Department Annual Report: briefing by Director General

Basic Education

01 November 2004
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EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
2 November 2004
DEPARTMENT ANNUAL REPORT: BRIEFING BY DIRECTOR GENERAL

Chairperson:
Mr S Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department of Education presentation
Department of Education Annual Report 2003/4 (will be available on Department website)
Department of Education website:
http://education.pwv.gov.za

SUMMARY
An overview of some of the Department's achievements in terms of the measurable objectives identified in the Budget Vote. This covered implementation of legislation passed during 2003/4; delivery against cluster targets; the Auditor General's report; and expenditure on the Expanded Public Works Programme.

Members found the focus highly selective in terms of objectives highlighted. There was discussion around enrolments in mathematics and science and importing scare skills; the transfer of school feeding schemes from the Department of Health, learners under trees, college enrolment and School Governing Bodies' ability to manage the tender system for school nutrition.

MINUTES
Mr T Mseleku, Director-General of Education, presented the Department of Education Annual Report (see his presentation document).

Discussion
Ms H Zille (DA) said the Department's main outcome was "reading, writing and calculating" at an acceptable level, and that, although South Africa spent a bigger percentage of its budget on education than most other countries but many of its learners did not attain that outcome. The South African Literacy Initiative (SANLI) had reached only 72% of a very small target (9605 learners) - why was the target so low?

She asked for numbers, not percentages in presentations because percentages could mask low attainment: how many more learners enrolled in maths and science in terms of numbers rather than a percentage?

As part of the Thuba Makhote project, schools had been built by employing local communities - what mechanisms were used to ensure that this did not degenerate into "party-political patronage"?

Mr Mseleku agreed that reading, writing and numeracy was one of the Department's most important objectives but there were others - life-long learning, for instance. Conducting a systemic evaluation to find out whether learners could write, read and count at an appropriate level was a related outcome that had been achieved and the Department would continue to carry these out. He felt that the fact that all learners were enrolled in schools was a significant achievement alone. If the Committee had wanted a detailed presentation on learner attainment up to Grade 6, that would have been a different presentation to the present one. He agreed that the SANLI project had targeted few learners, but SANLI was not the only mechanism for delivery of literacy. If the Committee had wanted a detailed report on literacy, that would also be a different report. He undertook to make the numbers of learners taking mathematics and science available to the Committee, but reminded them that the beginning point was a low base. The Department worked with representatives who were elected by communities (in the schools building project).

Mr G Boinamo (DA) asked for an indication of progress in textbook delivery and why the Department did not train more mathematics and science teachers as professionals were imported because these skills were lacking.

Mr Mseleku replied that the emphasis was on skills transference, that the country was selective about skills which needed to be imported and that this would have to continue until we are self-sufficient. Overall, textbooks were being delivered. The national Department was hindered slightly by the fact that Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) misreported on the process. He complained about publishers' unwillingness to deliver small quantities, or to make school customers wait until all schools had placed their orders.

An ANC Member asked what the majority of court cases against the Minister were about.

Mr Mseleku answered that nearly all court cases were against PEDs and covered a variety of issues such as appeals against expulsion and farmers reneging on agreements related to farm schools.

An ANC Member said that many teachers complained that continuous assessment and planning took time away from teaching and asked if the Department could simplify the processes to alleviate the problem.

Mr Mseleku replied that the Department was reviewing assessment for consistency and that contradictory circulars created additional problems, which the Department was also investigating.

Mr B Mosala ANC) said that the measurable objectives on Early Childhood Development (ECD) and Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) in the report gave details only of drafts of policy and discussion but no implementation. He asked what the problem was.

Mr Mseleku replied that the Department's role was to formulate policy and support ECD sites but that PEDs had failed to register sites. He said that SANLI was supposed to mobilise ABET and had not; there were explanations for the measurable objectives that had not been met. There were management problems within ABET that were being addressed.

Mr S Mayatula (ANC) asked which programmes the Swedish government funded because the Committee was meeting them the next day.

Mr Mseleku said that their focus was on inclusive education, human rights, values and democracy.

Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) asked if School Governing Bodies (SGBs) were capacitated to deal with the transfer of school feeding from the Department of Social Service to Education, to award tenders to local people if possible and to monitor whether the food was of acceptable quality.

Ms M Mentor (ANC) asked for details of the monitoring framework for conditional grants and why the Department did not procure computers from the State Information and Technology Agency (SITA). (The Auditor General had commented that conditional grants and unauthorised access to the system needed attention.) She asked why historically advantaged tertiary institutions' funding allocations were larger than those to historically disadvantaged ones. She noted that pens, pencils, rubbers and clay given to schools in kits were all imported and urged the Department to procure these locally.

Mr Mseleku said that when PEDs supplied financial reports late, the Department was in a dilemma because if they stopped funding until the reports were received, services would stop. The Auditor-General and Treasury had given contradictory instructions about whether to continue funding under those conditions. The problem was being discussed by all three parties. The original system had been purchased from the State Information and Technology Agency (SITA) but it had failed and been replaced with one from a different source. The funding formula had been changed to try to reduce the disparity of financial inputs between the two kinds of institutions. For instance, it was no longer based on research outputs.

Mr A Gaum (NNP) asked how the Department planned to increase the acceleration of enrolment in mathematics and science and the number of learners in Further Education and Training (FET) colleges. He noted that there had been no progress in drafting policy on language in education.

It was noted that by 2006, all learners in the country would be doing mathematics, or mathematical literacy. In preparation, educators would be trained in 2005. There was much growth already in the FET sector.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) asked for details of a Bill that reduced the powers of SGBs that he had read about in the media. He described tensions between nutrition service providers and principals who had formed their own consortiums, which closed off opportunities for civil society.

Mr L Greyling (ID) said that rural schools could be economic drivers and what plans there were to facilitate this potential. He asked what had caused delays in building schools in the Thuba Makote project - twenty were to be built, but only nine had been completed.

Mr Mseleku replied that the first priority of the nutrition programme was to ensure continuous service delivery during the transition period and this had been accomplished. The Department was looking at the various models of delivery that fostered economic development of communities. Mixed models could be used because conditions differed from node to node. An SMME [Small, Medium and Micro Enterprise] might be emerging from the community in which case the SMME should be awarded the contract if it provides some local employment. Some schools had vegetable gardens. Principals could not be involved in the awarding of tenders if they themselves were service providers. The delays in the Thuba Makote building project were due to the difficulties of working with local communities; sometimes nobody turned up for meetings, or people other than the ones who had been awarded the contracts arrived, and in general the process was less smooth. The Bill that Mr Mpontshane referred to was still being drafted and had not yet been circulated to the Committee.

Mr I Vadi (ANC) noted that there were 25 vacancies on the Department's organagram and asked what efforts were being made to fill them.

Mr Mseleku said that most of the posts were now filled but no suitable applicants for the post of Deputy Director of FET had been received and the task of finding one had been given to an agency.

Ms Mentor said that she was aware that unspent funds were occasionally itemised as "savings" and asked if the Department had adopted this practice. The answer was no.

Mr Mayatula commented that there were no trees in the Eastern Cape; did the Department interpret the President's injunction that there should be no learners under trees literally?

Mr Mseleku said that the first priority had been the eradication of the literal phenomenon of learners under trees and in mud huts in the current year. The next would be talking to PEDs about how they would use their infrastructure funds to eradicate learners in inadequate buildings.

The meeting was adjourned.

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