Department of Education Strategic Plan and Budget: briefing

Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


31 May 2004

Chairperson: Mr B Tolo (ANC) (Mpumalanga)

Document handed out:
Department of Education Strategic Plan, 2004 -2006

As the projector was not working, Mr Thami Mseleka, Department Director-General, gave an oral account of the Department's Strategic Plan and Budget Vote 15. He assured Members that the former was in keeping with the government's mandate and priorities listed by the President in his State of the Nation Address. Five broad areas were covered, namely poverty, skills development, education quality, health and education, and institutional capacity. Certain aspects of Budget Vote 15 were discussed. Questions from the floor related to issues of payment of school fees, teacher quality, incentives and performance assessment, the school nutrition programme and the promotion of mathematics, science and technology.

As this was the first formal meeting of this committee, the Chairperson asked Members to introduce themselves. Mr Mseleka decided to respond to queries on both the Strategic Plan and the Budget together. He clarified that this meeting was not to discuss the entire Education Budget (that amounted to R60 billion), but rather the Department of Education's budget of around R8 - R9 billion. References would however be made to provincial issues.

Mr Mseleka explained that the Strategic Plan had been produced after the Minister of Finance's Budget and thus tabled long before the term of the new government. The Department's Strategic Plan was in keeping with the Government's mandate and included priorities mentioned in the President's State of the Nation Address. These priorities were summarised on pages 7 - 11 of the Strategic Plan (2004 - 2006) and covered five broad areas: poverty, skills development, improvement of education quality, health and education, and institutional capacity. There were other ongoing issues not mentioned, such as subsidies paid to higher education institutions.

The Department of Educations's budget for 2004/1005 was R11.3 billion (2003/04 was R9.8 billion). However, R800 million had been channeled from the Department of Health for the Nutrition Programme for school children in poverty-stricken areas. Subsidies to higher education institutions amounted to R8.8.billion, R500 million was used for higher education restructuring, and R565 million for the NSFAS (National Student's Financial Aid Scheme). Once all the transfers had been made, the Department was left with R191 million for personnel costs and R184 million for operating costs. The implementation of the revised national curriculum, and the writing and provision of resources for this curriculum required R20 million and R40 million respectively. Donor funding of R93 million had been received for projects that could not be funded from the Department's coffers. The Department thus essentially access to a total of R500 million. The Department relied on the Provinces to provide the capacity to monitor the education system.

Mr J Thlagale (UCDP)(North West) stressed that one should not overlook the situation in the Provinces. He asked if, because the budget was prepared prior to the State President's address, whether it covered all the current national priorities.

Mr M.Thetjeng (ANC)(Limpopo) questioned teacher: learner ratios and was concerned that many teachers had to renew their contracts each year. He also asked about the situation of technology education in schools as the country needed such experts. Mr Thetjeng also commented about unqualified teachers and asked what links existed between the Education Department and the Science and Technology Ministry.

Mr Mseleka emphasised that the Committee was looking at passing a budget for the National Department when the Provinces themselves had not yet passed their education budgets. He asked the Committee to try to separate the Provincial concerns from the current Vote 15. All the State President's concerns had been prioritised in this budget.

Regarding the teacher: learner ratios, Mr Mseleka said that ideally they should reduce classroom: learner ratios as teachers were not being used to maximum benefit because of a shortage of classrooms. There was not a shortage of teachers and a top priority for the Department was to stabilise teacher: learner ratios.

The Director-General said that mathematics, science and technology were all compulsory in the intermediate to senior phases but not at the matriculation level. Regarding the training of teachers to improve teacher quality, he said that no teaching training was currently allowed during school hours. Ms G.Nyanda (present at the meeting) was the co-ordinator in the Department and would be able to provide further information.

Mr Mseleka said that there was very good co-operation between the Education and S&T Departments, and they were promoting research and programmes for teacher improvement together. They were also looking at an integrated approach to science funding and the rationalising of systems.

Mr T Setona (ANC)(Free State) asked whether any time frames had been set with regard to the schemes dealing with poverty issues. He was also concerned that not enough was being done for children with special needs. He further questioned what was being done to integrate black and white educational institutions to ensure a mixing of cultures.

Mr F.Bellvamo said that there was no mention of incentives for teachers and that salaries were extremely poor. He also asked what was being done to introduce agriculture in schools and wanted to know why there were not more colleges for less 'academic' students who needed more vocational training.

An ANC Member then asked if there were any structures linking the Department of Education with the private sector or other departments, such as Arts and Culture, to address the skills scarcity. The Member also queried whether performance measures for teachers had been introduced in the light of the earlier resistance from educators.

Ms J.Masilo (ANC)(North West) questioned how the "poorest of the poor" were defined with regard to the Department's initiative to provide free education for such people. What happened if subsidies ended up going to people who could afford to pay for schooling?

The Chairperson also asked whether local governments were co-operating with the Department in ensuring that new settlements were not established in areas with no schools or facilities for schools to be established. With regard to the "poorest of the poor" not paying school fees, he was concerned that this could lead to the polarisation of pupils. He also expressed concern about the implementation of the Outcomes-based Education (OBE) system and the many changes that made teachers insecure. He commented on the Department's policy on pupil pregnancy whereby a child could not be excluded from education because of pregnancy, saying that teachers were not equipped to deal with emergency situations in the classroom.

Mr M Sulliman (ANC)(Northern Cape) asked about the quality of food offered to children by the School Nutrition Programme.

The Director-General first replied that the poor food quality was a corruption problem, as a dietician had established adequate menus. Tenders had been awarded based on these nutritional requirements but then, in order to increase their profits, tenderers start providing poor quality meals. The answer was to empower local people and to have the community involved in providing the meals. Monitoring at the provincial level was also needed.

Mr Mseleka said the Department's policy with regard to pregnancy among pupils, it was a question of how the policy was managed. The policy stated that pupils could not be excluded because of pregnancy but negotiations should take place between parents, teachers and the school.

Mr Mseleka explained that the OBE was in a transitional stage and that changes would continue to occur. By 2006, the system would be fully implemented. Measures had been taken to assist teachers.

Regarding exemptions for school fees, Mr Mseleka said the Department had found this issue very difficult. The right to collect fees should not be taken away from schools but the exemption policy also had to be implemented where necessary.

The Director-General explained that in-migration was not easily anticipated and unplanned settlements were difficult for local authorities to control. Co-operation between his Department and local government was improving.

Mr Mseleka continued that the "poorest of the poor principle" referred to areas rather than individuals. In these areas, there would be exemptions for school fees but one might find that a doctor's child, for example, could attend such a school. This could be very good for the school. All children supported by pensioners or anyone on a grant (e.g. child or disability grants) should be exempt from paying school fees.

The Director-General said that performance assessments were being implemented. On the question of co-operation between other Departments and the private sector, Mr Mseleka said that there were a number of structures in place e.g. through SETAs, the Departments of Labour, Arts and Culture, and the Business Trust.

Mr Mseleka said that agriculture was part of the new school curriculum. The issue of special needs schools provided a massive challenge for the budget. At present, most of this was supported by donor funding but new avenues had to be explored. This was a major challenge.

The Director-General said that incentives and teacher's salaries had to be negotiated with Teachers' Unions. At present, teachers' salaries were comparable to other public service posts at the same level. Timeframes were documented in the Strategic Plan. Some were also referred to in the State President's speech.

Ms H.Lamoela (D.A)(Western Cape) asked a final question concerning resources for the OBE curriculum, the inability of seasonal workers to pay school fees, and the long distances that pupils in rural areas had to walk to school. Director-General agreed that these were all pressing concerns that had been prioritised.

Mr Thetjeng commented that he would appreciate feedback on the provinces from the Co-ordinating Officer in the Department.

The meeting was adjourned.


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