Improvement of School Infrastructure and Learning Resources: Department briefing

Basic Education

14 August 2006
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Meeting report

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
15 August 2006
IMPROVEMENT OF SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE AND LEARNING RESOURCES: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Acting Chairperson:
Mr B Mthembu (ANC)

Document handed out:
Improvement of school infrastructure and learning resources: Department of Education presentation

SUMMARY
The Committee met with the Department of Education to receive a briefing on improvement of school infrastructure and learning resources. The legislative framework for school resourcing provided a strong basis to achieve adequacy and equity and improve learning outcomes and quality. This legal framework was being strengthened to ensure access and resourcing for quality. While there were a variety of pressures on resources, budgets were growing in real terms to improve capital and non-personnel recurrent resourcing. Key initiatives and monitoring were in place to drive further planning and provisioning. It was necessary to assess whether there was a need for a national building programme to effect economies of scale especially in the light of pressures on infrastructure needs in the economy.

Members asked various questions, including whether there was any system to ensure that provinces spent all the money allocated to them, the 'learners under trees' problem, the barriers to 'no fee' schools, monitoring usage of public money, responsibility for electricity supply, provision of computers and Internet connections for all schools, a school's eligibility for support staff, a Departmental contact for Members to obtain answers, the Department's relationship with the provinces on the quality of education and infrastructure, the role of districts and school management teams, the Department's role in setting standards,  the sharing of responsibility for comprehensive infrastructure development between the Department and the provinces, Departmental norms for school libraries and sports facilities, and the existence of a model that would be a guide for the whole country.

MINUTES
Department of Education presentation
Mr F Y Patel (Deputy Director-General, Department of Education) outlined the legislative framework for school resourcing, namely the National Education Policy Act, the South African Schools Act and amendments to that Act. There was strong budgetary growth in real terms, while learner numbers had stabilised, and, in particular, greater equality of per learner spending between provinces. There was rapid growth in capital spending while personnel continued to decline as a proportion of budgets in favour of complementary inputs. There was, however, insufficient resourcing of poor schools, inadequate compensation for poverty, and inequality in access to information technology. The Department had initiated and made progress with the formal introduction of no fee schools, the refinement of fee exemptions, and the Quality Improvement, Development, Support and Upliftment Programme “Qidsup”, which sought to provide a resource based intervention in poor schools and identify resource gaps. With regard to service delivery, inputs and adequacy, agreement had been reached on a progression system for teaching personnel. In terms of service delivery, 97, 9% of 7-15 year olds attended an educational institution in 2005 compared to 96,3% in 2002. 70% of 5 year olds attended in 2005 compared to 59,6% in 2002, and there was a 25% increase in full-time equivalent students in Further Education and Training (FET) colleges between 1998 and 2004. There was good progress in removing school fees as an obstacle to access. There were 7 687 no fee schools with adequacy benchmark funding introduced on a voluntary basis in 2005, benefiting 2,6 million learners. The Western Cape had introduced a system of learner identification and tracking; design and tenders for a national system were proceeding and more than 15 000 institutions had been assessed by the end of July 2006 as part of the audit of school conditions programme. Initiatives and progress included the National Education Infrastructure Management System.

Discussion

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) observed that quality remained an issue; it would not improve until the Department established procedures to oversee the educational process; education for 5 year olds was often only “child-minding” that offered no stimulation.

Mr L Greyling (ID) asked when the Department's targets would be reached and had overlapping between Government Departments been streamlined? Schools were falling behind with the provision of electricity. Who took responsibility – Eskom or the Department of Minerals and Energy? School principals often did not know. There was a school whose water pipes had been cut by the local community. Did the Department have a global plan”? How was the Department going to achieve provision of computers and Internet connections for all schools?

Mr D Hindle (Director-General, Department of Education) admitted that although the Constitution had some constraints, the Department could not hide behind it; the Department had the responsibility to monitor the spending of the allocated funds. The Department had 30 interns who travelled the country visiting 20 schools in each province to audit them. The textbook issue was very important. The issue of learners under trees had been dealt with. An electronic reporting system had been established. The processes had been streamlined. The Treasury had been very helpful, as had the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, and the Department of Minerals and Energy. The Department was committed to achieving Internet connectivity for all schools in the country by 2013. In its relations with school districts, the Department believed that people in the area concerned were the ones who knew best with regard to the problems in that district.

Ms M Matsomela (ANC) observed that there are different role players, such as the Public Works Department, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, and the Department of Education, and asked how integration could be ensured, in particular to ensure provision of safe drinking water in schools.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) and Mr A Gaum (ANC) asked for clarification as to the classification of schools in terms of quintiles.

Mr Greyling asked if there was someone whom Members could contact in order to get answers with a view to ensuring that issues were addressed.

Mr Hindle responded that the Department appreciated these questions. It had established a call centre in Pretoria (0800-202-933) and invited the Members to use it with regard to their concerns. With regard to the issue of the audit, the Department had, to a large extent, collective data, but not data on particular children. However, the National Learner Data Base, which the Department was in the process of establishing, sought to provide a record for each learner. The Department also aimed to achieve a system of infrastructure management that could provide information “at the push of a button”. It was the Department's belief that districts must become stronger agents in the system, and be held accountable. Adjacent schools should not be in different quintiles. The Department appreciated the Committee's support.

Mr Patel observed that part of the Department's problem with regard to infrastructure was to persuade communities to accept new designs for school buildings; for example, they tended to insist on “brick schools”. The Department wanted at least to set the standards for structures, on account of reasons of safety and legal liability. 

The Acting Chairperson identified three main issues: the Department's relationship with the provinces with regard to the quality of education and infrastructure, the need for clarity on the role of districts and school management teams, and norms and standards. Infrastructure was a critical input in the provision of quality education.

Mr Hindle informed Members that an Advanced Certificate in School Leadership would become a requirement for new appointments to the position of school principal.

The Acting Chairperson observed that there remained issues of norms and standards: the Department had to have minimum standards. He welcomed the Department's School Leadership course, given the critical importance of leadership. A strong principal could make a big difference. This development would go a long way to achieving quality education in schools.

The meeting was adjourned.




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