The Committee met on a virtual platform to consider its reports on its oversight visit to Mpumalanga and the petition on the Seekoegat school closure. It also considered and adopted the minutes of its meeting on 20 September.
Members corrected certain information in the Mpumalanga oversight report highlighting the plight of unemployed teachers and special schools, before formally adopting it.
When the petition on the Seekoegat closure was considered for adoption, the petitioner -- Ms M Sukers of the ACDP -- said that the Department had not presented the true facts of the situation to the Committee, and requested that a letter she had sent to the DBE, which highlighted the discrepancies, be included in the Committee's report. She listed 11 recommendations to deal with challenges surrounding the closure of small schools in rural areas.
The Committee accepted that the points raised by Ms Sukers were valid, but they did not form part of the report that had been tabled. The addition of totally new issues was not allowed in terms of the parliamentary process, and her proposals would have to be submitted to the DBE for further consideration.
The Chairperson gave the Members a brief recap of what had happened during the meeting on 20 September, when they had received a briefing from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on its quarterly reports. Copies of the draft minutes had been sent to the Members. Ms N Adoons (ANC) moved to adopt the minutes, and Mr T Letsie (ANC) seconded. The Chairperson declared the minutes adopted.
Mpumalanga oversight visit
The Chairperson directed the attention of Members to the draft Mpumalanga oversight visit report, which had taken place from 21 to 26 August. The Committee visited all the districts in the province, during which they monitored the state of admission and registration of learners, the utilisation of education assistants, the provision of learner teacher support materials (LTSM), early childhood development and progression, and the merging and rationalisation of small and unviable schools. The oversight had been done to oversee the state of schooling in the province. She said the draft report also detailed the Committee's observations of specific schools in several districts within the Mpumalanga district and the recommendations. The draft report had been sent to the Members, and she invited them to comment or make additions.
Mr Letsie said that when they were at DD Mabuza Comprehensive School, the Committee had interacted with unemployed teachers from the Nkhomazi area, who had raised issues with the Committee. They had asked the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to clarify allegations that the teachers had made regarding being locked out of employment due to their qualifications not being considered sufficient, particularly those who had graduated from general teaching courses and had not studied for a Bachelor degree or done a one-year Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). He said the Head of Department had assured them that she would investigate and get back to the Committee. Therefore the recommendation should be clearer -- that the Department would give the Committee feedback on unemployed teachers who were not Funza Lushaka graduates.
Ms Adoons said that the report should also highlight the challenges of the special schools and the need for the DBE to give these schools the support needed.
Ms D van der Walt (DA) said that the report should also reflect the challenges experienced by the special schools and how the Committee would make follow-up reports on how those challenges were being addressed.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said that the Committee had visited a special school, and one of the major challenges they had found was the ablution facilities. The distance between the toilets and the classrooms and the number of toilets was a concern. The Committee had recommended to the Department that they act swiftly. He asked whether the issue and recommendation had been captured.
Mr Letsie moved for the adoption of the report, noting the proposed amendments.
Mr Moroatshehla seconded the adoption.
The Chairperson said the report was adopted and would be tabled before Parliament.
Report of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education concerning the Petition from Hon M E Sukers MP regarding the Closure of the Seekoegat Primary School, referred to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education by the Speaker of the National Assembly for consideration
The Chairperson then moved to the petition filed by Ms M Sukers (ACDP), saying that the petition had first been sent to the Speaker, who had then referred the matter to the Portfolio Committee. The petition had been dealt with in a meeting on 3 May, when Ms Sukers presented it. She had indicated that she would not go through the petition as not all the Members were present in the meeting. This was followed by a submission by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), which had given a briefing on what had happened.
The Committee had engaged with the DBE and Ms Sukers, and thereafter summoned the Department to brief it on the rural education framework and the rationalisation of small and non-viable schools. On 6 September, the Committee engaged with the DBE, after which several recommendations were made, including that the WCED consider the registration of Seekoegat as an independent school until such time that policies and regulations could be amended to accommodate rural farm schools.
The Chairperson invited Members to make comments or corrections.
Ms Sukers said she wanted the report to include the contents of a letter in which she had highlighted the discrepancies between what the Department had presented to the Committee and the actual facts of the closure of the school. During the presentation, the Department had said that certain conditions had to be met when a school was closed. On the day that the Seekoegat School opened, no transport was provided for the learners. The Committee was on an oversight visit to the Free State when she received an urgent call to say that the WCED was going to fetch equipment at the school, and was coming to speak to the children, yet there was no transport. This was in January. She said the people who worked for the Department were not young people working as assistants, and they had not been spoken to in terms of further employment. She said that all the conditions outlined by the DBE on the facilitation of the closure had not been met in the case of Seekoegat. She added that the distance between the school and the towns meant parents could not easily travel or assist in disciplinary hearings with the school governing body (SGB) or school meetings.
Ms Sukers said that there was no transport plan in place because the officials from the WCED did not know the rural area, or that the road was in a bad condition. It had not considered the challenges beforehand, or before they met with the Committee . These officials went to fetch the SGB committee to try and get her to visit different farms and look at the transport plans. The journey was not completed because their vehicle got stuck. She asked that the report include the fact that no consultation was made concerning younger children or their parents.
She said that in the report, the Minister had stated that several micro schools in the Eastern and Western Cape used multi-grade teaching and information communication technology (ICT) services to deliver quality education at the same, or better, standard than independent micro schools. Seekoegat had a well-equipped computer room. She wondered why this option was not considered. The WCED did not appear to have a consultation process for learners, as the Children's Act required. She said that the failure to consult rendered the decision to close Seekoegat prima facie unconstitutional.
She therefore sought to include additional recommendations.
First, parliamentary legal services investigate the circumstances around the statements made to the Committee by the WCED that the school was closure had been made only in May of 2022, three days before the previous Member of the Executive Council (MEC) left office.
Second, that the matter be reported to the Public Protector for investigations into the circumstances around the official closure of the school by the ex-MEC, when statements had been made that it was closed in January.
Third, that the Seekoegat matter be referred to the Western Cape Childrens Commissioner for review, especially the legislation, regulation and policies in the Western Cape.
Fourth, the DBE report on the degree to which child participation formed part of the school closure recommendation.
Fifth, the Committee request the WCED to pioneer a process of independent mediation when a school was closed to reconcile and mediate the Department and stakeholders to make recommendations to the MEC.
Sixth that an appeal process be put in place where the MEC is present at the hearing when oral submissions are made. She said that the appeal process regarding Seekoegat had never been addressed in any replies.
Seventh, the WCED provide details of the process in which school closures were handled, and that it engages with the community to determine the best long term solution for Seekoegat, including a hybrid public school leading to reopening as a public school, and report to the Committee in three months with a solution. In the interim, the Department must provide subject matter experts and appoint educators on a short-term contract basis.
Eighth, the Seekoegat School be incorporated into a national school feeding programme.
Mr Moroatshehla interjected, stating that Ms Sukers was introducing new points compared to what had been last presented. He was afraid that the Committee would be forced to deliberate on those points when they did not have time, as they were supposed to log into another plenary meeting. He said that the report be adopted while noting the additions, or that they defer the adoption of the report to another meeting, when it would be fairly dealt with.
Ms Van der Walt proposed that the letter by Ms Sukers be circulated alongside the minutes and the report. She said that the school in question was not the only one in the country with challenges. The same challenges were happening in all provinces in very rural areas. She was concerned with the manner in which the Committee was dealing with the issue. When discussing a report, one could either agree with it or note one's reservations, and speak out when the debate took place. The new issues that were being added were not part of the report, and should be raised in a debate in the House. She was also concerned that several actions proposed by Ms Sukers, as valid as they might be, were not for the Committee to implement. It could not overrule system protocol and the processes that the Committee must follow.
Ms Sukers continued, stating that the Chairperson would make a ruling on the submissions of her fellow Members.
Her ninth recommendation was that a moratorium be placed on the schools in the Western Cape until constitutionally compliant procedures were in place, and that the WCED provide the Committee with all the documentation related to the closure of Seekoegat. If the Committee supported the debate on the closure of rural schools, the school closures should be included in the quarterly reports so the Portfolio Committee could conduct oversight over the school closure process.
Tenth, for the rural framework to be shared with the Committee and a detailed report to be prepared for the Portfolio Committee on why a framework was preferred to a policy, a green or white paper process. The DBE must provide the consultation process followed to the Portfolio Committee, especially concerning learners.
Lastly, a mediation and appeal process be recommended to all provinces, and serious consideration be given to a moratorium on school closures when stakeholders were opposed until all measures were in place, and it was possible to convene an expert panel on rural education, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs). She said that the issue of misleading the Committee was a serious one.
Mr B Nodada (DA) sought clarification on the correct procedure to be followed when dealing with a report which had been discussed and certain inputs made. He said that Ms Sukers seemed to be bringing new information and certain recommendations to be added to something that had not been discussed. The new matters had to be discussed before the Committee could resolve them. Regarding the report that had already been discussed and processed, and it was simply a matter of whether the contents had been captured correctly.
Ms Adoons said that new additions could not be made to the report, which had already been dealt with previously. The points being raised were valid, and should be referred to the Department or the Minister to respond. However, as a Committee, they needed to move on with the report as previously done with all other reports and petitions.
Ms Sukers responded that as an oversight committee, they had a constitutional duty to defend the poor. She admitted that the information was new, which came to light only after the facts needed to be questioned. She submitted that the Committee needed to consider its oversight duty regardless of feelings or political positions. New information had come to light, and there was a need to reopen the issue to allow the Committee to perform its constitutional mandate and hold the DBE accountable. She had brought the additions for no other reasons.
Mr Nodada responded that the rules of Parliament had to be followed. As much as the Members had taken an oath of office, they understood their responsibility. The rules of Parliament were clear on what was required. Once something had been tabled, discussed and recommendations made, it was either for the report to be adopted or not. If a Member felt it was not a true reflection of what happened, then points could be raised when the report was tabled before the House. Reopening the discussion on the report was not the correct process. Each Member was aware of the rules and the process that needed to be followed, and it would be problematic if it was not followed. The points being made were valid, and no one denied that, but the Committee needed to be on the right side of the law.
Mr Letsie said he seconded what Mr Nodada was saying. He suggested adopting the report, as the Committee had laboured enough on the issue. If Ms Sukers was dissatisfied with the contents, she should follow the correct process.
The Chairperson said that in her letter, Ms Sukers had used the word "minister," and she was unclear whether it meant the Western Cape MEC, who was sometimes referred to as such, or the national Minister. She asked Ms Sukers to correct her letter to clarify to which Minister it referred.
She agreed that some of the points raised, like speaking to the Public Protector, were not within the Committee's mandate. The public had to write letters to the Public Protector to deal with the issues of the community. She wanted the Members to be satisfied that they had done more than justice to deal with the petition of Ms Sukers. The Committee, who had not understood the rural policy, would ask the Department to clarify this. Perhaps Ms Sukers was not happy or satisfied with the Department's presentation, but the Committee could not change how it dealt with the issues in the report. The report had been tabled, and the Committee simply had to make corrections to the accuracy of what indeed had happened. The addition of totally new issues was not going to assist.
She invited Members to second the motion by Mr Letsie for the adoption of the report as is.
Mr B Yabo (ANC) seconded the adoption of the report.
The Chairperson marked the report as adopted.
Fourth term Committee programme
She informed the Committee that the programme for the fourth quarter was out, and among the issues they would deal with once they returned from recess would be attending to the submissions on the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill. Due to the high number of submissions they had received, Members might have to work overtime.
She invited Members to adopt the programme for the fourth term. Ms Adoons moved for the adoption, and Mr Letsie seconded.
The meeting was adjourned.
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