framework had been drafted would make any difference. He asked whether there had been oversight done on the merged schools to ascertain whether learners and teachers were happy to ensure full integration of the rationalisation process. If such oversight had been done, he asked the Department to provide the results of the oversight.

He noted that there were certain appeal mechanisms in the Education Act providing for appeals to the MEC regarding the rationalisation of a school. He asked whether such appeals had been audited by the different provincial Departments or through an independent school inspectorate, especially in the case of schools that had been moved to areas that could inconvenience the learners or parents.

He wanted to know what happened where the rationalisation process was flawed, but implemented anyway. Did the Department track those schools and where were they located?

He wondered whether it would be better to decentralise the generic or centralised policies which had an overarching view that education must be controlled from a high point, but with no real impact on the ground where it was supposed to be implemented.

He said that collaboration models, such as public-private partnerships, actually worked for what the Department termed as small non-viable schools where those schools could be adopted by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), private organisations or even private schools that wanted to merge because they served that farming community. It was time to look at decentralised models to ensure that learners were provided with quality education. Some of these small or non-viable schools did perform well, and were able to provide quality education.

He said that education was not a commodity where it was first centralised and rationalised solely based on zero or unsubstantiated research that small non-viable schools were unable to provide quality schooling, as put forward by Mr Moroatshehla. It was high time for the Department to think outside the box in terms of how they developed their policy or framework to ensure that the policies were functional and give quality education and the kind of support needed.

The problem lay where students were forced to go to schools which would not provide quality education. He suggested that the Committee exercise oversight at some schools that the Department was touting as successful pilot projects using the EAs, as it was not clear whether this was real. There was also a need to ascertain whether the rural framework shared today would reap positive outcomes on the ground.

He did not believe that centralised committees at a national and provincial level would make any difference in ensuring that learners got a quality education. It was just forcing small children in rural areas into attending poor-quality public schools, as they had no choice. The burden was now on the Department to build school infrastructure through collaborating with public-private partnerships.

Ms N Adoons (ANC) said she shared her colleague's sentiments regarding the presentation. She wanted to know how the budget was allocated or distributed. What was required or looked into to ensure that the budget was appropriated freely to all the schools?

She wanted the Department to share the level of consultation that took place when the rationalisation policy was applied. It seemed like the DBE's understanding of what consultation should entail differed from what was happening on the ground. She wondered whether there was a yardstick to measure whether consultation had actually occurred.

Concerning Ms Sukers' petition, she did not get an indication from the Department as to whether they had been involved during the whole endeavour of closing down the school. She wondered what the role of traditional leaders was in the framework, as they were critical stakeholders.

She said the merger and closure of some schools had greatly improved the newly merged schools, such as those they had visited in the North West during oversight.

Ms D van der Walt (DA) asked that a clear report on the rationalisation in each province be provided, as the Western Cape was one of nine provinces. The report should detail when the process had started in each province, how many schools were identified and how many were dealt with. She also wanted to know who the Department was benchmarking against, and if it was taking successes from other countries and implementing them locally. She agreed that the traditional leaders were important, but at times the same traditional leaders were using the rationalisation process to hang on to power instead of looking after the education of the children.

The Chairperson asked the Department to disclose the most likely challenges they would face in implementing the rural teacher incentives. She also asked what budget had been allocated to implementing the rural education policy, and what the implication of policy versus framework was.

She suggested the Department should provide a hyperlink to all its policies for easy access.

DBE's response

Mr Hubert Mweli, DG, DBE, said the framework was a policy. He explained that governance in the country was divided into three spheres; every sphere was decentralised and its roles defined. The national sphere's role was to develop policy, and monitor and support. The provincial sphere's role was to provide core education and ensure guidance up to school level. What the DBE did was set out in the constitution, including the development of a framework policy, otherwise South Africans -- being a litigious society -- would have taken the Department to court if they felt aggrieved that the DBE had overstepped its legal bounds. The Department therefore develops its policies within the confines of the law.

He said that the South African Schools Act regulated the merger and closure of schools, and specific provisions dealt with the issue. The real test was whether the Department had complied with the Act at all levels. It was the DBE that ensured that the schools were complying with the Act. He requested the Committee to look at the facts on the table and allow those facts to guide everyone involved as to whether the process had been followed.

Ms Simone Geyer, DDG: Delivery and Support, DBE, explained that the DG was saying the Department was guided by legislation policy, and the Department used this as a yardstick for all the work that the DBE did.

Regarding the budget allocation, there was no categorisation of what goes to the rural or urban schools. However, they were guided by the legislation and policy referred to by the DG. The Department was also guided by the norms and standards that influence how schools receive staffing, which was related to the number of learners. These norms and standards cut across the allocation of budgets within the entire system, and all schools in the provinces used these policies.

The number of learners and teachers determined the funds allocated to a school. There was a minimum number of teachers and learners for the school. If the schools had fewer than the required number, that would put them at a disadvantage because they had only one teacher that would have to teach all the grades. This negatively impacted the quality of teaching, the learners' performance, and ultimately the opportunities the learners would get if they had to go to university or have job skills.

Mr Ndlebe said that most concerns seemed to revolve around the school closed in the Western Cape. He said that the school in question had 19 learners who were scattered from grades 1 to 6. The teacher:learner ratio for a primary school was 1:40, which meant that the 19 learners had been allocated one teacher, who was expected to fill multiple roles. The Department had found that it was not workable for one teacher to teach 19 children in different grades. For the better part of the day, the children were not receiving tuition, and there was no way that they would have been able to cover the prescribed curriculum.

If one was to look at the budget, the cost of running the school would outweigh the cost of closing it. Even if they had the parents pay fees, this would not have covered the school's costs. That was the result of the research and consultation he believed had taken place. The provincial office had indicated that they had met with the school governing body (SGB). There were minutes to that effect which were not questioned. However, that meeting took place on 18 September 2020. On 22 October, the provincial department met with the community members. The DBE had been unable to reach a consensus with the SGB or the community. He affirmed that consultations did indeed take place, but the answer that had come from the community and SGB was that they did not agree with the Department's plan to close the school. What was for consideration was how the Department went about ensuring that the children received quality education, when in actuality they did not. The policy allowed the Department to identify a place where the children could be relocated, which had been done. Therefore, as far as the Department was concerned, a challenge had been identified of a small non-viable school, with no quality education. The DBE had created an environment where the children could be taken.

Although the consultations were unsuccessful, the MEC ultimately had to decide that the children needed to receive a quality education. He understood that the community and SGB had disagreed, but a decision had to be made for the sake of the children. Those were the issues that had affected that school.

He said it had become difficult even to provide nutrition to small children, because of issues such as budgetary constraints.

Mr Ndlebe said a decision needed to be made on the social and psychological impact versus the learning the children were receiving. Children were spending a lot of time in school when one teacher focused on a group of learners and could not teach all of them. He reiterated that a minimum number was permissible for a teacher to handle within the multigrades so that all the children could benefit.

Regarding the questions that Ms Sukers had sent to the Department, these were centred on the provincial competencies, where the Department needed to go back to the provinces and obtain the information. He assured the Committee that the DBE would provide the information requested once it was obtained. It was true that the Department was responsible for providing quality public education but under certain circumstances rationalisation was unavoidable, as Mr Moroatshehla. The Department had to try and ensure that learners got a quality education.

He said the Department would look into the issue of consultations and the manner in which they had been conducted.

He said the affordability of fees after a merger of fee and non-fee schools was a non-issue, and had nothing to do with the learners. The South African Schools Act required that children must be admitted to any school irrespective of their ability to pay fees, so issues of school fees should not feature in the merger or closing of schools in rural areas or townships.

Mr Ndlebe said that oversight had been done on either merged or closed schools, especially those that had appealed or showed dissatisfaction around the issue. A report could be prepared for the Committee to provide information on the process of rationalisation and its effects.

The DBE did not close and merge schools at all costs. A misaligned school in a particular village that was not connected to any other did not mean that the Department would close all those schools and merge them. It would first try to find ways to resolve those issues before deciding to merge or close the schools.

Regarding budget allocations, he said that the smaller the school, the more difficult it would be to find a budget allocation to cover all the expenses that were supposed to be there.

Traditional leaders were key to the culture of teaching and learning in a particular area, so if the schools were going to be affected, the provincial Departments were supposed to consult them and indicate what was going on. Most of the small non-viable schools were established by the traditional leaders, particularly in the Eastern Cape, therefore the Department could not go ahead with closure without involving the traditional leaders. He agreed that traditional leaders needed to be consulted for the benefit of the learners, as that was what the consultation should be about.

The report that Ms Van der Walt requested was the same one Ms Sukers had requested. The Department would go to the provinces and collect the requested information and a report would be brought before the Committee to indicate how far it had progressed with the rationalisation process, as well as the numbers and challenges.

Ms Geyer said that the Department had a policy on rural incentives, which defined exactly how one identified the rural centres and where they were located. When the policy was drafted, it looked at specific aspects and possible difficulties in rural areas, largely to get teachers to teach specific subjects in these areas through rural incentives. They were not blanket incentives applied across the board.

On providing access to the Department's policies through a hyperlink, she said that the DBE's policies were all on its website, and suggested that Members visit the site and click on the links. She confirmed that once the information was gathered from the provinces, it would be shared with the Committee.

Mr Mweli said that the term 'rural incentives' was a colloquialism, and its real name was  'Incentives to teach in areas that were difficult to attract teachers.' The incentive was not confined to rural areas, but also extended to townships. The notion of rural incentives had been borrowed from the Department of Health, but in education, it was a policy to attract teachers to areas that found it very difficult to do so.

He said that the policy had been scrapped. The reason for the withdrawal of the policy was that there was no funding to implement it. The policy had huge benefits, but it had become difficult to implement over time because of budget cuts and other priorities. The second reason was the uneven implementation within provinces, and the Council of Ministers had unanimously decided that the policy must be withdrawn.

He asserted that the merger and closure of schools was done in the learner's best interests. If the Committee discovered that a wrong decision had been made somehow, they were free to challenge it in the Committee and get the Department to demonstrate that due process had been followed. He insisted that the decision had been made in the best interest of the learners, as explained by Mr Ndlebe.

He said many schools were unable to provide quality education, with some offering no real education. The Department had data indicating where the mergers and closures had worked. It had established merged farm schools in the North West, where it had closed and merged some of the small and non-viable schools, which had shown a big improvement after the merger.

He said it was other countries which were benchmarking against South Africa. They were interested in knowing how South Africa had been able to consolidate schools in rural areas, and about the entire rationalisation procedure.

Further discussion

Ms Sukers said that by standing by the information provided by the Western Cape Educational Directorate, the DBE was complicit in a substantially unfair process to a poor community. She would not get into the details, because the issue would be dealt with in the coming week and Mr Ndlebe would again provide the Committee with the details he had given in the meeting, as she understood the school in the Western Cape was on the Committee's programme.

She said there was an assumption before the Committee that if the process of closure of the school was unfair, South Africa's society was a litigious one that would take people to court. She said the poor could not afford to sue, and the DBE at both the national and provincial level knew that. This was why they were behaving in such a manner, violating the constitutional rights of the poor community all the while policies were being dumped on them. She asked the Committee to note where oversight seemed to be falling flat, because the Department had been given a month's notice of today's meeting. The Department had not given any figures or details they had asked for, and the Committee should not allow such behaviour.

Ms Sukers said the questions the Department was choosing to answer spoke a lot about the Department itself. There had been no response to the socio-economic impact assessment. The Committee needed to take note of the Department's failure to answer the detailed questions and its lack of preparation to give the Committee what it had asked for.

On the issue of framework versus policy, she said the Department failed to follow the process in terms of the Cabinet. As far as the school in the Western Cape was concerned, the Department had failed to take the necessary action and was part of the problem. She was trusting that the DBE in the next meeting would be able to defend its actions or failures as far as that school was concerned. As far she was concerned, it had mirrored the provincial Department's responses when confronted with the same issue.

Mr Nodada said the Committee was aware of the different spheres of government and that policy-making was the responsibility of the national government. However, it was important to rethink how the policies were put together so that they were implementable and tangible and made a real impact on the ground. From his reading of the framework, he did not foresee it being workable in certain places because the circumstances were different for each area.

Regarding the unanimous agreement amongst education ministers that they must scrap the rural incentive policy because it was unbalanced in terms of implementation, he said it was not clear whether the problem was the policy itself, or its implementation. This was evident when decision-making was centralised, and the people in control might not know the impact on the ground. Hundreds of teachers had reached out to him because they wanted to quit their jobs, as they did not have an incentive to teach in certain areas.

Mr Nodada said that if a policy or framework was incapable of being implemented on the ground and unable to provide good quality education for children in rural areas, it was useless. If the Department was going to take away the very thing that was supposed to provide the children with quality education, then what was the point of it developing any documents for implementation because it would not be tangible? These were the matters that needed to be reconsidered when deciding on policies or frameworks.

He asked if there was an alternative to scrapping the policy on rural incentives to see what kind of innovations could be introduced into the policy-making process that would be able to improve it, rather than saying that there was legislation and go through with it because it existed, with no mechanism to define how to best to refine these laws to ensure they worked in the different areas.

Outside of the topics discussed in the meeting, perhaps the Committee should invite the Department of Home Affairs, which had made a decision about some permits given to foreigners, especially Zimbabweans, which had brought in skilled teachers who were no longer allowed to teach. He said this would give the DBE a way forward to deal with the loss of skills.

DBE's response

Mr Mweli denied saying that South Africa was a litigious society. He clarified that he had said that South African society was litigious when it came to opposing the abuse of power.

He asked the Committee to await the meeting earlier referred to by Ms Sukers. The Department was willing to admit wrongdoing regarding the school in the Western Cape, but the facts before the Department were as presented. He admitted that there might be a difference in how the facts looked at, but the DBE had done its best, given the facts. He confirmed that the explanation given by Mr Ndlebe was what had transpired.

In response to Mr Nodada, he said his view was that the policies allowed for diversity, but the Department was also obliged to comply and consult on every policy issued. The Department did follow the laid down procedures of government for doing assessments on the policy, or even legislation.

A lack of uniformity in implementing the policy legislation could also result in the Department being sued. Flexibility and diversity was not a justifiable reason for not complying with the law, but if flexibility and diversity were allowed to take the local contexts into account, he agreed with Mr Nodada. The Department did try to make sure that they accommodated such local contexts.

Despite the difference in opinions, he did respect the views of the Committee, and the Department would do its best to address the matters to the best of its ability. He reiterated that the interest of the learner was always paramount.

The Chairperson said that the Members had raised dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Department had made its responses. She asked Members to make suggestions on what the Department must do to better respond to questions raised.

Committee minutes

The Committee adopted minutes dated 14 June, 28 June and 30 August 2022.

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education for the Fourth Quarterly Report on the Performance of the Department of Basic Education in Meeting its Strategic Objectives for 2021/22, 

 The report was adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.

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