Impact of SONA on Basic Education Sector; BELA Bill: Update on processing of submissions & public hearings preparation, with Deputy Minister

Basic Education

21 February 2023
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


Video (Full meeting)

President Cyril Ramaphosa: 2023 State of the Nation Address (SONA)

In a virtual meeting, the Department of Basic Education briefed the Committee of Basic Education on the analysis, implications and impact of the President's SONA 2023. The Department reported that the SONA 2023 placed particular emphasis on Early Childhood Development (ECD). The Department is streamlining the requirements for ECD centres to access support and expanding vocational education and training systems through the three stream model. The Department has had challenges in implementing previous SONA commitments.

The Committee expressed concerns about several ongoing challenges at schools, such as ICT, infrastructure, sanitation (notably, the utilisation of pit toilets), and low reading literacy. Members noted the need for a comprehensive presentation on the ECD migration, which commenced in 2022, to report on the number of registered ECDs and cost implications. 

29 754 written submissions on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill have been received so far and are continuing to be processed. Several trends have emerged, such as the concern that the list of documents required prevents children from accessing Basic Education. Additionally, many were concerned that admission clause 4, section 5, is not feasible in poorly resourced schools. Concerns were also raised regarding the powers of School Governing Bodies (SGBs). The majority were of the view that SGBs are best placed to determine language and admission policies in the best interest of the community. Most submissions do not support the Bill.

Public hearings will commence on 24 February 2023 in Thohoyandou. 

Meeting report

Introductory remarks by the Deputy Minister of Basic Education

The Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr Reginah Mhaule, said that the Department is performing well overall. However, some challenges exist, such as accidents involving children in school transport and school bullying. 

The floods and aftermath in the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and KwaZulu-Natal provinces presented challenges to learners who needed help accessing their schools. The President has declared these areas disaster areas. These are the effects of climate change. The subsequent damages caused by the floods will have more implications for the Department's budget than the SONA 2023. The SONA 2023 needs to present new budgetary information for the Department, as it is consistent with Cabinet discussions. 

Input from the Department will guide specific matters such as early childhood development. The President will instruct the Department to provide the required directives. 

The financial year commences on 1 March 2023. All departments, including the Department of Basic Education, must incorporate SONA 2023 in the planning and budgetary processes before then. 

Briefing by the Department of Basic Education on the analysis, implications and impact of the President's SONA 2023

Mr Hubert Mweli, Director General (DG), and Dr Stephen Taylor, Economist and Education Researcher, Department of Basic Education, gave the presentation.

The Department reported that the basic education sector in South Africa had made significant progress towards transformation. There is now near-universal access to schooling – measured by the attendance rate amongst learners of the compulsory school-going age (7 to 15-year-olds). This has been above 98% ever since about 2009.                                                                                                     

The Department stated that the 2022 NSC results show the resilience of the system:

  • More candidate passes and bachelor passes have been recorded than ever before. 
  • NSC recipients doubled from 287,500 (1994) to 580,555.
  • Girls make up 56.3% of overall NSC passes.
  • 65.1% of learners qualify for Higher Education (472,171), with 3,235 progressed learners admitted to bachelor studies.
  • 95.9% of Correctional Services learners passed the NSC.
  • 439 learners with special needs were admitted to bachelor studies with a 79% pass rate.
  • Black African Grade 12 learners achieving engineering faculty requirements have tripled in 20 years, while it has remained stable for white learners.

Significance of SONA 2023

The Presidential pronouncements contribute to setting the key government priorities and deliverables. For 2023 this includes:

  • Emphasis on Early Childhood Development (ECD). The Department is streamlining the requirements for ECD centres to access support and enable thousands more to receive subsidies from government.
  • Expansion of vocational education and training systems through the implementation of the approved curriculum of the three stream model.

Progress against previous SONAs

The Department examined the progress of previous SONA commitments. Impact evaluation results at the end of Grade 7, conducted by the Early Grade Reading Study, show the sustained impact of Early Grade Reading Programme intervention. Implementation in 140 schools from 2021-2023 is ongoing, but planning and funding for expansion remain a challenge. Funding has been approved for the implementation of PSRIP 5 from Nov 2022 – Dec 2023. 1500 Foundation teachers and 70 Subject Advisers, 1500 teachers (Gr 4 - 7) and 70 Subject advisors in the Intersen phase, will be trained on PSRIP methodology (which aims to teach young children how to read for meaning). In line with the Framework for Skills for a Changing World, a Draft Coding and Robotics CAPS was finalised in 2020. It was supposed to be fully implemented by 2022, but it was not.

See the presentation for further details. 


Ms D Van Der Walt (DA) expressed concern over the school nutrition programme, especially considering the current economic situation. She asked what measures the Department would implement to address the growing need for this programme. Can the Department clarify the number of learners formally accommodated in ECD schools? What funds are available to accommodate the learners? Regarding infrastructure, she noted the challenges presented by the recent vandalism and the storm damage. She noted concerns about the need for more consistency in planning across the nine provinces. How will the Department achieve consistency in planning throughout the provinces, particularly in the poorer provinces?

Mr W Letsie (ANC) commended the Department for the positive achievements in the number and quality of the 2022 NSC results. He referred to the Committee's recent oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal. He expressed concern about the need for more implementation of the Committee's recommendations. He suggested that the Department develops a monitoring mechanism for provinces to ensure the effective implementation of the recommendations. Can the Department advise whether the SONA 2023 commitments are cost-effective? Are additional funds required?

Will schools in rural areas benefit from the rollout of ICT support? He asked the Department to provide a provincial breakdown of the number of schools included in the rollout. On the issue of sanitation, he asked how many schools are utilising pit toilets and what plans the Department has to address this issue.  Regarding service providers, he noted the challenges of the over-pricing of government services. He asked the Department to advise on the prevalence of this challenge in the building and renovation of schools. 

Ms N Adoons (ANC) congratulated the Department on its progress in achieving the 2030 National Development Plan (NDP) goals. She asked the Department to provide a comprehensive presentation on the ECD migration, which commenced in 2022, and the number of ECD schools registered for the migration. The continuous migration of people between provinces would provide challenges for infrastructure and the need for building new schools. What are the plans to support learners who still need to write their matric examinations?

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) noted the improvements in functional schools in the rural context. He reiterated the need for a comprehensive presentation and progress report on the ECD migration and budget implications. 

Mr B Nodada (DA) expressed concern about the low literacy levels and the budget constraints surrounding this issue. What are the strategies to improve the funding for financial literacy programmes, such as building community libraries? He recommended that the Department considers including library buildings as part of annual targets. The annual budget should prioritise "Meaning for Reading" programmes in the ECD phase and provide programmes in the learners' first language. 

The Chairperson noted the stability and consistency of the Department’s progress and highlighted the commitment of the officials. She emphasised the success of the school nutrition programme, particularly in poorer provinces and communities. In Maths and Sciences schools, she noted the importance of resources to sustain the schools. The Department needs to prioritise the eradication of pit toilets in schools. 

Department of Basic Education response

Deputy Minister Mhaule noted the inputs on reading literacy. She suggested that the Committee provides a comprehensive proposal incorporating the inputs for the Department's action. There is a need for an ECD human resource strategy and skills training for public and private sector schools.  

Mr Mweli said that Maths and Science schools should be fully resourced, as this reflects the importance of such schools. He noted the advantages of virtual learning methods. On the national school nutrition programme, he agreed it is essential for disadvantaged learners. The overall achievements of the Department do not mean the challenges should be overlooked. The Department will continue to strive towards improvements to achieve the goals of the NDP.

The ECD Census provides statistics to guide the Department on the number of learners participating in the programmes. According to Statistics SA, 5.3 million learners 0-5 years old are required to attend ECD programmes. There are 1.2 million learners who are enrolled in these programmes. The Department's study, Thrive by Five, informs that only 35% of ECD learners benefit. This means that 65% do not experience cognitive development due to these programmes. He stated that the Department would provide a comprehensive presentation on the mitigation plans to address this challenge. 

The Department launched an investigation into learners from dysfunctional and underperforming schools in 2005 to understand the reasons for the challenges and to create solutions. He noted that since 2005, there had been several improvements in these former underperforming schools. Regarding the infrastructure of ECD, he reported challenges in effectively using the grants allocated for the infrastructure facilities. He stated that the Department would urgently address this matter.

Mr Seliki Tlhabane, Chief Director: Mathematics, Science and Technology & Curriculum Enhancement Programmes, said that 78% of schools are connected to reading school programmes. Cabinet recently approved the connection of 18 000 schools to a 10 MB per second Wi-Fi system. However, the connectivity is used to run the administration systems. In practice, only 10% of these schools are fully connected and use it for teaching and learning. 

Dr Mamiki Maboya, Head: Curriculum Policy, Support and Monitoring, said the Department uses early-grade learning assessments. This is a diagnostic tool that tracks reading proficiency. Leaners have regressed since the COVID-19 pandemic in home and secondary languages. The Department will prioritise reading interventions and develop a reading proficiency tool to track all learning phases. The tool will allow the teachers to report on the challenges experienced by learners, and it will incorporate existing benchmarks in programmes such as Reading for Meaning and early reading assessments.  

Dr Taylor said that the Department appointed more than 800 Reading Champions. Further, a research project based in Limpopo will report on using teaching assistants to support foundation phase literacy. 

Mr Mweli clarified that pit toilets would not be eradicated. The focus is on the eradication of unsafe and inappropriate pit toilets. The Department has limited options in water-scarce areas. 

Deputy Minister Mhaule provided the exact numbers of migrated ECD schools. When ECD was transferred to the Department on 1 April 2022, the Department absorbed approximately 42 000 centres. 1.6 million learners are in the centres and only some of these learners receive government funding. Approximately 27% are supported by government, and the rest by private sector funding. The Department continues to manage the early stage of the ECD transfer, and the primary question is what type of ECD will be achieved. 

She further added that the issue of pit toilets is a challenging matter. It requires an all-of-sector approach and intervention. There are also ongoing infrastructure challenges, which is why 60% of the Education Infrastructure Grant’s (EIG) budget is allocated for maintenance. She recommended that the Department presents a comprehensive presentation on ECD and the cost implications at the next Committee meeting. 

Further questions from the Committee

Mr Nodada asked the Department to clarify whether the research benchmarks include examinations. Is this the best tool to assess a learner's knowledge and personal and professional development? Regarding quality passes on bachelor examinations, is the criteria set by the Department a fair assessment of learners' capability to access university studies? He asked the Department to prioritise the effective building of schools to yield improved and cost-adequate infrastructure. On ECD, he recommended that the Department explore the school voucher system. 

Mr Mweli responded that the career line functions must encourage quality bachelor passes. He agreed that the Department should prioritise effective utilisation of funding for infrastructure and foster a culture of doing more with less. The Minister and Deputy Ministers emphasise community models to stimulate local economic growth. The Minister and Deputy Ministers had scheduled a planning meeting on 24 February 2023. The issue of infrastructure will be discussed. 

On the ECD voucher system, the Department takes note of the recommendation. He added that the Department is considering a model based on the recommendations of the two surveys. The Department is developing a curriculum competency framework for South Africa. Standardised formal assessment must be one of the assessment forms. Other forms of assessments, such as practical project options, will be considered. 

The Chairperson thanked the Department for the briefing. 

Draft Report: Written Submissions on BELA Bill

Ms Portia Mbude-Mutshekwane, Committee Content Advisor, provided an updated draft report on critical issues raised in the written submissions made by the public on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill [B2 – 2022]. 

Interested and affected parties that made written submissions include, amongst others, parent associations, SGBs (School Governing Bodies), educator trade unions, the home education sector, learners organisations, principal associations, legal firms, civil society, community-based structures and NGOs. The Bill generated interest from the education sector and the public submitted written submissions to add value to this legislation. The BELA Bill impacts the future of the education sector, and the submissions and recommendations remain pivotal towards its drafting. 

The submissions were categorised into lengthy submissions and short email submissions. Eight themes emerged: 

  • Access to Basic Education.
  • Compulsory Learner Attendance.
  • Language. 
  • Governance and Professional Management of Public Schools.
  • Budget and Finances of Public Schools.
  • Home Education.
  • Independent Schools. 
  • Educators. 

The number of written submissions received by the Committee was broken down as follows: 

  • Email Submissions: 17 452
  • Google form submissions: 549
  • Video Submission: 1
  • Hard Copies (flyers, submission forms): 11 522 
  • Postcards: 230

The number of received written submissions to date came to 29 754.

The BELA Bill Public hearings were conducted at Parliament. Oral submissions were also extended to the public. The Committee noted the public's views, and some views have been included in processing the BELA Bill. The oral submissions will be covered in a separate report.

Based on the observation of the written submissions, the analysis notes the following: 

  • The issue of undocumented learners remained one of the issues arising out of the written submissions. 
  • The concern from submitters is that the list of documents required prevents children from accessing Basic Education. 
  • Most emails have the exact wording which suggests that the same group of people advocate for similar issues, for example, the emails referring to SGB powers, language policy and unregulated home education.
  • As per the statistics collated, most submissions do not support the Bill. However, Members are representatives of the people; they are the ones who can determine the outcome of the BELA Bill.  
  • In some instances, the concerns projected a negative view critiquing the present government without substantiating the facts. In particular, some critical voices do not appreciate improvements made in the Quintile 1-3 public schools.  
  • Some of the submissions from lobby groups hinge on admission clause 4, section 5. They put forward that the clause is not feasible in poorly resourced schools such as Quantile 1-3 considering the issue of capacity, issue of undocumented learners and other reasons why parents keep learners at home. 
  • Concerns were raised regarding the powers of SGBs; the majority are of the view that SGBs are best placed to determine language and policy in the best interest of the community. 
  • The centralised procurement clause should be withdrawn as SGBs have the capacity and are accountable.

Public hearings will commence on 24 February 2023 in Thohoyandou.

See the report for further details. 


Mr Nodada noted a disparity in the number of submissions. What was the exact total number of submissions received? He raised concerns about grouping submissions with similar wording, despite the submissions being derived from different stakeholders. He asked whether the 11 000 new submissions were grouped or individual submissions. The Committee should not utilise the weekend of 31 March 2023 to 3 April 2023 for the public hearings due to the Easter public holiday. He requested that an alternative date be considered. 

Ms Mbude-Mutshekwane responded that the hand-delivered submissions were prioritised during the research period. In the previous Committee meeting held on 1 November 2022, she reported that approximately 18 000 submissions were received. The number of submissions changed as the process was ongoing. She said there were approximately 17 452 emails, 549 Google forms, 1 video, 11 522 hard copies, and 230 postcards. 

The Chairperson clarified that approximately 30 000 submissions were received. Not all submissions received were processed, and this is ongoing. 

Ms Adoons noted that the process of capturing the written submissions is tedious. There are challenges to the capacity to capture the submissions. Therefore, the Committee decided to commence with oral submissions during this process. She noted that there are 9000 written submissions remaining. She asked whether there would be sufficient time to complete the process before the Committee presented the Bill to Parliament for adoption. 

The Chairperson responded that all Committees are challenged to process all the submissions. Thus, Committees often review the trend of submissions and assess the number of submissions they can process. She disagreed with the request to alter the dates for the public hearing from the weekend of 31 March 2023 to 3 April 2023. 

Mr Moroatshehla agreed that the Committee adheres to the programme dates for the public hearings. 

Ms Van Der Walt said that the request to consider an alternative date was made to maintain Parliament's programme. She noted that this specific weekend date is the commencement of the constituency period. She asked the Chairperson to consider deferring the dates to the following week. 

The Chairperson maintained that the dates would remain as scheduled.

The meeting was adjourned.

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