Education Management Information System (EMIS); Ensuring Quality Through Education Districts
Committee: Basic Education
Date of Meeting: 09 Nov 2007
No summary available for this committee meeting.
MinutesEDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
09 November 2007
EDUCATION MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEM (EMIS); ENSURING QUALITY THROUGH EDUCATION DISTRICTS
Chairperson: Prof S Mayatula (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Committee Report on Oversight Visit to Eastern Cape, Mbizana
Committee Report on Study Tour to the People’s Republic of China, August 2007
[Reports available at Committee Reports once published]
Ensuring Quality through Education Districts presentation
Progress report on rollout of Education Management Information System (EMIS)
Education Management Information System - Education Statistics
Audio recording of meeting
Representatives of the Department of Education reported on the rollout of the Education Management Information System (EMIS) at all levels of education service delivery as well as the development of capacity and service delivery within education districts.
The rollout of EMIS has been progressing, though challenges are seen in all provinces. The system holds promise for providing refined information to the various stakeholders to enhance decision making. Demand for software and training has been created at the school level and technological solutions to security problems have been found to ensure data integrity.
On the district level, practices existing before 1994 have affected the service delivery of current districts. The need for a uniform legal definition of a district and the provision of power and authority to the districts were emphasized. Means of implementing quality education and improvement of service delivery in all educational institutions were discussed as well as broad time frames for achievement of that implementation.
Progress report on rollout of Education Management Information System (EMIS)
Mr Firoz Patel (Deputy Director General: System Planning and Monitoring, Department of Education) noted that Mr Albert Chanee, a representative from the Gauteng Provincial Government, was the only provincial government representative as notice of the meeting was not sent out to the provinces as it should have been. However, the Department has been in discussion with provinces about the report.
Mr Patel moved on to discuss the background of the Electronic Management Information System (EMIS).
As was the case in all educational systems, the information collection system in place for education in 1994 was in desperate need of improvement. Several education departments existed at that time, and each had its own methods and systems of collecting information. Some were computer-based, and some were still manual in nature. At that early stage, integration of all data sets would a very difficult process, so a new system required a fresh start. The Department has faced considerable challenges in this project, but improvements are taking place, particularly within the last three years. During that time, increased recognition has been given by National Treasury on the importance of information for decision making and evaluation. EMIS was prioritized by the government in the medium term budget policy statement of October 2005.
Recognition for EMIS has been given both nationally and internationally. It is a term and concept relatively new to the education field, having appeared in the literature in only about the 1990s. Prior to that time, the term used for similar activities was “education statistics.” However, that process entailed little beyond counting numbers and retaining them in archives for analysis of long-term trends. The recognition of and demand for EMIS has evolved because of the need for scientific or evidence-based decision making and planning within education.
One of the biggest challenges has been coordinating EMIS with provincial education departments. As in all other areas, in terms of the totality of functions of intergovernmental structure or organisation, it has been difficult initially to pull nine education departments together on simple issues such as common forms, dates for actions, databases, data fields, and the numbering of schools.
EMIS is coordinated through the heads of education department committee (HEDCOM), subcommittee for EMIS (on this point the slide in the presentation is incorrect). The members of the subcommittee are the Department of Education, provincial education departments, HSRC, Research Institute for Education and Planning at Free State University, STATS South Africa (STATSA), and union representatives. The subcommittee is one of the oldest and most active within HEDCOM; it meets at least four times a year to allocate tasks to technical committees. Much of the work on the project has been done through this committee.
A significant injection of additional funding to national and provincial EMIS units came last year (2006-2007). Before that point, in some provinces no funds or resources were available for these tasks. When they made the bid for EMIS, the plans were structured around a national EMIS. The mandate for EMIS is one of the only educational functions specifically mentioned within the National Education Policy Act. A national EMIS means the provinces as well as the Department of Education. To produce such a uniform system, they sought a conditional grant but were unsuccessful in obtaining one. They still received allocations, part of which went through the equitable share for provinces. In terms of all priorities from ECD conditional grants to personnel grants made a year or two ago, once it goes to the equitable share, after it is announced as a government priority in October, they still struggle to find allocations between the provincial governments and the provincial education departments.
With the assistance of National Treasury, the Department was able to extract particular funds in 2006 for use in 2007, so for the first time the Department is clear about what money is going to be available, which allows them to plan.
The different levels of resources and the different timing of actual knowledge of those resources pose a particular challenge to the development of a national implementation plan. If the provinces do not have the resources that are needed or accurate schedules, full implementation cannot occur. The national service can only move as fast as the slowest province.
National EMIS units are jointly managing the EMIS improvement plan with the provinces and heads of department. They meet quite often to discuss the systems being developed.
In terms of the second point, mandates and strategies of EMIS, the National Education Policy Act requires that the minister of education monitor and evaluate standards of education provision, delivery, and performance to a large extent through the use of national education statistics.
Therefore the aim of EMIS is to promote the development and operation of education and training management information systems for accountability (how many learners are there, are all there that should be there in terms of the population), for planning (learner numbers are used for allocations to provinces so they must be correct to prevent overfunding or underfunding), and for monitoring to achieve quality and ensure effective service delivery within the national education system.
The National Education Information Policy came about in August 2004 and was intended to deal with all the free-for-all policies that had existed before that. It tells of non-conformance to standards, the completion of survey forms, protocols of data formatting, and submission of data along a required timeline. In terms of EMIS policy, education information standards are to be developed and under that policy, there is a committee made up of representatives of interest groups and experts, including provincial representatives, Statistics South Africa (STATSSA), the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), and the Department of Communication that is coordinating standards. Published standards will be handed out to members – the Education Management Information Systems policy and the standards around the requirement of completion of forms by provinces and the submission of the forms and processes and procedures are two instruments that have been powerful in bringing the EMIS together. Standards are being finalized in terms of a data dictionary, in terms of collection of information, procedures for quality assurance, for database management. These standards are applicable and are of interest to the public at large because a number of research organizations can use them to determine what are the technological specifications and issues around data collection.
EMIS expertise never existed in South Africa or even internationally because it is so new. In their participation in international forums, there is still a major struggle. Even when pulling in experts to assist them, they discover that even the experts are grappling with the issues and the work that they have done is sometimes even more advanced than what the experts have done. Part of the problem has been that education systems are different than systems at other government service delivery sites such as hospitals or motor vehicle registration centres because they are loosely coupled systems. Each school is its own juristic personality and there are 12 million units of information. Education information is also very costly to collect in the traditional way. In a number of countries where education statistics are collected, the data integrity must be totally protected – all information collected undergoes a massive quality assurance process. In terms of participation in UNESCO structures for education information, the finalization of any one dataset in the discipline of education statistics takes around two years to complete. Some countries are 4 or 5 years behind in the completion of these databases. There is currently pressure to have information available in real time. However, that level of availability means that particular policies will need to be followed. The first policy is that collection take place from a single source, and there must be a single entry of truth. All operational systems must be built.
For instance, in the provisioning of educators, surveys must be sent out every month and these are operational processes where a school informs a district of a vacancy and the district must decide over that particular vacancy taking into account other processes.
Mr Patel cautioned that computers cannot solve problems within the educational system they have if the proper procedures are not in place; without them no computer system in the world can provide quality data. The issue is ensuring quality; if the school does not keep the system informed, it is only as good as the people who have the time to enter the data.
Their vision is that all operational systems, like examinations and graduation databases, be built on top of operating institutional systems and must be of use to national, provincial, district, and school level users. No one is going to supply information from the school level if the information is not of use to them on a day-to-day basis. Therefore they aim to provide a single operation of truth. The reporting layer of business intelligence is placed on top of all the other databases, which it links together. This layering allows for more meaningful analysis and decision making. HEDCOM has adopted a strategy to move away from aggregate data within specific areas such as number of learners in a particular grade, their age, racial groups, etc. to the collection of unit record data from source, i.e., from the school record-keeping systems themselves such as admission forms, daily registers, and class lists. This makes for a very large system. It will take time to fully develop, though it has advanced in its development.
The Department has focused on showing schools the importance of data to the school itself to allow it to make decisions itself rather than waiting for aggregated data to be sent and allow action to be taken only then. EMIS is not only for decision making at the national level but also at the school level, so the Department plans to implement the South African School Administration Management System (SA-SAMS) as the basic standard for all school data collection to improve and standardize data collection at the school level. SA-SAMS contains information such as age, sports participation, parent occupation, class list information, fee information, school budget, curriculum, maps, timetabling, etc.
SA-SAMS is the first step in building a national unit collection system and its development is underway. Because the Department did not have the resources to roll out the system to all schools in the country, it distributed CDs containing the relevant software free of charge while a plan for implementation or training was being developed to allow entrepreneurs at the school level to realize the benefits of the system for that school without training or use being mandated. This has created a demand for both the software and corresponding training at the school level and produced champions in the schools to take the process forward.
In developing and implementing a national unit record system and tracking system, the system of linkages and integration will be developed to join the schools to provincial educational departments and the provincial departments to the national department. Such a system would allow information about a student who has left one school to go to another to be known within a week of the event. This process is subject to every school being online or using manual systems and nodal points. However, if it was working throughout the country, no learner would show up in a school more than once. This advance would produce major efficiency gains. Data quality checks have revealed a level of overreporting found, which in turn allowed the department to visit schools where the overreporting was occurring. A 2% quality audit will be stepped up to a 4% quality audit this year. A business intelligence reporting system has also been developed that links all of the operational databases together. Data audits can be performed through this system, which improves the quality of all data, allowing full implementation of data standards and enhancement of systems and training in data management areas.
For the full system, all schools must be fully computerized. Informally schools are engaging in the process, but they are often reluctant to invest time and money to participate in a formal system only to have their equipment being stolen, which presents an additional challenge in terms of data storage. If all data for a school is stored on that school’s computer and the computer is stolen, it is a difficult and costly process to recreate all of the data that was lost. With the EMIS system, data can be sent to a central computer at the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), and if a computer is stolen it can be replaced the following day with a laptop. This ensures data integrity and avoids frustration resulting from an inability to function within the SA-SAMS system.
Operational and transversal systems within the EMIS are the Learner Unit Record Information Tracking System (LURITS), the National Education Information Management System (NEIMS), personnel databases, and examination databases. Some members are aware of NEIMS because of other presentations the Department has done, but they have not yet been invited to give a presentation on that system to the Committee. Mr Patel stated that perhaps they could give such a presentation some time in the new year. NEIMS contains information about the infrastructure of schools through things such as photographs, sketch plans, aerial images of the school, measurements of classrooms, and conditions of classrooms. EMIS allows all of these datasets to be brought together and related information to be linked. Above all of that is a reporting layer that will allow decisions to be made and to allow other stakeholders such as unions, parliamentary committees, government generally, and researchers to access information and make use of it.
LURITS is the learner unit record information tracking system. It contains information of each learner by ID, so 12 million records can be pulled into the transversal systems.
On the issue of improvement of the structure of the Department of Education, the Department has not yet been able to organise to deal with all challenges because they are dealing with collection of information from 35 000-39 000 institutions. It is a massive exercise to run surveys, collect the forms, capture the information at the provincial level, and then clear information as necessary. All of these functions were then placed in a single new directorate charged with creating a systems design and development of the national information system to decide how information will move from the school through the rest of the system. The directorate was established in April and the new director was appointed two months ago.
They have restructured to improve capacity in the area of data management, reporting, and dissemination. Historically the Department has had much difficulty publishing data on time because it was not received in a form that they could use. Recent publications show that this problem is being ameliorated. Before April of this year for the first time, they were able to supply interim and preliminary figures to the Minister of Finance for the coming year. Data for 2007 are already available and are being used for planning purposes. Areas covered include both statistical analysis and geographic information. This enhanced reporting capability also allows the Department to fulfill international obligations to provide information to UNESCO.
Another component in the improved information monitoring and evaluation is fulfilled by another directorate that utilises information for study and analysis. The directorate then makes proposals around policy interventions. For example, a number of years ago EMIS identified a massive underage and overage enrolment. The information produced by the system has allowed class enrolments in excess of 100% to be reduced to close to 100%, indicating greater efficiency.
Mr Patel then moved to the issue of allocations. Even three years ago, the amount allocated to these efforts was not even one third of what it is currently, and the current amounts are still not ideal because of the inconsistencies seen among the different provinces. Government priority is reflected in the amounts allocated. Provinces like the Northwest Province, Gauteng, the Western Cape, and KwaZulu Natal are speeding ahead while others like the Eastern Cape and Limpopo continue to lag behind in terms of implementation and training with the new system. The Chair asked whether it was the province that determines these issues of the amounts to be spent. Mr Patel responded that it was, but now the Minister has made it a priority. The Chair then asked if the Committee could be provided with information about the proportionality of the allocations in the different provinces, that is, how much the amount changed rather than how much it is for a particular time. Mr Patel replied that the Committee would be provided with information about what they expected the provinces to have, compared to what was allocated. He stressed that National Treasury allows requests to be made only based off of the plans that the Department has; there is no guarantee that those funds will be allocated as requested. However, they can provide information about how much money was requested compared to how much was allocated to a particular province. He pointed out that there have been improvements; for example, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo used to have no money allocated, and now they have allocations in this area. The same is true for the Free State, which has always been moving in a favourable direction. In response to a question from Mr B Mosala (ANC), Mr Patel pointed out that the chart he was explaining gave information on additional funds allocated, not total budget amounts.
For the current financial year, the chart shows that Gauteng Province and KwaZulu Natal are moving aggressively in terms of the rollout of SA-SAMS and LURITS, development of a business intelligence system, and improvement of data quality. Mr Patel explained that LURITS was based on four pillars: the development of a system for gathering information about a learner, the deployment of the platform with its system architecture and infrastructure including things such as cabling and connectivity, provincial planning and support for deployment in the form of new staff or training for existing staff.
The technical system development began 1 October. They would have preferred to begin sooner but it was difficult to get SITA to understand what the Department is doing. Since then they have escalated it to the CEO and IT officer level and now have full cooperation from SITA, who has placed members of its senior management on the project. The project has progressed to a completion of about 75%, and in March or April, the Department should be able to demonstrate the completed system.
Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) inquired what is necessary to develop a technical system at the national level. Mr Patel replied that it involves designing a computer system at the school level that can accommodate a database of all learner information. This is occurring at the national level and once it is developed it will go to the provinces. The Chair asked how this could be accomplished in schools where there are no computers and how those schools would be affected by this system. Mr Patel stated that this is only the national design, which is currently 75% completed and will be finished in February 2008.
Mr Mpontshane asked who was responsible for linking the school to the system if the computers are available. Mr Patel replied that it would fall to the provinces as part of the infrastructure, even though the Department would prefer the responsibility to be at the national level.
The Department’s information and communication technology strategy includes budgeted ways to include information even from schools without computers. If the strategy works, forms filled out manually will go to a district office for entry or the principal will be provided with a laptop so that information can be entered electronically from home if they have access.
In terms of deploying the system, meaning installing software, they are working with SITA to ensure that all infrastructure is in place to allow that process. That process is 60% complete. The Chair noted that this process still will have nothing to do with schools that do not have computers and Mr Patel confirmed that he was correct initially, but they are dealing with the problem going forward. The Chair expressed concern with making claims that a system is 100% complete when some provinces still have 60% of their schools without computers. He confirmed that the numbers Mr Patel was giving pertain to the national level, not to capacity within individual provinces. Mr Patel stated that a provincial deployment depended on adequate funding and training to support the planned implementation. Depending on the situation, implementation may take place at the district level rather than the school level.
The Chair inquired whether the chart indicated that all nine provinces were 90% ready to implement the system. Mr Patel responded that the Department was working with the provinces to determine the budget levels and timeframes in place to allow implementation; that was the reference for the 90% completion. Other processes need to fit in to the total system by 28 February 2008. They are 25% complete right now and will be 100% complete by January 2008.
There is a large backlog of information to be entered into the NEIMS, and 40% of the backlogs are in Eastern Cape. The national assessment report pertaining to this is available on the Department website at http://www.education.gov.za/dynamic/imgshow.aspx?id=2737. Photographs will soon be made available.
The SA-SAMS is being used by schools but they are not live or linked. Its use has been most accelerated in the Free State and has also been moving in the Western Cape. This system will feed whatever information the school has captured into the other systems. Provincial education departments are rolling it out and the role of the Department is to maintain the system, to deal with requests for the software, and to update it as necessary. They will also ensure that it meets the needs of the National Curriculum Statement as well as other relevant policies. Mr Patel then went over the specific numbers of schools that have received the SA-SAMS on CD. Official training has been completed in some schools and some provinces are receiving data through the pilot efforts.
In the Northern Cape, part of the reason that some schools do not have the system is because of redemarcation of schools in the North West Province. Plans are in place to determine how many schools still require training. Some schools are using third-party developed software. Numbers from the Western Cape are not listed because they developed another unit record system but are moving to the new system this year.
NEIMS is also able to tell how many schools have computers. The increased number of computers means that the whole process can speed up.
The Department now has a protocol with STATSSA wherein they will assist the Department with capacity but also to begin to ensure that the Department’s statistics meet STATSSA standards. STATSSA has the mandate for quality assurance of statistics in South Africa. They are obligated to declare collections by other parties as official in terms of the Statistics Act. The statistics being produced by the Department right now are official only within the Department, but their goal is to have Department numbers approved by STATSSA and therefore recognized by law as official statistics. To that end, they are working to comply with the South African Statistic Quality Assurance Framework (SASQAF) and they are collaborating with UNICEF for the enhancement of EMIS in regard to monitoring children’s rights. They are also working with Social Development and the Department of Labor to monitor children who leave school. Even though those children are no longer the legal responsibility of the Department of Education, the Department can still assist other agencies who are responsible for them with information gathered by EMIS and to ensure that their educational rights are being honored.
Reports published by the Department are available on their website at http://www.education.gov.za/. There is also a special link for EMIS, where a user can download information about available statistics into a separate spreadsheet, at http://www.education.gov.za/emis/emisweb/statistics.htm. The Department has published national guidelines about how to complete survey forms, and they have capability for electronic data capture. The form is handwritten, but there is a machine that can read the numbers from the form and put them into the system. They are also performing another capacity assessment of provincial education departments, as is done every year.
Challenges still to be faced include late submission of data by provinces. HEDCOM and the minister have become involved to ensure that provinces are able to comply, so the situation is improving. However, some provinces face serious challenges in areas like proper staffing of critical posts. For example, in the Eastern Cape a single person was responsible for managing the entire EMIS system. The country as a whole is also facing a skills crunch in advanced statistical analysis; there are not enough skilled researchers to examine the available figures. Misinterpretations result and the Department is less able to address complicated issues such as those presented in Parliamentary questions. It is in the interest of all to have up-to-date info to allow improvement in the lot of the people of South Africa.
They are exploring different ways to deal with this situation, such as by collaborating with higher education institutions through grants to set up a chair or an instructor unit to shape skills of people in EMIS. There is also difficulty in recruiting and retaining personnel with scarce skills. Qualified managers come to a job for six months and then leave. The Department is exploring innovative salary packages, but the culture is deeply ingrained and the mentality that one package is suitable for all different civil servants is difficult to break.
Mr Patel turned then to the provincial reports and spoke about efforts within the Eastern Cape on different EMIS-related projects. The Chair asked what the origin of the figures given with respect to training for the SA-SAMS system. Mr Patel replied that 1500 schools were targeted based on the amount of funds that were available. The Chair asked if the reason why only 1500 were targeted out of 6000 total schools in the province was because of lack of prioritisation by the province. Mr Patel responded that it was. Ms. Van der Walt then asked what the criteria were for selecting target schools. Mr Patel responded that criteria were selected by the provinces and included availability of electricity and computers. The Chair queried if a province’s choice to include a small number of schools was informed by it being a disadvantaged province or by a lack of prioritisation by the province itself. Mr Patel stated that the small number was a consequence of underfunding.
Mr Patel turned to improvement efforts within the Free State. He noted that principals who participated in physical learner head count in August 2007 where discrepancies were found, were told that they faced dismissal if they provided fraudulent figures.
With respect to Gauteng Province Mr Patel noted that progress was moving well. The Chair again asked for clarification on the total number of schools compared with the numbers of schools reported as having undergone training. Mr Patel answered that for Gauteng, the 1 248 schools where training was done were out of a total 2 403 schools.
Mr Patel then reported on progress in KwaZulu Natal, which included electronic data capturing and business intelligence systems. He gave information also for Limpopo and Mpumalanga. At that point, rather than going through the remainder of the provincial reports, Mr Patel focused the attention of the Committee on the challenges faced in the provinces. In the Eastern Cape, even simple functions such as help desk assistance and generation of statistical reports are difficult to achieve. Mr Patel noted that the lack of human resources seen in Gauteng would probably be addressed in the short term but would be adversely affected by the mobility of workers with scarce skills mentioned earlier. Gauteng also faces problems of poor network connectivity, data quality, and the receipt of information from the largest amount of independent schools. The Northern Cape faces a unique challenge in long delays in their procurement process because of forms not being properly completed. In the Western Cape, theft and related property issues reinforce the need not to store data on school property, which will be assisted by better security and new technologies.
Mr A Chanee (Gauteng Provincial Government) noted that, at the provincial level, Gauteng has standardized 13 years of EMIS data and pulled it into the business intelligence solution. They have also automated the reporting requirements for the annual performance plan and the annual report. Mr Chanee highlighted the efforts taken in Gauteng at the operational level to ensure that the single source of truth is really truthful. They have examined what is going on at the operational level, both with regard to what is going on within the schools and what services are being provided by the provincial education department. One thing identified is the sometimes incoherent history about services to schools over the last 13 years, so there is an effort to systemize the transactional data of services offered to schools. This helps build up the input model as to the level and quality of inputs into the educational system and there has been tremendous expansion in this area.
Looking at the way in which schools were targeted, Mr Chanee noted that rollouts were not done in schools that already had school administration packages. By the end of the academic year, rollout will be complete to all public ordinary schools in Gauteng. They have requested improvements to the SAMS to enable direct uploads into LURITS to prevent school officials from having to enter information twice and to avoid duplicate systems operating.
Ms Sigcau stated that the work that has been done is apparent but she is concerned about the Committee having reliable information to allow them to make good decisions. In her view, they can only get accurate, reliable information from the schools themselves. It is clear that there remain many schools where it is not possible to have the system operating because of lack of infrastructure.
Mr Patel responded that the current information is reliable. Decisions and policies are being made based on a situation that is known. The new system will improve the quality of decision making in that it will be fine tuned. Policies and processes can be put in place and can measure the impact of those on particular learners. Decisions being made currently have a solid foundation; the new system would allow measurement by more specific means, but the information currently available is not incorrect.
Ms Sigcau pointed out the current need for categorisation of schools, and there must be a system that provides accurate information so they are able to do that correctly. While the system is being completed, she wished to know how the Committee can get reliable information so that it can do its work.
Mr Patel replied that the incorrect categorisation of schools is not occurring based on data. There is no way to get accurate information on the actual situation of every household from the official statistics because community dynamics change. The available statistics are used for a broad brush approach. The policy contains mechanisms for change, but there are managerial issues in that the people with the power to make changes are not making change that will provide benefits even before all of the data are collected. Provinces need to be listening to contestation and providing answers.
Ms Van der Walt inquired about the total number of schools receiving training. She was concerned that out of 24775 schools given in eight of the provinces (excluding the Western Cape), by her calculation 4156, not even 20%, have done the training, with the rest not targeted because of lack of funding. She felt there should be greater pressure on the provinces to put schools in a position to participate in the system.
Ms Van der Walt queried about the minimum level of precautions being taken in provinces besides the Western Cape to allow procurement delays to be lessened.
Mr Patel responded that the minimum would be burglar proofing. The decision to provide security personnel is made at the provincial level. However, in his opinion the solution to the problem lies in using technological means of safeguarding the data. He stated that a holistic approach must be taken to safety and security because of the lack of respect for schools manifested in these thefts.
Ms Van der Walt was concerned that Limpopo was listed as engaging in none of the improvement activities in one part of the presentation but that it will be targeted in the next quarter. She wished to know when that quarter was due to end. She was concerned about the pace at which progress was being made and would like to see school figures divided according to primary and secondary schools.
Mr Patel replied that the lag in Limpopo is a result of funding. He stated that figures can be provided that are broken down according to primary and secondary schools.
The Chair asked about the problem of schools not operating all of the time because of funerals or other reasons. He wished to know if the system helped address that problem or enabled tracking of it.
Mr Patel responded that tracking of utilisation of school days can be done with the new system. He stated that school time must be treated like a budget. The system is able to track activities such as examinations, time for sporting activities, time for funerals, administrative tasks, etc. However, he cautioned that principals must be empowered with information about the need to account for school time. He gave an example balancing the need of a school to be part of a community by closing for funerals with the need of the school to operate if funerals are happening every day. Once the system is in place, those things can be tracked as long as the principals are giving accurate information. The Department is in the final stages of a study of absenteeism and have proposals to manage learner attendance systems on the national level.
There has been continual improvement. In the last 10 years, the provinces have had the power to make decisions and the power to make their own policies and bureaucratic systems. There has now been a decision to form a national framework to combat instability from restructuring within the systems that are in place. He cautioned that all parts of a national system must move together.
Mr Ntuli asked about financial management of provinces in terms of allocation of funds to schools. He stated that allocation is a problem everywhere. For instance, 102 schools within Gauteng Province are reported as being among the poorest of the poor despite Gauteng’s small size and large amount of resources. He acknowledged that the reports may not be accurate, but there was no formal denial of that report by the Gauteng government. If there is so much financial mismanagement in such a small province with good infrastructure and no historical baggage from the time before 1994, it is very concerning to think about what is going on in other provinces and difficult to be assured that learning can take place from the first day of school.
Mr Mpontshane inquired about the reports of disparities in provincial facilities. He was concerned that disparities within the system were perpetuating themselves. He asked if the Department could intervene with extra funding to empower districts to keep this from happening. He has observed instances of good infrastructure in schools but also the authority of management undermined by inspectors.
Mr Patel responded that with respect to infrastructure, the numbers do not reflect a year-to-year disparity. They begin from year 0. In terms of the equitable share since 1994, some provinces have taken allocations meant for one thing and spent them in other areas, so the numbers are not indicative of an inherited backlog. Infrastructure has now been removed from the equitable share and put into the conditional grant managed by the National Treasury, which takes into account provincial backlogs. A careful reading of the intergovernmental Crystal report states that education was not prioritized in terms of provincial allocations for infrastructure previously, but the Minister of Finance has announced a 2.7% increase. So the fight is not lost. The Department has electronic information about the bids that have been made. It includes what percentage of the bid they expect the provinces to get and what percentage is fulfilled. By demonstrating progress with limited funds, they will be able to open the discussion again with National Treasury and take up the issue in the bidding process once they have determined the speed at which they can move.
Presentation on Ensuring quality through education districts
Ms Palesa Tyobeka (Deputy Director General: General Education and Training, Department of Education) gave a short presentation giving information on the processes being used for determining districts. There has been a lot of stress in the system on what is happening with districts, and at the national level there is now a directorate to focus on the district system. Recognition has been made that education districts are the link between education sites and the provincial education departments and the national department institute of quality education. They play a critical role in ensuring that education needs are understood and that national objectives are achieved.
To date, districts have been organized according to provincial preferences and needs rather than a national framework. There have been differences in structure from province to province so the quality and intensity of service delivery has varied from district to district across the country.
In many ways, what existed before 1994 continues to affect what is happening in the districts now and the pace of change. Differences in per capita expenditures, services to different groups, and in teacher/learner ratios have influenced different provinces differently. Services have been greatly affected. Provinces like Western Cape, Northern Cape, and Gauteng, which have not inherited great parts of homelands, have benefitted from amalgamation. They have been able to provide more and better services than others and have been able to deal better with parts of Department of Education and Training (DET) characterized by underfunding, underprovisioning, and greater numbers of underqualified teachers. Other provinces inherited much greater numbers of students from former homelands and have been hampered in their ability to move forward and the amount of services they are able to provide is compromised. Looking at all provinces combined, all nine offer core services but those that inherited greater portions of House of Assembly or House of Delegates regions have more services that can be offered. Ms Tyobeka then detailed the legal position of education districts, particularly the lack of a precise legal definition and the lack of any prescribed powers or functions.
The directorate that has been established has recognised that all these factors require changes to be made. The perception is that the recognition has taken too long a time, but it is happening now. The changes must focus on support for learning, by providing power and authority to the districts, and high quality support to school leaders. The Department has begun a process toward forming a policy framework to express a national vision and standardize roles, powers, and responsibilities as well as providing a normative framework.
To give a sense of how different the different districts are, Ms Tyobeka stated that a district serves 84 schools in the Northwest Province; one in Gauteng provides services to 126 schools; a district in Limpopo can be responsible for providing services to 835 schools. That is the kind of differentiation that currently exists.
The scope of the policy framework encompasses a common understanding of the concept of an education district and the powers and structural components involved. Ms Tyobeka noted a discussion the day before involving a proposal to form the United States of South Africa, but she noted that the country is not a federal state, so there must be a common understanding throughout the country. The policy development process is intended to ensure that roles are uniform and terminology is standardized, as well as development of a detailed organogram.
In terms of the services that must be provided, the overriding purpose of the basket of services should be to advance implementation of quality education and to improve service delivery in all educational institutions. Core functions within the basket of services include various planning and coordination roles, monitoring and developing curriculum development, financial management services, and psychological and therapeutic services for all learners.
The broad time frames that are being used for their work include a process that has run throughout to the year to HEDCOM and back, to the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) and back, and there will be a meeting of a small committee of heads that will finalize a document to be be looked at by the provincial heads of education on 13 November 2007. That document will provide guidelines for the entire system to uniformly delegate authority to districts. The hope is for approval of that document by CEM in January 2008. Then, because the provinces are at different states of readiness, some with limited funds and capacity to deliver in the ways described, they will at national level put together and cost a phased implementation program to be presented to Treasury for funding. By January 2009 they hope to begin working in all the districts so that all the districts in the country are positioned to support quality learning in the schools.
The Chair asked Ms Tyobeka that the term “law” be more specifically defined in her presentation, such as a particular act or other law.
Ms Tyobeka agreed that the question of the legal status of the districts requires an examination of the conceptualization of the status. If districts have no legal status, it is difficult for them to do their work but she agreed with the chair that they must be careful where they look to find the legal status, and the Department has been using that caution. However, she reiterated that this links into what is meant by implementation. This is an area of concern to the entire system. The provinces are discussing all of these issues. The shift toward a focus on providing support for quality learning is happening but at different times because of the different starting points for the different provinces. For the more advanced provinces, these issues are not as significant. Even where capacity building has been done, districts cannot be staffed or be brought into full compliance with their role if they do not have legal status.
Mr Mpontshane agreed that the districts were the weakest link in the education system and asked whether it would be possible to have a copy of the document that contains the guidelines that will go to the provincial heads.
Ms Tyobeka responded that the document could be shared but it is not yet finalised so it would have no legal status even though it has been through CEM.
Ms Sigcau commented that 2009 was too long to wait for the changes that must be made, such as changing district offices to be centres of support and having capacity to give professional support. She wished to know if there were things that could be done sooner than that.
Ms Tyobeka explained that 2009 is the time when they hope to have legally binding document in place addressing all of these issues, but the process of achieving the goals begins now.
Ms. Van der Walt stated that she shared the concerns of Ms Tyobeka about Limpopo and the large areas within that province. She inquired whether greater specificity could be given about the services provided in psychological, guidance, life skills, and therapeutic services, which are addressed in an amendment passed last month, and the specialized services that are referred to as well.
Ms Tyobeka responded that the decision has revolved around whether specialized functions will be most effectively placed in the school or at the district level in deciding where services will be provided. For example, some children may need speech therapy or specialized services that are not psychological services. These more unusual services would be housed in the district office rather than at the school.
Mr Ntuli wished to know what the source of the new legal status of the districts would be and inquired whether a legislative amendment to existing acts would be necessary. He also inquired whether any change would need to wait until after the costing was completed. He also asked what determinants would go into a decision of the size of a district and whether the Committee would be informed as to what those determinants were to ensure uniformity of workload.
On the second question, Ms Tyobeka replied that the determinants would include factors such as geography and the number of schools, but the important considerations for each school will differ. For example, in the Northern Cape, distance must be factored into the norms.
The Chair asked about the inability to obtain a conditional grant and asked if that might still be a possibility now that conditional grants are part of the equitable share. He expressed concern about the newness of the system leading to allocations being spent in areas other than those intended. He asked what the Committee needed to know in order to do its part to prevent that from occurring.
Ms Tyobeka spoke to the budget issues by saying that they are still fighting for grants in all areas. She gave examples such as district development. As yet they have not been able to obtain any grants and are finding it very difficult to deliver on national priorities because the money flows through equitable share.
Mr Mosala queried whether districts could play a role in deciding how funds will be allocated. He stated that the report said that the schools at issue have not accounted for the initial allocations, so they could not continue transfers. A principal has money that he can use but he doesn’t know how to account for the expenditures to the Department, who is awaiting the information from him. One should appreciate the Department’s direction on this issue and perhaps districts are moving in a direction where heads of department can participate in identifying problems and generating solutions. They have been given a challenge to capacitate themselves and perform at an optimal level. He stressed the need to be mindful of shortcomings, but he cautioned about the need to avoid inspectors and the like and the need to use common designations at the district level.
Ms Tyobeka replied that they are dealing with the issue of nomenclature and linking terms to the services to be provided. Capacity of districts has been an ongoing concern and efforts have been made in that area, for instance in providing subject advisors or district managers. Challenges arise when people are in these positions but are not equipped to do the job; this makes support particularly difficult. Stopgap measures have limited usefulness, particularly when they run across the system as a whole. She gave an example from Limpopo of a single subject advisor who was servicing a large number of schools as an area where support will not be successful before capacity is built.
Mr Chanee explained that in Gauteng, schools were fully funded and were notified of budgets by proper processes in September. They were given renewed budget letters in March. At no time were schools made to believe that there was no funding available for them. However, some schools did not account for the funds they had received the previous year. Some had changed from section 21 schools to section 20 schools. Budgets would not be transferred to the schools but would be managed by the district on their behalf. A number of schools argued that the withdrawal of the function was irregular and that the government could not remove it without proof of the school’s incapacity to manage funds. Authorization from the MEC was required to allow the funds to be released because that was contrary to the policy in place. The schools then reported that they had no budget; they have budgets but they are being managed by the district. Only about 40 of the approximately 100 schools claiming no budget actually did not have their funds in place. This necessitated a process of rectification and moving funds around under a process to make sure that all payments were accounted for before funds could be transferred back.
Mr Chanee stated that the key lesson learned from the experience is the need for information management. For example, in treating the Section 21 status of schools and the removal of functions, schools should have been given notice and an opportunity to reply before functions were removed to ensure compliance with the law. Their status has been reinstated but a company has been commissioned to examine the schools’ capacity to manage its resources and its previous inability to account for its activities.
The meeting was then adjourned.