Department Strategic Plan: briefing

Basic Education

21 February 2005
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Meeting report

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
22 February 2005
DEPARTMENT STRATEGIC PLAN: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Professor S Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department of Education Strategic Plan 2005-2009: PowerPoint presentation

SUMMARY
The Department Acting Director-General briefed the Committee on their Strategic Plan for 2005-2009. Much of the Members’ discussion centred on the performance award policy for educators and the ‘no fees schools’ policy implementation. The Committee also raised issues that the Department had not highlighted but which needed addressing, such as student demonstrations at higher education institutions, education funding in general and the ongoing lack of capacity among educators.

MINUTES

Department Strategic Plan
Mr Duncan Hindle (Acting Director-General) presented the Department of Education’s Strategic Plan for 2005 The plans of the Department drew inspiration from the Constitution and the Government’s Programme of Action. The Department outlined its programmes in each of the government priority clusters arranged into, among others, international relations, peace and security; justice, crime prevention and security; and the social cluster. He expanded on the strategy for the performance award policy and skills development. There was also a strong emphasis on the continued monitoring and evaluation of equity programmes in the Further Education and Training (FET) sector.

Discussion
Mr I Vadi (ANC) asked whether the Department had achieved co-ordination between national and provincial initiatives He enquired whether the Department was getting value for money from its large number of employees, and what it was doing about the lack of jobs for matriculants. He also asked the Department to comment on the high cost of education as the fees issue was unresolved.

Mr Hindle said there were no easy answers to these questions since the Department could not break down its plans into four neat categories. The Department was currently working on uprooting the disjuncture between the provincial and the national plans.

On fee increases, Mr Hindle said that without the legal basis to act, the Department had encouraged parents to be more active in interrogating school budgets. When it came to Higher Education, the Department had less control and said the Minister had negotiated with institutions that they had to ensure that any fee increases were necessary and reasonable.

On unemployment, Mr Hindle alerted the Committee that unemployment was not an issue the Department alone could deal with but needed a nationwide effort.

Ms P Tyobeka (Deputy Director-General: Quality Promotion and Development) added that as the presentation had highlighted, the Department had a major focus on monitoring and evaluation. This would deal with many of the concerns that Mr Vadi had raised from employee performance to unemployment.

Mr Patel (Acting Deputy Director for Systems Planning) alerted that Committee that after review, three pieces of policy and legislation needed amendment. These were the Education Amendment Bill, which was at the heart of ‘no fees’ schools, the Exemptions Regulations and the Schools Funding Norms. Mr Patel said that while the Amendment Bill and the Exemptions Regulations had gone public earlier, the Schools Funding Norms had gone public in December. He proposed a presentation of the amended norms in the next few months.

Mr B Mthembu (ANC) questioned the Department on the controversial nature of both the whole school evaluation system and the individual evaluation policy and whether resistance to the policies had been resolved.

Mr S Montsitsi (ANC) asked the Department what it meant by "improved funding for equity colleges" in its presentation. He sought frankness on the issue of funding, as he was aware that many demonstrations would be taking place in institutions around the issue of financial exclusion. He also asked the Department how it would update the School Register of Needs given the fact the provinces had proved unreliable in providing satisfactory information on the infrastructure needs of schools.

Ms H Zille (DA) asked the Department whether it had the capacity to carry out its plans given that most of the plans outlined in the presentation could only be fulfilled through good officials. She commented the DA was in full support of the distribution of resources, but research was coming in which showed that in fact resources are not matched by improved quality, which was the Minister’s chief objective.

Ms Zille said there was a need to look at the movement of students towards the quality schools going in the opposite direction to the movement of funds and the Department would have to ensure the anomaly was not entrenched in the system. She stated that while there was a continuous focus on opening the doors to learning, the Department needed to also emphasis the learning as well.

On performance management, Mr Hindle stated that two systems were in place, the institutional and the individual policy. The institutional system dealt with the functioning of the whole school, evaluating learning, learning outcomes, administration and governance while the individual system ran parallel to the institutional system and dealt with officials themselves. He said that by the end of 2005 evaluation of all teachers would have taken place. The Committee was assured that most of the confrontations and debates that had existed had been overcome and there was support for both policies.

On the issue of Equity Funding, Mr Hindle said the Department was trying to move away from lump sum funding to institutions towards funding dependent on the programmes offered and the students the institutions attracted. He hoped the Minister of Finance would be generous and was optimistic the FET sector would be getting increased attention.

In response to the question on demonstrations at institutions Mr Hindle stated that it had to be accepted that the Freedom Charter did not promise free higher education. While the Department did not abandon students he stated the Department supported students as far as possible and in the end there had to be a commitment towards fee payments. He added that he had some doubts about the spontaneity of these demonstrations as evidence suggested there were various interests at work behind the uprising. However, he had been encouraged by the national student leadership which had distanced itself from certain irresponsible acts which often took place during the demonstrations.

On the School Register of Need (SRN), Mr Hindle explained the Department did not rely on the provincial reports for these. The previous SRNs had been done by an external independent agency which sent researchers to each institution to record the information. He also sought to clarify the misconception that the provinces were deliberately misleading the Department which was not the case.

On capacity, Mr Hindle accepted the fact the Department had many limitations. Among these were vacant posts, the lack of skills on both a national and provincial level and the inadequacy of some of the systems in place. He noted that capacity had to continue to be built.

On resources, Mr Hindle said the Department was unable to claim there was a direct relationship between resources and quality and to suggest no relationship at all would be equally fallacious. However he stated the Department would not use a blanket system in spreading all resources equally with little impact on the institutions. Rather, he said the Department would target those colleges where it believed the conditions of sustainable success were present.

Mr Mayatula (ANC) stated the issue of the ‘no fees’ schools was a political question which arose from experiences on the ground where the learners were denied access to schools literally because of no money. He stated that under such circumstances a political decision was made on how to get round the problem. He alluded to an example given by the Premier of Gauteng that it would be absurd if the government gave a poor child R170 and then turned around to say pay school fees. It was unfortunate the policy produced unintended consequences and the government could not abandon the needs of children because of a concern that it would lead to children going to the schools funded by those with resources.

Mr A Gaum (NNP) asked whether the FET band would be introduced in 2006 and what was being done about training the educators.

Mr J Maake (ANC) questioned the Department elaborately on what it meant in its presentation when it spoke about trade agreements on education.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) asked whether the Department had an effective labour relations unit that could prevent the number of cases that were taken to court. He also sought clarity on the proposals by the provinces to allow examination questions to be answered in a home language.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) questioned the Department on the Umsobomvu Fund, whether it would directly fund FET students and if the Committee would get more transparency from the body and its procedures of selection. He also sought to find out if the membership of the organisation would involve stakeholders from the Department.

Mr D Montsisti (ANC) asked whether business had come on-board in funding education. He asked the Department if it had considered the fact that registration fees would possibly exclude many students from the process.

Ms H Zille asked the Department whether there was any chance of the Committee getting a funding model on norms and standards where funds would follow individual students rather than institutions.

Mr Hindle responded that the FET curriculum would be introduced in 2006, at the moment educators were already in training and the Minister had already appointed an independent Implementation Readiness Task Team. The task team comprised of people outside the Department who continuously advised the Minister on the state of readiness of FET implementation.

On the language policy question, Mr Hindle stated the main issue was the constitutional imperative for promoting indigenous languages. He said the evidence regrettably showed that few students were opting for it and where they did, schools prevented them from doing so.

The question linked to the matric issue where the Department had made past exam papers available in all indigenous languages. He said the Department had recognised that while the content of exam papers changed, the format and style had a pattern which allowed students to work through them in a comfortable home language. It became easier the moment you saw a concept in your home language even though you were using a second language. Mr Hindle stated that legally students had the right to seek tuition and examination in their home language, but requests were not being made regularly.

On literacy and whether there were new approaches, Mr Hindle stated there would be an emphasis on partnership given that there was a wealth of organisations providing Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) which the Department had not worked with closely enough.

In response to the question of incapacity, Mr Hindle replied there was an Incapacity Code. However two elements remained to make that code a reality. One was political will and the other was the recognition that even with an Incapacity Code or Dismissal code implementation needed sustained administrative effort. The reality was that sometimes people were not prepared to follow through to ensure that all the necessary steps were taken.

Mr Benade (Chief Financial Officer) added that on the issue of the Umsobomvu Fund, the Department was not sure how much had been paid out but the commitments had been made. He stated that colleges had already begun developing and delivering the programmes they had identified.

Mr Patel responded to the question on trade agreements and stated that these concerned management of donor funding in terms of international bilateral agreements. Cabinet had decided that government would use a three-legged strategy consisting of equity, employment, and trade in services generally.

Mr Patel was aware of the research to which Ms Zille referred, but disagreed on the interpretation by Professor Van der Berg in measuring the levering of the learner-educator ratio as a form of direct output. On the issue of a system of funding following learners, it would be an ideal situation if the Department had the capacity to deal with the means testing of about 11 million learners. Research had shown that SA schools generally were doing fairly badly compared to schools in other countries. It was therefore their plan to look at all school learners, and not just those who attended under-resourced schools.

The Chairperson told the Department the Committee would be visiting Ghana and Mali in July or August and would appreciate help from the Department to prepare for the visit. He offered the Committee’s assistance in achieving its goals.

The meeting was adjourned.

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