Maths, Science and ICT Strategy; Dinaledi Schools Progress: briefing by Department

Basic Education

03 September 2007
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON SPORT AND RECREATION

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
4 September 2007
MATHS, SCIENCE AND ICT STRATEGY; DINALEDI SCHOOLS PROGRESS: BRIEFING BY DEPARTMENT

Chairperson:
Prof S Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Expanded Mathematics, Science and Technology Strategy presentation
ICT in Education presentation[Part 1] & [Part 2]

Thutong Education portal

Audio recording of meeting

SUMMARY
The Department of Education presented on the expanded mathematics, science and technology strategy. The number of passes in mathematics and science were increasing steadily, and targets had been set for future years. The Dinaledi project was proceeding well, and it was hoped to increase the number of participating schools from 402 at present to 500. The status of the schools involved was continually monitored, with schools being removed and added to the project. There were still problems with textbooks, but the Department had intervened recently using donor funds to do a bulk purchase. There were incentives in place to reward performance.

The practice of offering the subjects on Higher and Standard Grade would soon be stopped. Maths literacy was a subject on its own, and should not be seen as equivalent to Standard Grade maths. Exams would be structured so that learners of different abilities could produce better results. A national examination for Grade 11 learners would reveal the current standards.

Members asked about the backlog in the number of teachers. An audit showed that there were exactly enough teachers, but they were often not teaching maths. The distribution of maths teachers among schools was unbalanced, but the Department had little power to intervene. New students being trained using bursaries from the Department would help alleviate the situation.

The emphasis was on developing Black and Coloured learners, as the White learners were already catered for. The Black learner community had massive growth potential.

Integrated Communications Technology projects were progressing. A new school in Mabopane was an example of what could be done with a wireless network and specially produced cheap laptop computers. A stumbling block was the lack of electricity at many schools. Teachers also had to be developed, and were to be encouraged to acquire computers and the skills to use them.

There was a discrepancy between incentives on offer to teachers and those at colleges. The Department felt that schools might attract teachers from colleges but Members felt the opposite situation was a possibility.

MINUTES
The Chairperson welcomed the Department of Education. He told the meeting that they were the best in the field in a number of aspects.

Expanded Mathematics, Science and Technology Strategy
Mr Duncan Hindle, Director General: Department of Education (DoE), said that the DoE had received awards for being the best national department, having the best provincial departments and the most consistent department as it had received unqualified reports from the Auditor General (AG) for the past three years. He apologised for the absence of his deputy as she was attending the Mathematics Week festivities in Gauteng.

Mr Hindle said that the DoE had an approach of fast-tracking the forthcoming Amendment Bill. There would be no amendment to the functions of School Governing Bodies (SGBs). The Dinaledi schools were not the total mathematics strategy. The objectives of the strategy included the increase in the number of students studying mathematics and science on the Higher Grade (HG). However, in 2008 the HG concept would be scrapped. The Department hoped to increase the number of Dinaledi schools.

Mr Hindle listed a number of strategic objectives, which would be steps to achieving the Department’s aims. He presented a graph that showed the ambitious targets which had been sent. The DoE hoped to see 50 000 mathematics passes on the HG by 2009. In 2004 the number had been 24 000. The target had not been reached in 2005. However, the DoE was not pessimistic, as it was confident that the momentum would build over time. The real concern was the need for political support.

The Director-General (DG) presented a table which showed that the number of mathematics passes was growing steadily. There had been a dip in 2006. There had been an enormous growth in the number of passes on the Standard Grade (SG), and this was a reason for optimism. What the numbers of SG passes did suggest was that 110 000 students could have passed on HG if they had been given the right teaching support. The figures for physical science were good, and also showed an extraordinary large number of SG passes. He presented a breakdown of passes in both subjects for each province. Targets were set by the provinces, and they realised that a lot of work was needed to achieve them. Provinces had agreed to these targets.

The number of Dinaledi schools had started at 300, and this number had been increasing gradually. They were making a difference. Growth was not being sustained uniformly over all provinces, and he suspected that in some cases the wrong schools had been chosen for inclusion in the project. Schools could not just be given the Dinaledi tag and expect results automatically. At present there were 402 schools in the project and the DoE’s aim was to increase this to 500. Rigid selection criteria were needed to identify the correct schools to participate. The Department monitored the schools tightly, and there had been some disappointments. The DoE had discovered that some schools still had no textbooks by the middle of the year.

Mr Hindle said that teacher development was an exciting programme. Donor funds had been used for the purchase of textbooks. The DoE had supplemented provinces. He felt that this was a non-negotiable issue. Some lessons had been learnt from the recovery plan, such as the value of bulk buying. Books with a shelf price of R140 had been made available at R30 for a million copies. Each school tended to use a different textbook, and this added to the cost.

He said that recommendations had been made for specific dispensations in the form of incentives to teachers. The message to schools was that they should not push for Dinaledi status if they could not manage it. In Limpopo some schools had been taken off the list while others had been added. The schools had to be in a privileged state. They had to work for this. Support was provided, notably in the supply of scientific calculators to many children who did not have these essential devices. The South African Revenue Service had donated computers.

The DG said that the Medium Term Expenditure Committee (MTEC) in National Treasury had not been happy with the DoE buying textbooks. This was a job for the provinces. This is why donor funds had been used. He listed some of the incentives on offer. The top twenty schools were in line for a R100 000 donation, courtesy of Anglo American. This was based on the number of African and Coloured learners. There was no growth in the number of White learners. Every school would receive R1 000 for each learner registered for HG. Business was supporting this scheme.

Mr Hindle said that in terms of teacher development, 120 master teachers had been appointed during 2006. They were training 2 400 teachers who would man the Dinaledi schools. Extra pay would be given to the master teachers. Support would be supplied in the districts. Co-ordinators had been appointed, and a Maths, Science and Technology (MST) unit had been established in the Department. The numbers of learners writing mathematics on the HG had increased. SG maths could roughly be equated with maths literacy. There had been a total of 6 666 A passes on the SG during 2006, and many more B and C passes. He wanted to see these learners migrating into HG studies.

Discussion

Mr R van den Heever (ANC) commented on the DoE’s strategic objectives. The goal was to have a qualified teacher in each class. He asked how big the backlog was.

Ms M Matsomela (ANC) commented on SG being done away with. All students would then have to follow the HG curriculum. She asked what support measures would be given to students. She asked if the training duties of the master teachers would affect their day-to-day work.

Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) asked what measures were being taken to ensure that children were given opportunities, as there were fewer Dinaledi schools in Limpopo.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) noted that SG was disappearing. Children would be doing maths literacy in its place. The current HG mathematics would be similar to the new mathematics curriculum to a large extent. Maths literacy was a story on its own, and incorporated elements of commercial maths. The depth was not the same. He asked what criteria were used in Dinaledi schools vis-à-vis the curriculum. He asked where these schools were as it would be nice if Members could check on them during constituency periods.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) asked what cooperation there was between the DoE and the Department of Science and Technology (DST). It was one of the strategic objectives for the two departments to co-operate, and he asked what co-operation existed. He commented that there were three elements key to the Dinaledi project. These were the text books, the teachers, and subject advisors. He supported the DoE’s initiative to buy the needed books. Some schools not part of the project still had no textbooks. There were constitutional constraints on this. He asked what inter-government forums were dealing with the issue.

Ms I Mentor (ANC) asked what the philosophical question was. She asked if the Dinaledi project would be a forerunner for bringing all schools up to this standard. There was a fixation on the approach, as the project seemed to be a permanent fixture of the Education set-up. They were some schools that were dedicated to excellence. She did not see any urgency in opening all schools to the sector. Long-term lessons would be learnt from the project and the benefits would spread. It was present in some schools in the province. She had noticed that some former MST teachers who had taken severance packages had now returned to the profession. She also helped occasionally when time allowed, and she struggled with the new curriculum. She asked if these teachers returning to the profession were given the opportunity to upgrade their skills.

She asked about White learners. It was a serious mistake to ignore them. Government was building a non-racial South Africa. The Department should not only focus on Black and Coloured learners. She realised that African people, and Black people generally, had been deprived. Referring to the Further Education and Training (FET) Bill, she said that there was no initiative or direction in the Northern Cape province. MST teachers in high schools were not able to access the benefits outlined in the FET Act.

Mr Hindle replied that ensuring the presence of enough qualified teachers was a vexing problem. An audit had been done, and it had been found that the shortage of mathematics teachers was only one teacher short. The actual issue was the distribution of these teachers. Many were not teaching maths despite being qualified. This was a waste of a valuable resource. There were also non-qualified teachers in classrooms. There was an imbalance in the distribution of maths teachers. The problem was often caused by decisions made by the SGB. The DoE did not have the power to redistribute teachers. Three thousand bursary holders would be qualifying at the end of 2007. This was a new national cohort of teachers. The Department would have the power to assign these new teachers where they were most needed. The current regime had been set up when there had been a surplus of teachers. Now there was a shortage of applicants for particular posts.

Mr Mpontshane said that he understood from this that there was a shortage but there was no shortage. The hands of the DoE were tied, and they could not discipline the teachers due to the legislation. He asked what the implications of the Amendment Bill were regarding redistribution. He thought that was the purpose of the Amendment Bill.

Mr Hindle replied that there was a specific reference to first-time appointments. This would apply to the bursary holders. The Department also had a say in the appointments where it had invested in the teachers. The numbers were limited of these people.

He continued that they were watching with some anxiety how the phasing out of SG would proceed. 2008 would be the first year where all students would be writing at the same level. Many might fail. This year the Grade 11s would write standard maths and language papers. The results would reflect the current standard. A second instrument would lie within the maths examination paper. There would be three sections of basically equivalent value. One section would be easy, and most learners should earn enough marks to pass. A second section would be more difficult, and a third would probably only be within the capabilities of those learners aiming at earning distinctions. The quality of education lay in creating the conditions which would allow the maximum number of learners to pass.

The DG said that the master teachers conducted their training sessions on weekends and during school holidays.

He said that some of the Dinaledi schools in Limpopo had been removed from the list. These schools, and those in other provinces, should remember that their status was not permanent. Those removed from the list could similarly regain Dinaledi status. He undertook to provide a list of the Dinaledi schools.

Mr Hindle said that one should be careful not to equate Maths HG with the new maths curriculum or Maths SG with maths literacy. He agreed that many teachers would struggle with the new curriculum. Maths literacy could encourage learners to think and to solve problems. It was not a lower grade, and could be equally as difficult as mainstream maths. Different skills and techniques were exercised. Maths literacy was acceptable as an entry requirement for several university courses. There was currently a 50/50 split between students doing maths and maths literacy. The 2007 examinations would be a good indicator.

Post graduate research normally attracted funding from the DST. At school level, on the MST side, the DST took charge of events such as the Maths Olympiad and had some oversight role. He told the story of the African Education Ministers’ Conference held recently at which several Ministers were surprised that in South Africa the Education portfolio covered all aspects from primary to tertiary. In some other African countries there was a more pronounced link, to the extent of a combined ministry, for Education and Science & Technology portfolios.

The DG said that they were moving with some caution on the question of textbooks. Bulk buying was in the interests of the learners. The order for a million books had sent the first supplies rolled out within 48 hours, which was a good indication of how the process could be expedited. However, there was a counter-argument that such direct supplying of textbooks would kill bookshops. The Department was trying to build a culture of reading, and small bookshops were seen as an integral part of this strategy. There was a need for balance. The DoE had a narrow interest to get the books to the schools.

He admitted that the Dinaledi concept was elitist. These schools did not need to be universal. Even some of the 400 current schools did not qualify for the status. The DoE was not opposed to focused schools. Colleges in particular did not need to have identical specialities, and many colleges focused on certain niche areas. The real question is who would be admitted to the Dinaledi schools. He wondered if admission was an accident or a privilege. The children had to be deserving of participating in the programme. The Dinaledi concept would remain a permanent feature of the landscape.

Mr Hindle said that in the case of the teachers returning to the profession after accepting retrenchment packages in the past, the DoE was trying to convince provinces that they could indeed return to their employ. It was an important question. On the question of these teachers being upskilled, he felt that the differences between the old and the new curricula were not that vast. The principles of maths did not change.

The DoE was not ignoring White learners. Most already had a measure of support, and the support to White learners had reached saturation point. The growth potential lay in the Black population.

He said that the FET Act only applied to colleges. Provincial departments had the capacity to transfer staff to the colleges, and facilitators had been requested in each province. There were some political opportunities for the unions. The Minister had been applauded by the unions when she had said that it would be beneficial for people to move into huge new sectors.

Integrated Communications Technology (ICT) in Education
Mr Hindle said that President Mbeki had convened an international advisory commission on science and development. They had advised on the state of Integrated Communications Technology (ICT) in South Africa. This was the seventh such meeting, and for the first time the focus was not on the cost of telecommunications in South Africa. It had been a real delight to say that the Second Network Operator was ready to come online. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) regulations were being enforced. Primary beneficiaries of this approach would be the Education and Health sectors.

He told the Committee about attending the opening of a new school at Mabopane. Local ICT companies had assisted in making this the first laptop laboratory in the country. The laptop had no hard drive, but worked with a flash drive instead. They were rough and ready, but still fully Windows and internet enabled. The school had a wireless network to which all these laptops could connect. Now, when the learners were seen under the trees, they were most likely surfing the internet. The laptops were useless off the school premises, had a very distinctive bright blue colour, and were not available commercially. This made theft unlikely. They were symptomatic of the ICT entry market level.

The DG said that a small percentage of schools had computers, and most of these only had computers for administrative purposes. Approximately 10% of all schools used computers for teaching and learning, and only a few of these had internet capability. The pace of the industry was such that by the time decisions were made on procuring equipment they were often either out of date or cheaper options had become available in the meantime.

Mr Hindle said that the White Paper on Education was being implemented. Changes had to impact on the system as a whole. There was a need to reduce expenses. It was necessary to widen access to diverse resources. By 2013 every learner finishing high school had to be ITC capable.

He listed a number of achievements. A significant one was the establishment of eRate, whereby Telkom gave a 50% discount on connection costs. The Universal Service Agency was assisting with the delivery of ITC to schools. Desired teacher competencies had been identified. The Thutong Education portal had been established. There was a programme to supply every teacher with a laptop in order to help them with their tasks. Provinces were rolling out different initiatives. Various co-ordinating structures had been established.

The DG said that a feasibility study was underway about how to roll out ICT initiatives. Theft was a major issue. It seemed that in some cases no amount of security measures could stop it, quoting the example of one school which had all the necessary burglar bars and security gates only for thieves to drive a truck into the wall. Theft was a community issue as well, with no need for security in some areas.

He added that hardware and software were also issues. Access to broadband technology was crucial, especially in more rural areas. Community support was needed. The DoE had consulted  MTEC about the best delivery model. A suggestion was that enterprising learners be allowed to run internet café setups from school property with the school leasing connectivity time during working hours. There also had to be a strategy to replace equipment on an ongoing basis.

Mr Hindle said that the FET colleges were fully ICT compliant. Three had even been identified as call centre sites. Various steps in the feasibility study procedure were spelt out. These included a needs analysis and an options analysis. A public-private partnership (PPP) framework was needed. The private sector was a better driver for projects. The required skills changed regularly.

The DoE was still busy at the needs analysis stage. The governmental arrangement was that an ICT cluster was handled by Cabinet. The President had agreed to establish an e-skills council, which would probably meet annually.

The DG then looked at the needs analysis in some more detail. All learners needed quality education. Teachers needed training. Enhancements were needed to the logistic and operational aspects. Secondary outputs included the lowering of access costs, the building of the ICT industry, the support of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) and the establishment of South Africa as a global leader in the sector.

Mr Hindle said that the opportunities were clear, and that all would benefit by the enhancements to ICT. The Department would have some leverage with suppliers due to the size of the orders that would be placed. There was cross-over potential with other government priorities.

He then looked at some of the challenges. One was the scale of investment needed. Others were the need for integration. Some teachers had a reluctance to change, and there was a danger that children with easy internet access would feel that the internet would become an alternate source of authority. Money needed to be ring-fenced, and the roll-out had to be nationally. Big investment was needed, and MTEC might have to make a “leap of faith” in this regard. Funding was always a challenge. Immediate actions needed were support by the Committee. Cheap broadband access was needed. Support must be provided. Teacher skills had to be developed, and they needed their own computers.

Discussion

Mr L Greyling (ID) thought the programme was very exciting. However, thousands of schools did not even have electricity. He asked if the provision of ICT and electrification would proceed simultaneously. If not, only the ‘superior’ schools would get any benefit.

Ms Mentor said that the provision of ICT had to be linked to teacher readiness, which had to be enhanced. There could not be only one or two teachers at each school with the ability to use and teach ICT. She had noticed that many teachers were buying their own computers, which was a positive sign. The issue was on the minds of the teachers, and they were taking their own initiative. She suggested the possibility of issuing a questionnaire to determine the needs of the teachers.

Ms Mentor felt that attention must be given to the secondary outputs. Costs needed to be reduced. In the needs analysis, it had to be recognised that schools were the centre for community life in many areas. The government’s intention was to make all South Africans ICT literate. Other government efforts should be maximised. South Africa was good in the production of ideas. ICT could be a source of enhanced ideas.

Finally, she asked what kind of partnerships the Department was looking to build. There were many bodies dealing with ICT. For example, the group South African Women in Dialogue used ICT as a tool for poverty alleviation.

Ms Matsomela said that the process had started. It was exciting. She was concerned about the involvement of the private sector. Government should be concerned about the direction of ICT changes. The private sector reacted to change quicker than government. Target dates should be set.

The Chairperson noted that there had been some promise of co-operation with the Microsoft Corporation, and asked for more details. He had also noted that NEPAD was listed as a stakeholder.

Mr Hindle responded that electricity had to be regarded as a given before implementation of the ICT project. Solar panels were not enough. The DoE was working closely with the Department of Minerals and Energy in this regard. There was some tension. Should the DoE wait until all schools were electrified, or should they start rolling out the project to those schools that were ready? Gauteng had the resources and had launched their Gauteng Online project. The Western Cape had done the same with their Khanya initiative.

The White Paper had proposed that all teachers should be ready to implement ICT. He admitted that some would be reluctant to change their ways. Many were taking the initiative by acquiring computers and skills. Perhaps the DoE should rather provide a subsidy to teachers to buy their own computers rather than supply them. Internet connections could also be subsidised.

The DG supported the suggestion on extra secondary outcomes. Computer facilities could be made available after hours for community use. Computer literacy for the public in general was critical. As to South Africans being a source of ideas, the international community was interested in South Africa. Although the country was seen in a development context, there were elements of advanced infrastructure. This might be a solution. The Classmate laptop described earlier was a concept developed for South Africa. The cost was $400, but this might be halved in the event of mass production. Some components were imported, but the computers were assembled in the country.

He said that partnerships were important. Firstly partnerships with other government departments were needed. The community base was not being properly exploited yet. There were groupings, and reaction from the business community was encouraging. Nine companies had been involved with the Mabopane project. It was nice to see them working with government. This was the start of a process. The target as expressed in the White Paper on Education was that by 2013, all learners and teachers would be computer literate.

He apologised that there were no linking lines on the organisation diagram presented. It was not a hierarchy, and it did not mean that the Committee and the Deputy President were on the same level. Instead it only served to illustrate the various role players. The agreement with Microsoft had just been extended. All schools had free use of their software, and this was a saving of millions. However, the open source software community was furious. Children would be locked into Microsoft software, and there were obviously long term benefits for Microsoft. The open source community wanted to see this agreement cancelled. Perhaps there should be equally vigorous promotion of open source software. The DoE would have talks with Mr Mark Shuttleworth. His Ubuntu range of software was now an international standard, and was the standard operating system for open source software.

The DG added that NEPAD had started a schools initiative in seventeen countries. Three were in South Africa, one of them at Bushbuck Ridge and another in the Eastern Cape. There were one or two more. Big companies were sponsoring the project.

The biggest issues in ICT were communication links. The new undersea cable and satellite links would improve the situation. The undersea cables would lead to India on the one hand and South America on the other. These would be fibre optic technology and there would be an immense improvement. The average cost of a call in South Africa was R2; in India it was two cents.

Mr Mpontshane said that there was one NEPAD school in his area. It had boosted the image of the area. He asked about Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). Tension was building, and they were not working together with the DoE regarding skills. He might be misreading the situation. The Ministers of Labour and Education were coming together.

Mr Hindle said he hoped that Mr Mpontshane was wrong. The SETAs were not allowed to train themselves, and were only designed as facilitators. They collected skills levies from business and had to ensure that they were used correctly. There had been a lack of delivery from students attending FET colleges, but this situation was now changing. Historically the private colleges had been the main training institutions, but this was now passing to the FET colleges. He was not aware of any tension. Labour and Education had jointly taken a qualification framework to Cabinet.

Mr B Mthemba (ANC) noted that the DoE intended to increase the participation rate in MST. The standard of performance was improving and there was an increasing number of learners. Great programmes were being put in place. He still saw some challenges regarding the standard of performance. He had two questions. Firstly, he had not heard much about the subject of technology as the emphasis was on maths and science. Secondly, the DoE was still pursuing targets for 2009 which included references to HG passes, but he understood the concept of HG would fall away. Maths literacy had been introduced as a subject, and would reinforce the notion that this subject would be equated with maths on the SG.

Ms Mentor needed conceptual clarity. There was a positive movement regarding labour. She thought the FET Act would lead to a haemorrhage of teachers from the schools to FET colleges. She forecast that this would create a problem. Grade 11 and 12 learners were in the FET bending, but teachers at schools were not necessarily employed in terms of the FET Act. They therefore missed out on the benefits. If this was not addressed now it should at least be tested. Maths and science teachers received better professional advancements under the FET Act.

Mr Ntuli said that the discrimination between HG and SG was disappearing. It had never been advocated that maths literacy was a simpler subject, but it was harder to get teachers for maths literacy. He asked how it was being presented in the Dinaledi schools. There was a commercial component in maths literacy. Performance must be more or less the same at the Dinaledi schools when comparing maths to maths literacy.

Mr Hindle replied that the performance rate was improving. Some tough examinations had been set. The Department had to ensure that those in the system would be well served. The technology subject was a compulsory part of the general curriculum until Grade 9. Maybe a rethink was needed. It was not about technology as they understood it, but was more about orienting learners into thinking on a systems and process basis. It was a valuable subject. He pondered if the Department was following an MST or just an MS strategy de facto. This was especially not the case at the Dinaledi schools. The Department would have to relook at its targets in the light of the new curriculum. The numbers should not change, but the definitions would have to be reconsidered.

Regarding the FET Act, he said that this was the first time he had heard this concern expressed in this way. He thought the problem was actually that teaching staff were quitting FET colleges to go to schools. He would investigate. Training benefits should be linked to recapitalisation. Benefits were a once-off for new entrants. He said that 300 000 students were in the FET colleges, and the Department hoped to increase this number to a million. Teachers were needed, but the schools should not be stripped. The indicators would be clearer by the end of 2007. The Department would watch the trends. From the end of this year the colleges could determine their own incentives, and would be able to attract the best staff.

Mr Hindle said that on the question of the selection of learners for the Dinaledi schools, there was still no process. The status of Dinaledi only applied to the schools themselves. Learner selection had been considered, but there was no process ready at this stage. Selection was part of international thinking. There were no special entry criteria.

Committee Programme
The Chairperson said that the Committee would meet on 10 September for public hearings on the Education Laws Amendment Bill. Enough time had to be available, even if the meeting went on into the night. The closing date for submissions was on 5 September. On 12 September the Committee would have an informal consideration of the Bill, and the formal deliberations would follow on 14 September. The Committee would be involved with the People’s Assembly from 17 to 19 September, and the Bill would be debated in the National Assembly on 20 September. A constituency period would follow.

The meeting was adjourned.


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