Department Strategy 2006-2010 & Budget 2006/7: Ministerial briefing

Basic Education

08 May 2006
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Meeting report

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
9 May 2006
DEPARTMENT STRATEGY 2006-2010 & BUDGET 2006/7: MINISTERIAL BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Professor S Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
PowerPoint Presentation: Strategic Plan 2006-2010 and Budget 2006-7
Booklet: Strategic Plan 2005-2010 (please email
docs@pmg.org.za)

SUMMARY
The Minister for Education, Ms N Pandor, highlighted the main developments to the five-year strategic plan and the special areas of emphasis. The Department remained committed to its visions and goals previously outlined, and contributed to the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa by ensuring quality education at all levels. It was felt that more urgent and better impact should be made on poverty, unemployment and education for all. Strategies included strengthening, monitoring and evaluating at all stages of the educational structure, and placing more emphasis on the 0-4 and 16-25 age groups with added support to higher education. National strategies and programmes were outlined, including those with international partners. The structure of the Department was outlined, and the major projects for each branch named and discussed.

Questions asked by Members were wide-ranging, but some focus areas were Further Education and Training Colleges and their status vis-à-vis universities, the School Nutrition Programme, Special Needs learners and ways to achieve the goals in languages, maths and science.

MINUTES

Introduction by Minister of Education

The Minister of Education, Ms N Pandor reported that the current presentation elaborated upon the original plan presented in the previous year, but did not detract from it. She mentioned that there would be a Budget Debate and Vote on 16 May when some issues would be more fully discussed. The Department had been fully involved in the objectives outlined in the strategic plan. Funds had been allocated to higher education institutions (HEI) following mergers and in pursuance of recapitalisation to assist them to recover from the negative positions of the past, to ameliorate their infrastructure, to improve their residential facilities and learning environments. Further Education and Training (FET) recapitalisation was progressing well and a full report would be made in due course. A third area of concern was the improvement of conditions of service and remuneration for educators and enhancement of the status of the profession. A launch of national reading strategies had recently been held, which targeted 5233 primary and 7 700 high schools, supported by a further R40 million, in addition to the R15 million already pledged, from the Royal Netherlands Embassy.

Department of Education (DoE) presentation

Mr Duncan Hindle (Director General, DoE) confirmed that the Department was working fully in line with the policies and plans as outlined the previous year. A priority in line with the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Afr4ica (ASGISA) was access to high schools and high cognitive demand curricula, supported by relevant programmes. The Minister’s continuing vision was the provision of quality education, with a focus on achieving this more urgently. The continuing legacy of Bantu education created many hurdles to quality education amongst the poor. Specific goals included improved access to early childhood learning, including the 0-4 age groups, through an integrated approach with the Departments of Social Development and Health. Infrastructure and learning resources still needed to be improved, and skills of literacy and numeracy upgraded. Maths, science and communications remained focus areas. Higher education needed further support, through recapitalisation programmes and regulatory, research and institutional support. The approach of the Department remained consistent and had been well received by the sector. Support would be given to under-performing schools, and to improving learning outcomes not in isolation, but responsive to the needs of society. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) would be used in learning and administration to a greater degree and partnerships would be built with business and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The Department had agreed on a number of strategies to strengthen, monitor and evaluate, using research to understand and improve systems and to bring policies in line with the business sector. The Educational Management System (EMS) had been redrawn in a way that could track learners and plan better. Investment had been made in teachers, with better evaluation of performance and building the capabilities of the system in both national and provincial departments.

Mr Hindle summarised the structure of the Department, which was divided into six branches: administration; social cohesion and quality evaluation. The remaining three dealt with the priorities under General, FET and Higher Education. General Education included expanding access to Early Childhood Development (ECD) with its consequent social and educational improvements, via an integrated plan, involving Social Development, Health and the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to help deliver the service. At school level the National Curriculum was in its final rollout and teacher training, particularly for Grades 8 and 9, was a priority. A national framework for teacher education was being formulated, including a system for in-service progression with professional development. The quality of education at Grades 3, 6 and 9 was being measured. Programmes to improve reading levels were on track. Children with special needs also were dealt with by General Education, who ensured that districts were properly supported and equipped. National School Governing Body elections would be held over the next few months.

Further Education and Training (FET) developed and implemented modern and relevant high school programmes, and had finalised the skills programmes for Grades 10 to 12. It was finalising the curriculum statements for colleges. It focused on the national examination system, on increasing the participation of 16-24 year olds in FET programmes and on achieving better education in maths, science and languages. The FET schools were implementing the new curricula and a new matriculation examination would come in at the end of 2008, so that there had been the need to introduce improved training and textbooks. The Department wanted to reduce the dropout rate, increase participation in maths, language and science, and create 500 "focus schools" in maths and science over the next few years. It continued to set, mark and report on high quality examinations and expand specialist subjects in poor areas. FET Colleges were busy with the recapitalisation plans, and requirements would be gazetted and finalised shortly. FETC Vocational Qualifications were being created in key areas such as construction, tourism and other programmes. The expansion of ICT would add support.

Higher Education continued to provide regulatory, administrative and research support to academic institutions of higher learning. There had been discussion recently about the "internationalisation" of higher education and the Department needed to play a leading role in the Southern African region. Enrolment planning would ensure that programmes were correlated to resources and promoted institutional diversity.

Systems Planning worked on the infrastructural audit, including a management system for a "live" database of 28 000 schools. It was developing a national norm for the design and construction of schools. Research was conducted into the effects of investment into education to ensure that it was properly made and monitored. An integrated quality management system of teacher performance, teacher supply and demand would be dealt with by a Cabinet-appointed Human Resources Development Committee.

Another branch (as yet unnamed) dealt with social cohesion with goals relating to health and well being of learners and educators. It was linked to the Schools Nutrition Programme, which had proved extremely valuable. It also looked at equity issues, values, identity and moral regeneration in schools. It dealt with the Arts and Culture and Sport Enrichment programmes. It worked with the Ministerial Committees on gender and adult literacy and collaborated in regard to orphans and vulnerable children, including street children and those in conflict with the law.

Branch Administration included financial management. The Auditor General had provided an unqualified audit report. It was responsible for provincial budget support and co-coordinating the procurement and supply of staff. It also dealt with development of international relations, particularly in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Mr P Benade (Chief Financial Officer, DoE) presented the budget. He reported that the baseline allocation in the current year was R12.39 billion, rising to R15.32 billion in 2008/9. Additional funding of R403 million had been received from the Medium-term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) process, with special emphasis on specific items; R350 million had been awarded to the Higher Education Block Grant, phasing up to R1 billion by 2009. Other baseline adjustments had taken place: Teacher development and HR systems would increase by R20 million increasing to R30 million by 2009; Implementation of the National Curriculum (R15 million falling to R10 million by 2009 as this was a phased programme); FET Recapitalisation had been boosted by R1.5 billion, of which the first R100 million would be delivered during the following year and thereafter in yearly allocations. Devolution of funds from the Department of Public Works had now moved to the DoE.

Mr Benade tabled a comparison of the allocations between the 2005/6 year and the 2006/7 year. The total budget had increased by 13.97%. Total grants to Higher Education Institutions would increase by 7% on the previous allocation to R11.7 billion. Subsidies would increase from R9.3 to R10.2 billion. The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) was currently cash-strapped and its position would depend on the final outcome of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) review process, when new responsibilities may be allocated.

The breakdown of the allocation, with a comparison of past to current year, was tabled. Conditional grants to provincial education included the School Nutrition Programme, whose allocation had increased to R1.1 billion. An amount of R470 million had been transferred to colleges for their recapitalisation, and this programme targeted the upgrading of 100 practical workshops and installation of quality equipment. A R144 million conditional grant had also been earmarked for HIV/Aids programmes, which included the integrated life-skills and HIV programmes to learners, and education to 25 000 educators. Mr Benade described some of the special projects and allocations. Operational costs included money for projects that would be managed by the Department, including the HR plans and the Education Management System. Particular achievements showed that over 63 schools had been trained in EMS. The National School Nutrition Programme had targeted 5.5 million learners at 17 000 schools, and had included the establishment of food gardens.

Discussion on the introductory remarks
Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) asked for clarity on the media reports that the trade unions had apparently refused to participate in the signature of upgraded teacher contracts.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) commented on the reports that there was apparently tension between employer and employee bodies and asked for clarification on the issues, and steps taken by the Department to address them.

The Minister replied that an agreement had already been signed, which included the Union’s signature, on 16 March, but the public information ceremony for teachers was delayed until May. The Union then took issue with the delay, refusing to take part in the ceremony. In effect there was no substantive dispute on this issue. There was another issue since not all the provinces had completed the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS) process, with the result that provinces did not pay out the 1% good performance bonus. This matter was ongoing, but should be finalised within the next week or so. The Department remained committed to improvement of teachers’ service conditions and remuneration and upliftment of the profession. The Department was still considering the Union’s fear that senior teachers in the classroom might, under the new proposals, receive salaries on a par with Heads of Department or those who took on additional administrative burdens. It would be unreasonable to expect that the Department could always satisfy the Unions, but the Department would always engage in discussion, debate and negotiation.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) asked about learner transport.

Minister Pandor pointed out that this was not handled nationally, but that the Department was very aware of the need to provide a quality service in these areas.

Mr A Gaum (ANC) asked whether the methodology of teaching was being addressed, in addition to providing books and classroom texts, to improve literacy.

Minister Pandor replied that a strategy would be formulated which would encompass improved practices by teachers, and support to them. Teacher assistants were a possibility. The debates over word recognition techniques and phonics would not be relevant; an expectation would be given and teachers would be able to use the best methods, according to their experience, to achieve the desired outcomes. Four mobile library buses had been provided recently to KwaZulu-Natal in a rollout programmes, and 26 more would be set up. There was no point in building a school without also building a library and laboratories.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) asked whether enough young people were attracted to the teaching profession.

Minister Pandor reported that the Department aimed to increase the number and nature of bursaries available to focus on the critical subject areas and to deploy highly trained trainers, so that teaching became an area of first choice.

Discussion around the presentation
Ms M Mentor (ANC) asked who was ultimately responsible for the Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes, since there had been some comments made that social workers were not necessarily equipped to handle the education of the children. She pointed out that although ECD was stated as a goal, it did not appear as a budgeted amount, and enquired if it was on track for the current year. The Director General replied that grade R was largely dealt with by the provinces and included in their budgets. The 0-4 age group fell within a cluster budget; it had been allocated by Treasury but did not appear on the Department’s books.

In answer to a comment from Ms Mentor, Minister Pandor commented that research units were being established in the Department and that all policies would be evidence based.

Ms Mentor commented that many educators were losing time that could be spent on actual contact hours through being required to fill out numerous forms.

The Director General confirmed that this had been an area for concern but new protocols on assessment would reduce the administrative burdens.

Ms Mentor asked whether there was yet provision for recognition of prior learning (perhaps in less formalised programmes, or recognition of past experience). She asked how far the SAQA process had gone.

Minister Pandor replied that SAQA was an area of concern and was currently under discussion with the Department of Labour. It was intended to structure the quality assurance processes so that they responded more effectively to the objectives in respect of prior learning. The recognition of international qualifications, and the recognition of past experience and training were both weak areas. However, it was important that the FET recapitalisation programme properly addressed the gap in technical skills.

Mr R van den Heever (ANC) noted the additional funding but enquired if the previously disadvantaged communities were really benefiting rapidly enough, and were able to obtain jobs. He asked whether there was adequate follow-through on education and employment.

Minister Pandor confirmed that some institutions had provided qualifications that did not give graduates the skills to sustain them in the marketplace. A degree, without entrepreneurial skill development, was of limited use and Higher Education must accept its responsibility to assess its programmes and improve.

The Director General added that the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA), in conjunction with the Departments of Labour and Education, had addressed the kinds of training needed and had indicated that communication skills, ICT and problem solving skills were standard requirements for any profession or artisan employment in the marketplace.

As a general comment, the Minister added that it had recently been identified that School Governing Bodies (SGBs), whilst handling management issues well, were often not able to handle problems such as fixing buildings. It was hoped that SGBs could be aligned with the EPWP programmes to help schools also to acquire extra skills.

Mr I Mfundisi (UCDP) asked how the Department would be able to access quality teachers for primary schools, particularly in the ECD area.

The Minister responded that the Department tried to achieve a balanced spread of teachers and pupils, but that it also tried to ensure proper training toys and tools to enable ECD at a proper level. Once again, EPWP could provide a key link.

Ms Dudley asked if the budget for ECD was adequate. She asked specifically for the policy on street children, and how much was allocated to orphans and vulnerable children.

The Director General was loath to say that any budget could ever be adequate but that the Department was coping with what it had.

Mr Gaum raised a query on the maths and science focus and asked if there were special schools.

The Minister responded that the strategy aimed to double the numbers of students doing maths and science within three years, with a likely target of around 50 000. It was an ambitious project, which included upgrading of sites, but this would be addressed further in the Budget Speech.

Mr Ntuli asked how strongly SAQA tried to ensure that the 0-4 age group did not receive "child-minding" instead of education and development. He asked how many community-based studies had been done.

The Chairperson asked for a definition of the scope of ECD and whether it was correct that only some schools had received funding.

The Director General responded that ECD had two elements. Grade R had been agreed as part of the formal school programme, and therefore became part of the school budget and allocation. The 0-4 age group would ideally follow a common approach, with the ability of "care-givers" being upgraded. It must be remembered that these children did not follow a rigorous education programme. The Department was trying to support 4 500 sites and develop training programmes with SAQA and NQF at around a level 4. Women who for many years had opened their homes for childcare had never been given sufficient recognition and the integrated centre idea aimed to provide support, to make social services, inoculation programmes and other services available. More than 1000 caregivers had been trained and had certificates of accreditation.

Mr Ntuli asked whether Grade 10 training would be ongoing; and pointed out that it had been problematic in many provinces. He enquired whether there would be adequate rollout to the two further grades.

The Director General responded that Grades 8 and 9 had to be considered together and that matters were on track.

Ms Mentor commented that many schools were taking their responsibilities very seriously and she was pleased to report that many schools had taken concrete steps to revise methods to meet outcomes.

The Chairperson asked if the Department was on target for ICT rollout.

The Minister pointed out that the date for finalisation had been moved to 2010 but it was being monitored closely and was on target. The goal was to ensure that all schools had connectivity and R1.9 billion had been allocated to this project.

In answer to a question from Mr Mfundisi, the Director General confirmed that the schools in the areas mentioned were in all probability already on the website.

Mr Gaum pointed out that the number of dropouts had caused concern, but he was also concerned at the number who, even if they completed Grade 12, could not afford to develop their skills further. He asked whether there were plans to unlock their potential.

Minister Pandor replied that even those who did not obtain a matriculation endorsement were able to attend the FET Colleges, but that funding was indeed an issue that needed to be better addressed to allow greater access. The Department was aware of the need for a range of alternative training opportunities as part of the youth strategy programme and the Department of Labour and Department of Trade and Industry were working jointly on such issues. The Department of Defence had been asked to make their training sites available. The Department aimed to facilitate further training to every school leaver.

The Deputy Minister of Education, Mr E Surty added that increasing numbers did attend FET colleges. He drew the distinction between the technical schools, which were focused schools and FET Colleges that provided artisan skills. He added, in response to a question from Mr Mpontshane that funding was in direct response to the programmes offered and would be assessed according to the nature of each programme so that colleges with outdated equipment would have this upgraded and so forth. Colleges were also now able, through the new legislation to contract with the best-skilled educators.

Ms Dudley asked how the Department would ensure access to programmes by 16-24 year olds, and asked also about children with special needs.

The Director General clarified in response to this, and an earlier question, that although there was a national policy of mainstreaming, with many schools converting to be able to take physically disabled pupils or to include those with other disabilities, there was still a need to have special schools for those who could not attend regular schools. Many countries had opted for a non-formal approach, which could also be extended to orphans and vulnerable children, and the Department believed that street children also would benefit from a more flexible approach.

Mr Mfundisi asked what was being done to expand subjects in poor areas.

Deputy Minister Surty replied that disparity was an important issue and that affirmative action had been taken in the poorer areas in respect of library facilities, laboratories, ICT and provision of teachers. There was a multi-pronged approach dealing with a range of issues beyond just the infrastructure.

The Chairperson asked about the involvement of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in the School Governing Body elections.

Minister Pandor replied that the regional offices were prepared to assist with the running of elections, to continue the democratic processes and to ensure the smooth running within the rules. This system had worked well in the past.

Ms M Matsomela (ANC) asked what was being done to strengthen the FET colleges and whether some might be absorbed into others.

Mr Boinamo asked what was being done to correct the perception that those who chose vocational training were of lesser intelligence, and that FET Colleges were a poor option in comparison to University.

Mr Gaum also asked what was planned in respect of the retraining of educators, and whether the Department believed that a human resource injection, as well as training, was necessary to make colleges into driving forces.

Minister Pandor reported that the FET Colleges Bill was gazetted last week as part of the plan to re-cast colleges on the critical edges of high skills training. Universities were currently looking at how curricula could be aligned so that a person studying at FET College could then transfer to a University course at some stage. Further work needed to be put into educating the public, as the perception of FET Colleges as "lower-class" was indeed disappointing, and to ensuring that the teaching at higher education institutions was more closely aligned to allow greater mobility.

The Deputy Minister commented that all educators at FET received R10 000 to upgrade their skills in regard to the new curricula and that there were a number of programme areas that had been settled in consultation with the private sector to ensure that the FET outcomes matched the needs of the private sector. The Deputy Minister added that he had recently met with a number of students at FET Colleges who were extremely enthusiastic about attending these institutions, as a matter of choice, and about the training opportunities. The door was not closed to considering whether the training could be offered beyond Level 5 and 6; the Minister of Education would retain powers to make decisions.

Mr Gaum also asked what specific initiatives were being taken in maths and science.

Minister Pandor stated that there were two alternatives to the subjects: either to build new focused schools – which was too expensive – or to refurbish the existing schools without subject facilities so that they could offer those subjects. Part of the overcrowding problem was lack of classroom space. This would be done over three years and appropriate teachers would simultaneously be trained. Language, maths and science were key focus areas.

The Minister made a general comment about the training of teachers, stating that there had been complaints about the poor content teaching of some subjects; it seemed that teacher training tended to emphasise method over content. Effective teacher training – particularly at maths and science levels-was vital. The Department took very seriously allegations that some teachers were being told they must teach in their non-specialist areas, and this was being addressed. The Department was also looking at multilingualism as the cognitive training platform, with the emphasis later shifting to English. There were very few people studying African languages at university level and perhaps greater emphasis had to also be placed on communications in all languages.

Mr B Mthembu (ANC) referred to the President’s statement that there would be an increase in resources, particularly for research. He asked for further clarity.

Deputy Minister Surty replied that the strategy document outlined the allocations for research, and the Department, together with the Department of Science and Technology, had an integrated approach to study promotion of research. Institutions must respond to needs, he added.

Mr Mpontshane asked about the "reinvigoration of intellectuals" to play a leading role.

Deputy Minister Surty stated that the aim was to develop a comprehensive intellectual approach. Institutional culture at universities had to be changed in response to the character and demands of the democracy and type of student and all students should be multi-skilled when they completed university. Support was being given to student leadership and the national body of students was being encouraged to develop an intellectual approach.

Mr Mfundisi asked whether many South African students attended other African universities.

The Deputy Minister replied that over 45 000 foreign students from Africa were trained in South Africa and were offered the same facilities as South Africans. The Department would want to have access to strengths outside South Africa, particularly in SADC, and to participate in foreign open and distance learning programmes. The Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT) was the Chairperson of the Association of African Universities and the Department was keen to promote academic exchange.

Ms Matsomela enquired what was being done to strengthen enrolment, and whether enrolment at the historically disadvantaged universities was seen as a second rather than first option.

The Chair asked for comment on capping of intakes and how this was affected by the Education For All initiative.

Deputy Minister Surty replied that the district offices of Education needed to play a role also in provisioning of staff, monitoring and evaluation of universities. The Department felt it was desirable for universities to develop particular niches, and that enrolment planning should address this issue. Huge classes were not conducive to qualitative support and so universities should rather look to more specialist programmes across a broader spread.

Dr Moja (Ministry of Education) added that some universities would aspire to world-class status and focus on specialist capacity rather than the more general degree programmes. Most of the recapitalisation funding was going to the historically disadvantaged universities, with a view to them being able to upgrade their resource centres and provide additional support for accelerated development.

Mr Boinamo enquired whether the provinces were spending their full allocations, and what the Department would do to ensure that proper spending did take place.

The Director General replied that in fact 99.6% of the allocation had been spent.

Ms Dudley enquired whether this included the conditional grant.

The Director General replied that the 99.64% allocation was calculated across all provinces, and that the National Department had spent 99% of its allocation.

The Chairperson asked whether there were links between the Department and New Partnershhip for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

The Director General reported that an agency had been appointed to lend support to NEPAD in the education field, and that South Africa was leading the process in the meeting of "the Second Decade of Education in Africa".

Mr Mpontshane asked whether South Africa was gaining tangible benefits from its associations with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Commonwealth of Learning.

The Director General reported that the Commonwealth of Learning was based in Canada and focused on distance and open learning which were of great importance to South Africa. The association in UNESCO gave South Africa the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from input in the international arena, and Professor Brian Figaji sat on the UNESCO Board. An international conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers would be hosted in Cape Town during December.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) asked about equality issues.

The Deputy Minister replied that gender equality was promoted through the curriculum, and in addition there was a bias towards female learners when allocating resources, especially in rural areas. This had shown positive performance results by females. General Education was also promoting the concept of everyone having regard to gender equality and taking active steps to respect values such as protection of females.

The Chairperson asked when the NQF review would take place.

The Director General replied that the Ministers of Education and Labour would meet the following week and he hoped for finality shortly.

Mr Mosala asked for clarity on the position of some institutions that had claimed to be constantly under-resourced.

The Director General was aware of the institution, but reported that they had not told the Portfolio Committee about their additional R3 million allocation last year. The Department was concerned that this particular institution also had chosen to expand their mandate; for instance one of their studies, costing a substantial amount had focused on a programme that the Department could have advised them was in the process of being phased out.

Mr Mpontshane enquired about allegations of corruption and other problems in the National Schools Nutrition Programme.

The Director General replied that the Department had favoured giving support to small and medium enterprises and co-operatives and this was positive despite the possibility of fraud and corruption. The Department, however, monitored the situation closely, and was always concerned to ensure delivery and quality.

The Chairperson asked whether there was any indication of the spread of the programme across the provinces and the Director General undertook to forward those statistics to the Committee.

Mr Mpontshane asked for figures on the current rates of attrition of educators, and whether that was attributable to HIV/Aids.

The Director General clarified that the programme described in the Budget was one geared to classroom programmes, not educators. The attrition rate for teachers had remained relatively stable since 1980, at around 5% and there was no significant impact from AIDS.

Mr Gaum asked whether there was any indication of the actual figures allocated for education across the country.

Mr Mpontshane asked whether any particular aspect of the Department’s work required additional funding at present.

The Director General stated that the total education allocation for 2006/7 was R91 billion. He stated that 75% of the R14 billion allocation to the Department was "pre-determined" as payments to universities and 12% was pre-determined for conditional grants. Only 10% was allocated to personnel costs and the remainder of about R100 million to special projects. The Department managed to perform its functions but would like to see increases in order to raise the status of the Department’s research and evaluation, and the status of the profession.

The Director General addressed the question of "no-fee schools" stating that about 2.9 million children attended 9 200 no-fee schools, which represented 31% of schools in the country. Each received a minimum of R527 per learner per year, with some provinces able to allocate additional funding from provincial budgets.

The meeting was adjourned.

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