Department of Education Annual Report: briefing

Basic Education

24 October 2005
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EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
25 October 2005
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ANNUAL REPORT: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Prof. S M Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department of Education Annual Report 2004/5
Department of Education presentation

SUMMARY
A delegation from the Department of Education presented its Annual Report to the Committee and responded to questions posed by Members. Major concerns raised were the quality of teachers and the efficacy of the National School Nutrition Programme. It was questioned whether the Department was adequately monitoring these issues.

MINUTES
Mr P Benade, Department of Education Chief Financial Officer and acting Director-General (D-G), presented the Department of Education Annual Report (see presentation document). He was aided by Ms N Badsha, Deputy Director-General (DD-G) of Higher Education; Mr G Martin, Director of Physical Resources; Mr M Matthews, Deputy Director-General of Quality Promotion and Development; Mr S Mlambo, Chief Director for Strategic Planning; and Ms N Nduna-Watson, Director of Further Education and Training (FET).

Discussion
Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) noted that there had been many changes in Department personnel and asked if it had been transforming to be more inclusive of race and gender.

Ms M Mentor (ANC) said it was disappointing that the D-G and that more DD-Gs were not present and questioned how seriously they took the issue of communicating with the Committee. She also noted her dissatisfaction with the presentation because it had no executive summary. Enrolment levels at higher institutions were not the problem, but the main problem was students’ average time of completion. She asked what the sources of donor funding were and whether it was primarily the European Union (EU). Information Technology (IT) security policing had been an issue the previous year and there had been no improvement this year. She questioned whether the Department had been assessing its success in reaching its most critical objectives. She cited the Maths proficiency rates in Standard 3 as evidence that the Department had not been examining itself.

Mr A Gaum (ANC) said, above all, quality was the most important issue and asked what interventions the Department had planned to oversee the quality of the instructors. Recent news reports had claimed that teachers did not spend enough time teaching and that their qualifications were in question. The fact that only 62% of teachers were qualified and the country had been a democracy for 11 years was a problem. He asked if the Department had mechanisms to dismiss teachers if they did not have the capacity to teach or were simply not performing well.

Mr Benade responded that Members should refer to the Human Resources Management section of the Annual Report for more explanation on the personnel breakdown in terms of reaching gender and racial transformation. He noted that within the top layer of senior management, three of six posts (one post is vacant) were filled by women. Donors were mainly international and had lasted longer than what the Department had anticipated ten years ago, but that he sensed they were starting to become more limited. Major sources of funding were the Netherlands, which had funded the School Register of Needs; the United States, which mainly assisted with HIV/AIDS projects; and Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. The EU was a difficult donor because it was strict on how the funds were spent, but it had provided about E60 million for infrastructure in three provinces. He agreed that the IT issue had been raised in the past, but asserted that the past problem was the security department failing to cancel the email addresses of former employees. He clarified that it was not that only 62% of teachers were qualified; it was that 62% was the pass rate of groups who had gone through special training in reaching qualifications for certain programmes.

Ms Badsha said that negative reports about education were largely a matter of specific issues within the Department; not that the entire educational system was flawed. The Department was working to prioritise enrolments according to need.

Ms Mentor had seen a report that teachers were not spending enough time at school, yet the Department had not issued a formal report addressing this.

Mr Benade said the Annual Report was a release of the Department’s findings and was its plan of action for the next year. The reason why positions in the General Education and Training (GET) directorate were vacant was because of staff movement and the collapsing of positions into new ones.

Mr L Greyling (ID) asked why teacher development was such a focus instead of working on the future supply of teachers, where there could be a crisis. In order to decide if more funding was needed, the Department should show if the number of learners had increased. He questioned the progress of the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), and said that the Department had stated that it fed 1.6 million learners daily, but other reports had said 4 million. While the NSNP was supposed to provide for daily feeding, his visit to schools in the Eastern Cape had shown that many schools fed learners only 3 days a week or not at all. He asked what the basis for deciding which schools participated in the NSNP was and if he could recommend certain schools.

Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) said that women in rural communities were not benefiting much from the NSNP programmes and asked what mechanisms the Department had to address this challenge.

Ms M Matsomela (ANC) asked how the merging of institutions was monitored and if and how frequently the Department received feedback about it.

Mr B Mthembu (ANC) said it was not clear if the Education Management Information System (EMIS) was a problem or not and if it represented incompetence by the Human Resources section of the Department.

Mr Benade said that every learner would be registered with a unique number and registered in the EMIS to help track migration. It was true that some schools in the Eastern Cape only provided feeding three days per week, but this had been approved in the business plan at the national level because the Eastern Cape was feeding the most number of learners compared to other provinces. It serviced about 50% of its schools, which, for example, was about three times more than Limpopo. This meant that the Eastern Cape could not stretch its funding far enough to provide food five days per week. Food gardens planned would feed more learners and also have immense community benefits such as the stipends provided to people to tend the gardens.

Ms Badsha said that the Department was concerned with declining enrolments at the University level, although the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) had helped. The Department played an important role in monitoring the implementation of mergers.

Ms Nduna-Watson said that the National Learners Performance Programme (NLPP) showed how the number of passes and exemptions were expected to increase. The Department’s intervention had encouraged schools to focus on learners in scarce areas and these learners were performing well.

Mr Matthews questioned that women did not benefit from the NSNP, and said that the North West had been the most successful with the programme because parents had pooled their funds to jointly cook and share the earnings. The majority of those benefiting had been women and it was a model for other provinces. The Minister had declared that all schools participating in the NSNP should have food gardens.

Mr N Godi (PACA-check) asked whether food providers were serving low-quality food to save money and if the Department ensured the meals provided were nutritious enough. Also, the providers had to wait very long to receive their money from the government and he asked whether they could be paid more quickly.

Ms Mentor said that formerly advantaged schools had an easier time contacting the government for administrative work since they often had computers and could more easily submit forms.

Ms Badsha said there was a range of reasons why literacy and numeracy levels were not ideal, including nutrition, teacher training, availability of materials, language and infrastructure. The programmes tried to intervene to better the learning environment.

Mr Matthews said the quality of the food under the NSNP had been a challenge at the national level. However, 12 people with vehicles travelled to the provinces every day to monitor the programme and reported to the Department monthly. Disadvantaged schools were a problem because they lacked adequate support staff.

The meeting was adjourned.

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