National School Nutrition Programme, Conditional Grants, Life Skills & HIV & Aids Conditional Grant & Learner Transport

Basic Education

14 May 2007
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

MEDIA BRIEFING

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
15 May 2007
NATIONAL SCHOOL NUTRITION PROGRAMME, CONDITIONAL GRANTS, LIFE SKILLS AND HIV AND AIDS CONDITIONAL GRANT AND LEARNER TRANSPORT

Documents handed out:
Briefing on National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP)
Reporting on Conditional Grants Division of Revenue Act Requirements
Life Skills and HIV and AIDS Conditional Grant presentation
Learner Transport

Audio Recording of the Meeting

SUMMARY
The
National School Nutrition Programme reported how six million learners had been fed by the programme for the year 2006/07 throughout almost 18 000 schools. Infrastructure problems, the payment of food handlers and the quality of food provided by the service providers continued to be challenges that would benefit from more effective monitoring and greater resources. A bid had been made to treasury for some of these requirements. Each province had made significant strides and had set themselves further goals in the coming year, to reach more children in need, for more days of the school year and to expand the programme to reach children up to grade seven and into secondary schools.

The Director General spoke on the impact and development of the Life Skills and HIV and AIDS Conditional Grant programme that started seven years ago. The programme had been successfully integrated into the curriculum and showed greater impact among younger learners. Ambivalence remained a challenge when dealing with the contentious issue of sexuality education, especially in certain social contexts. The Director General maintained that this was a universal response to such matters, which unfortunately had to be overcome in view of the imperative to do everything possible to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS. Significant assistance was being provided to orphans and vulnerable learners by the schools through Care and Support structures. The latter and the training of peer educators were significant developments in the programme.

The Chief Financial Officer gave feedback on the financial figures regarding the above two programmes, for which R1 billion and R 144 million had been allocated. Expenditure had been high and it was emphasised that funds were only released by National Treasury once business plans were approved by the Department. Thereafter followed a process of review and evaluation of whether the funds had been applied as per the plans and whether they had had the desired results. Monitoring still remained a strong aspect to ensure this follow-through and constantly needed strengthening.

The Deputy Director General gave a report on where the Department currently stood on the issue of learner transport. He looked at research done on this locally and internationally, what the current situation was in South Africa and what the next steps might be in order to meet this need. Although international policies and practices could inform, South African requirements in this instance were varied and unique and the increase in environmental awareness was another factor to be taken into account when looking for a solution. Clearly the lack of a national policy was a deficiency which would need addressing first, although issues around criteria and diversity of needs, as well as substantial cost, might bedevil the process for some time.

MINUTES
National School Nutrition Programme
(NSNP)
Ms Mgijima, Chief Director of School Nutrition in the Department of Education, presented a briefing on the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) since April 2004, when it was transferred from the Department of Health to the Department of Education. Improvements and changes made in the following year by the Department included a review of the criteria for determining targets, in order to bring them into alignment with the objectives of the Department, the establishment of sustainable food production and the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Providing learners with food aimed at increasing their learning capacity in school.

Ms Mgijima took the Committee through a review of the status of the programme in each province. A total of almost 6 miIlion learners had been reached at 17 757 schools at a cost of some R1 090, 639 million.

Workshops on food safety and health and hygiene were conducted and 84 000 booklets and 42 000 playing cards on healthy lifestyles were distributed. A database of feeding schools has been developed and continued to be updated. The programme still faced a shortage of human resources, needed to expand to secondary schools and lacked infrastructure. These challenges as well as the tightening of monitoring and evaluation would be addressed in the coming year.

The number of feeding days was 156 out of 197 school days. The programme sought to increase this number to every day of the school week. They would be collaborating with the Department of Agriculture in various projects involving upcoming female farmers. It would seem that much had been achieved and so much still remained to be done in trying to feed children from both primary and secondary schools that were too hungry to learn.

Discussion
Mr R van den Heever (ANC) said that he had seen from visits to schools in the Northern Province that certain schools entirely lacked facilities to prepare and serve food. He asked whether this sort of infrastructure requirement was being addressed by the programme. He expressed concern about Western Cape lagging behind the other provinces in its ability to provide warm meals, whilst it provided for the second lowest number of learners in the country.

Mr A Gaum (ANC) asked whether there were time frames for the Eastern Cape to provide meals up to grade seven.

Mr L Greyling (ID) asked if the Department had considered extending the programme to cover weekends as well, as children would be left hungry.

Ms M Matsomela (ANC) said there seemed to be an anomaly with regard to the allocations and the number of learners being catered for in some of the figures that had been presented, especially considering the 2006/07 allocation for the Free State, which with an allocation of R64 million reached 407 743 learners, while Gauteng, with an allocation of R99 million reached only 389 361 learners. She asked whether other provinces besides North West had received the Learner Teacher Support Materials (LTSM).

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) expressed her concern about the Eastern Cape spending of only 62.62% of its budget allocation. She asked how the Department could facilitate the link up between women co-operatives and the Department of Agriculture in order to provide greater support in this area.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) commented that he had observed schools where there was nothing but sand surrounding the schools and children were expected to eat food dull of dust. He also asked if the Department was considering extending its programme to provide food over weekends and holidays. On the basis of which criteria did the Department identify a poor learner.

Mr I Mfundidisi (UCDP) said it was his experience that many children did not participate in these feeding schemes because the food being provided was of such a poor quality. It seemed that in these instances service providers were not complying with requirements of the approved menu. He said four visits per school per month might take care of this, as otherwise the good intents of the Department were being compromised.

Prof S Mayatula (ANC) asked in whose hands the payment of honoraria was, whether provision of motor vehicles was usual in all the provinces and why the Easter Cape struggled to extend its programme to grade seven. This did not seem consistent with the implementation of the programme elsewhere. He had been told by three principals in Limpopo that it was the norm for no food to be available in March.

Mr Duncan Hindle (Director General) said that schools were identified for the scheme, not individual learners. The Department did this according to a mechanism which categorized schools into Quintiles. Those that were categorized as Quintile 1 and 2 were included in the programme. The refining of the targeting criteria was a constant process. Some provinces had taken it upon themselves to feed at secondary schools as well. In these cases individuals in need were identified for the programme and the approach might be an option for the way forward in secondary schools in other provinces. He said currently the programme was providing food at schools for 156 days of the school year, which was not every school day. He did not see how a full month could go by without any feeding happening in Limpopo.

Mr Hindle said the Department could not provide meals for weekends and holidays. Logistically this was not feasible and the Department did not have the resources. The Department of Social Development could possibly fill the gap with food parcel schemes and child grants in order to mitigate circumstances. The Early Childhood Development (ECD) sites were community-based sites, which needed registration by the Department of Social Development, something the latter was intending to accelerate intensively.

He said that the Eastern Cape simply did not have the resources at present to provide for learners up to grade seven and they were either left with the choice of providing food on fewer days for more learners or providing more food to fewer learners, which was the case at present, where learners up to grade four were being provided for at the cost of about R1.50 per learner per day. The Department continued to work on issues of quality control, having provided specific menus to service providers and continuing to do what was possible under the circumstances, even if at certain schools basic amenities were lacking. This could not prevent them from providing food and being able to do so under hygienic conditions.

Ms Mgijima said that every province had received the LTSM. North West province had simply highlighted it as an achievement. These materials specifically targeted primary school learners. She said the long chain of command sometimes meant that suppliers invoices were not received quickly, which resulted in delays in payment. Innovative ways of getting round this had been applied in certain provinces.

Ms Mgijima said the quality of food was of great concern to the Department. It had provided comprehensive specifications regarding this to service providers. The lack of sufficient monitoring tended to make those providers look more to making profits and short changing the children. This area needed urgent attention. The need for monitors on the ground was urgent. The 7% allocation for administration was not getting to the women who needed to be empowered, in order to ensure that they were not being paid less than R500. This again required better monitoring of the payment of honoraria to food handlers. The Department of Labour could possibly assist in this regard.

Mr Benade said the 7% allocated for administration was not in reference to paperwork, but for the appointment of monitors. These people also needed transport in order to monitor and whereas this had been highlighted in the report by North West, every province had been provided with a motor vehicle in the start up to the programme. He said the anomaly between the figures for Gauteng and the Free State was due to different conditions presiding in those provinces and although service providers were hardly in the business for charity but for maximising their profits, the system was being managed more effectively every year. The shift in allocation for the years 2006/07 was due to the demarcation, which had changed certain areas from one province to another. The Department had inherited a system from the Department of Health, which had measured schools according to a certain poverty index and had accordingly divided them into Quintiles. The Department of Education had found that schools in the third Quintile were being included in the programme in the Eastern Cape, while some schools in the first and second Quintile had been previously excluded. The programme could not now simply exclude third Quintile schools, while including the first and second Quintile schools, which had been previously been left out. The matter therefore was not easily resolved.

The payment of service providers was a provincial function and the Department could not assist unless made aware of the specific problems encountered here.

Mr Hindle said they had piloted the provision of storage and preparation units in certain provinces at schools lacking any facilities. Notwithstanding these challenges the programme did not deny learners food when such facilities were inadequate.

Ms Mgijima said the Department had the opportunity to put a bid before Treasury for miscellaneous expenditures such as these and in Gauteng such basic kitchen units had already been costed. The Department still needed to compile a guiding framework for the preparation of food as food poisoning was a constant and real danger. The Department was undertaking to make the provision of cooked meals ubiquitous.

Life Skills and HIV and AIDS Conditional Grants programme
Mr Hindle took the Committee through a presentation on Life Skills and HIV and AIDS Conditional Grants. This programme had been introduced seven years ago in an attempt to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS, by integrating information on HIV and AIDS and life skills into the school curriculum, using sexuality education as a basis. It also sought to strengthen links and advocacy in the communities surrounding schools and to help schools manage the pandemic better. Peer education was later introduced and the use of schools as “Care and Support” centres, making them central in the support of the growing numbers of orphans and other vulnerable learners. Training was conducted by 1321 master trainers, who trained 25 000 teachers and more than 10 000 peer educators across the country. There were 15 000 Care and Support structures. An impact study of the programme revealed that most children from Grades 4-9 were reasonably well informed on issues of HIV and AIDS. Grades 4-6 were the most open to acting in accordance with the knowledge gained while older children were less forthcoming for any judgement to be made.

The programme faced the challenge of teachers and parents who felt ambivalent about sexuality education that was required to inform the children about HIV and AIDS, especially with regard to the younger children. It had been shown, however, that in order for the information to have the desired impact, it needed to reach children at these younger ages. Mr Hindle said that each province had responded and resonated with a different aspect of the programme in an effort to meet particular needs in their province. Such developments were encouraging. A major challenge was the monitoring of the impact of the programme. This was being assisted by information gathered at the Care and Support structures. Fortunately funding for the programme had improved over the years.

Conditional Grants
Mr P Benade, Chief Financial Officer of the Department, reported on Division of Revenue Act requirements.  He went through the requirements that each transferring department had to fulfil. For management purposes the money flowed through the National Department to the provinces. Business plans from provinces had to be approved by the Director General before any funds were released. The Department had to provide National Treasury with a payment schedule, approved business plans and monitor expenditure and performance. They also required annual review of grants which had to be submitted four months after the end of the financial year. This review reported how goals had been achieved and included provincial self-evaluations.

Budget reports on the NSNP and the HIV and AIDS Programmes showed allocations of R1 billion and R144 million respectively. Expenditure in each programme was over 96%, which was a positive development. The allocations for 2007/08 were up by about 9%, which was about 3% above inflation. Budget allocations had changed according to a change in demarcation of areas allocated to certain provinces, such a part of North West province being moved to Northern Cape.

Discussion
Ms Matsomela asked to what extent the Department considered itself successful in the achievement of its goals for the Life Skills and HIV and AIDS programme. Had the programme been implemented in the environment which was conducive to widespread acceptance, since AIDS as a disease still carried a great deal of stigma. It was for this reason that older students were not coming out about their status. Teachers who felt uncomfortable talking about sexuality could not be forced without it leading to their further alienation.

Prof Mayatula asked for a break down into provinces of the number of 10 000 learners trained.

Mr Hindle agreed that social context was a central issue to the success of the programme and said that certain communities were more receptive and supportive than others. Those who were supportive had come to recognise the need for acknowledgement of the problem in order to do something about it. The advantage of the Care and Support programme run out of the schools, was that it did not only focus on AIDS but also on a whole range of other needs. This was allowing schools to become the catalysts for change in communities. The challenges faced and observed were universal as far as issues around sexual education were concerned and were not unique to South Africa.

Learner Transport
Mr Firoz Patel, Deputy Director General:
System Planning and Monitoring, gave a report on where the Department currently stood on the issue of learner transport. The issues identified were regarding the implications of access and since any existing policy really only dealt with regulations rather than clear guidelines for implementation, questions around distance from schools, the provision of transport and even the provision of hostels would have to be dealt with. Should education become compulsory from ages seven to fifteen, then the onus on the government to ensure access to schools would bring all these issues into play. This would place a huge burden on the state, since not only school spaces would have to be provided to all who need it, but also sufficient transport to those schools. The diversity of the problem across the country would also complicate matters and the inconsistent quality of the bus service would have to be addressed to ensure learner safety.

Mr Patel said the Department had commissioned a study in order to get a grip on the situation country-wide and internationally, in order to develop strategies and to formulate a national framework. The National Household Travel Survey had come up with some interesting facts, such as that 75% of learners take less than 30 minutes to walk from home to school, 5% (more than 570 000 learners) took longer than an hour and 25% of primary school children (1,7 million) and 36% of high school learners (1,8 million) walked longer than 30 minutes to get to school. Most of the need was in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and North West. Diverse provincial practice again highlighted the need for a national policy and guidelines and or provincial prerogative. The scope and responsibility have to be clearly delineated. Should the Department take the 3km distance from school as norm, some R2,9 billion - divided into a primary cost of R1,5 billion and a secondary cost of R1,4 billion - was required.

Discussion
Mr Gaum found the complete lack in provision of learner transport in North West province disturbing. The issue of learner transport was just as critical as that of school nutrition, since without transport, children simply could not attend school or were severely hampered in their ability to get to school. He was pleased to see that to this extent certain provinces had taken it upon themselves to provide transport, even if it meant using allocations earmarked for other things. It was also disturbing to hear of intentions in certain areas to stop providing transport in urban areas entirely and that parent and learners had responded to this with emotion and outrage. Mr Gaum said it was an emotional issue they were dealing with and that every effort should be made to draw in the Department of Transport into the process.

Mr B Mthembu (ANC) commented that the key challenge on this issue was the complete lack of an overall national policy. Negotiation between the various concerned departments was needed but the Department of Education should take the lead, as the provision of transport to learners was part of the responsibility of this department in its provision of a quality education to the nation. He did not see an option here, but an urgent necessity to get on with the task of drafting a policy in order to provide a framework from which government could manage the issue.

Mr Mayatula asked why KwaZulu-Natal had never provided transport. He found it hard to imagine.

Mr Greyling appreciated the complexities involved and the diversity of the needs that would have to be met across the country, but innovative and creative approaches could go a long way to answering the needs of communities. It had come to his attention that in some communities along the West coast, children were no longer attending school, simply because parents could no longer afford to pay for the transport to schools.

Mr Hindle said he could understand the sentiments being expressed and he agreed with the urgency of the matter. There were, however feasible alternatives available which needed consideration, such as a transport subsidy to learners, which would allow them to use public transport where it was available and the provision of bicycles of which one million had already been distributed. These interventions could also make a profound difference. There was also the problem in this country that pupils were allowed to choose which school they could go to whereas in America, for example, you had no such prerogative and you went to the school nearest to your home, for which transport was then provided. Here matters were different and would have an effect on planning for a solution. While it was given that the issue needed urgent work, it had to be kept in mind that according to rough calculation some R2 billion would be needed.

The meeting was adjourned.

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