Conditional Grants, School nutrition, HIV/AIDS and Learner Transport: Department briefing

Basic Education

18 February 2008
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Education gave two presentations, the first on Learner Transport and the second on Conditional Grants. The main focus of the presentation on transport was the need for policy mechanisms to regulate the provision of learner transport. The proposed policy would describe the roles and responsibilities of the Department of Education and create service level agreements between the Department of Education and the Department of Transport to facilitate provision of transport to learners.

The presentation on conditional grants gave a breakdown of the department’s expenditure up to 31 December 2007. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) explained how much of their allocation was spent on College Recapitalisation, on the Nation School Nutrition Programme and on HIV/AIDS conditional grants. He explained that the department had achieved most of its targets and as such the outcomes were favourable in all three programmes. 55 college sites were successfully upgraded, 2031 food gardens were completed and school based support teams were instituted in 14412 schools. Finally the CFO gave a forecast of the required allocations for 2008.

Members raised their concerns that although education was compulsory, learners were being hindered in proper access by the long distances to travel to schools, and urged that the Department must formulate a policy urgently, with set timeframes and accountability structures. Further questions were raised around non payment to service providers, lack of synergy between provinces, provision of bicycles as an interim measure, challenges faced, monitoring tools, zoning regulations, the best method of assessing those who needed to be fed, and the reasons for the inconsistencies in the spending across provinces.

Meeting report

Learner Transport: Report by Department of Education (DOE)
Mr John Kruger, Chief Director of Financial and Physical Planning and Analysis, gave the presentation on Learner Transport. He began by stressing the importance of providing learner transport to improve access to education.  He gave a comparative analysis of how international countries had dealt with the issue of learner transport. He made it clear that the general trend among other countries was to provide transport for their learners.

Mr Kruger then went on to expound on the issues of learner transport in South Africa. He explained that in a recent survey on National Household Travel it was concluded that 76% of learners walk to school. The same survey found that 560 000 learners walked more than one hour one way to get to school. Mr Kruger acknowledged that only 200 000 learners were provided with transport to date.

Mr Kruger explained the role of the Department of Transport (DoT) in the provision of learner transport. He clarified that although the DoT did not carry the costs of provision they were instrumental in the actual provision of transport. He stressed that there was a need for DOE to work together closely with the DoT on the issue of learner transport. He noted that some progress had been achieved by the acknowledgement made by the DoT that learner transport was a special category of need. This evoked the provision of bicycles to learners through the Shova Kalula Project.

Mr Kruger discussed how the different provincial departments of education had dealt with the issue. He noted that there were inconsistencies across the board with regards to policy. While some provinces have formal policies, others did not. Contract terms and allocations also varied across the provinces in the past financial year. He gave the example of the North West Province, where learner transport was not even dealt with by the Department of Education but was the responsibility of the Provincial Department of Transport.

Mr Kruger emphasised that it was time for national policy to be introduced to regulate this matter. He explained the benefits and disadvantages of providing learner transport. On the one hand he argued that the provision of transport supported access to education, promoted safety of our children on the roads and conserved learner energy. On the other hand he expressed concern how learner transport had been mismanaged; with contract rates not being sustainable, overloading of learner transport and occasionally non-payment of contractors.

Mr Kruger acknowledged that because the legislation stated that education was compulsory, and required the State to provide access to education, this meant that the provision of learner transport was implicitly mandated. He proposed that inter-governmental co-ordination was required. Ideally, transport should be provided, free of charge, to eligible learners from poor households. He explained that the alternative – which would be the building of more schools and hostels, provision of travel allowances and boarding allowances - would be les cost-effective.

Mr Kruger concluded his presentation by giving an account of the course of action required. He stated that it was necessary for national policy to be drafted, guidelines to be published and monitoring frameworks to be instituted. On a provincial level he explained that policy should include guidelines, strategic plans, implementation programmes, contractual solutions, registration processes and licensing procedures. He added that proposed structures should include service level agreements between the Provincial Departments of Education and the Provincial Departments of Transport.

Mr Kruger articulated that the policy should be structured in such a way that it prioritised the most vulnerable learners. These included the poorest, those that walk the longest distance, primary school learners and special needs students. He added that access to learner transport should be regulated and restricted to students and supervising staff only.

Mr Kruger proposed that as a short-term solution the department should focus on expanding the Shova Kalula Project. He concluded by saying that in the interim the National Department of Education would finalise their discussion with the National Department of Transport on the way forward. In addition the department would conduct capacity assessments across the provinces.

Report on Education Conditional Grants
Mr Theuns Tredoux, Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Department of Education gave the presentation on Conditional grants. The presentation covered three topics; the expenditure outcome from the last financial year, key outcomes of the nutrition, recapitalisation and HIV/AIDS programmes based on the third quarter reports and finally the proposed budget allocations for the coming financial year.

Mr Tredoux explained, with the aid of statistical graphs, provincial expenditure up to 31 December 2007. He said that there were inconsistencies across the provinces. While Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng and KZN had spent just over half of their allocation for Further Education and Training (FET) College Recapitalisation, North West Province had spent 77.38% by 31 December 2007. Inconsistencies were also evident in spending on HIV/AIDS conditional grants. While some provinces had spent over 75% of their allocation by the end of the year, some had spent as little as 25%. However spending on the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP) was consistent across the provinces. All the provinces had spent over 70% of their allocation by 31 December 2007.

Mr Tredoux stated that the outcomes of the Recapitalisation, Nutrition and HIV/AIDS programmes were successful. On the topic of recapitalisation he explained that 55 college sites had been upgraded so far out of the target number of 100. He clarified that a number of projects were partly completed and so the overall progress was better. He also noted that 19 Student Support Unit and Resource Centres had been established.

With regards to NSNP, Mr Tredoux said that the progress was phenomenal. The target number of food gardens to be created in the third quarter was 2027 and already 2037 had been completed. The yearly target was 7208, and already 6390 were built. He explained that 6 million learners benefited from the Nutrition programme. The average cost per student was R1.22 in urban areas and R1.42 in rural areas.

The HIV/AIDS programme was also just as successful. He said that orientation meetings (with parents and communities) were initiated to improve awareness and support. He reported that in the past year 13 455 educators were capacitated in teaching life skills. He stated that of the targeted 15 000 school-based support teams, 14 412 had been established. Finally he said that all 5 000 targeted schools had been furnished with age appropriate material.

Mr Tredoux gave a forecast of budgetary allocations for the impending financial year. The total projected expenditure for College Recapitalisation in 2008/9 was settled at R795 000, Nutrition was set at R1, 583, 103 and HIV/AIDS was set at R167 195. The large amount to be spent on nutrition resulted from the introduction of the minimum norm by the Minister of Education. According to that,
all learners in Quintiles 1, 2 and 3 primary schools must receive feeding, feeding must take place on every school day and the average meal cost was set to be approximately R1, 50. In addition it was stated that Provinces should find economic means to feed learners who were above minimum norm within the allocation, or through supplementing the grant.

Discussion
The Chairperson expressed his concern that although school was compulsory up to Grade 9, learners had to travel long distances to get to school and this did not translate to access to education. He also added that it was necessary for timeframes to be included in the proposed policy to ensure that the matter was dealt with expediently.

Mr A Mpotshane (IFP said that he was disappointed that the issue of learner transport was still at research stage and that there was nothing in the presentation with regard to departmental policy. He was concerned that accountability was divided between too many levels and suggested that the chief responsibility should lie with the National department. He also questioned what the timeframe was with regard to drafting and implementation of policy.

Mr R Van den Heever (ANC) said that there were too many loop-holes in the report. He said that the inconsistencies in expenditure across the provinces were not appropriately addressed. He asked what the explanation was for non-payment to service providers and expressed that interruption of transport services due to non-payment was unacceptable.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) also expressed concern that the issue of learner transport was still at research stage, and emphasised that timeframes were needed to indicate when the issue would be resolved. She asked what the vision was for the discussion between the two departments.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) stated that the Department could not move forward with ensuring access to education without addressing the issue of learner transport. He reiterated that there was a desperate need for national policy, and the lack of such policy was leading to each province acting as it pleased. He noted that there seemed to be no synergy between the Department of Education and the Department of Transport.

The Chairperson interjected, noting that the Committee was obviously in favour of the introduction of standardised policy but there was no need to take this aspect further.

Mr Kruger responded that the Department acknowledged that access to education was important. On behalf of the Department he accepted the reprimands of the Committee on the slowness of progress. In future the department must prioritise the issue of learner transport. It was slowly working on the required infrastructure.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) questioned the effectiveness of providing learners with bicycles as a mode of transport. This was not the most effective solution considering that they could not be used in rainy weather, were not durable, and needed maintenance. He wondered how the issuing of bicycles would be regulated.

Ms D van der Walt (DA) stated that lack of learner transport produced many negative results. The need to walk long distances affected the stress and concentration levels of learners. These same learners were those targeted by the feeding scheme and they thus had the double blow of hunger and fatigue. She was also concerned about learners travelling to school in open bakkies, and asked who was liable for medical costs if they were involved in accidents. She asked what distance was used to calculate those in need of transport; the Department had indicated that it might be 5km.

Mr Kruger explained that the policy differed from province to province. Some provinces used the rule that transport would be provided to those who had to walk 3km, while others used the 5km rule.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) asked the department to highlight specific challenges in their attempts to provide learner transport.

Mr Kruger explained that the biggest challenge faced by the Department was the lack of national policy regarding the matter. He said that it was the duty of the Schools Act to provide regulations dealing with the issue. The Department acknowledged that a standard policy was required. He said that further challenges were provincial capacity, contractual regulations and budgetary constraints.

Mr van den Heever asked what monitoring tools were in place with regards to assessing provincial competencies.

Mr Kruger said that there was no formal system in place but assured the Committee that assessments had been done at a national level. He added that the Department of Transport had its own mechanisms in place to monitor road safety and such issues. The Department of Education sometimes had to rely on these monitoring mechanisms.

The Chairperson believed that provision of bicycles was an adequate and necessary measure at this stage, as it was certainly preferable to walking.

A Member acknowledged the Chairperson’s comment but asked who was accountable in cases where learners were involved in bicycle accidents.

Mr Kruger assured the committee that when a clear policy was in place this would clarify who was accountable and responsible in the implementation of the policy.

Mr Mpotshane asked why the Department insisted on the zoning regulations. He said that it was not fair to force students to attend particular schools; they should be able to choose where they were to learn, especially since many schools had inadequate facilities.

Mr Kruger was not sure of the particulars of the zoning regulations. He said that he understood the principle of zoning to mean that learners were restricted to attend schools within specific zones.

A Member asked why there were inconsistencies in the feeding schemes at different schools.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) stated that poverty was one of the key issues challenging South Africa. Because so many were affected, there was a need to classify schools. He said that the Department must assess the financial conditions of learners to determine if they needed aid.

Mr Mpotshane asked whether the Department had investigated the allegations made against principals two years ago, to the effect that companies were forced to provide their schools with services that were then not paid for.

Mr Tredoux stated that he was not sure who conducted the meetings. He assured the Committee that the Department would investigate and report back on this issue at a later stage.

Mr Mpontshane asked what the reasons were for under spending.

Mr Mpotshane expressed concern that the main focus was on upgrading main campuses and the satellite campuses were marginalised. He said that this was what led to strikes on campuses.

Mr Tredoux said that he could not comment on whether satellite campuses had been neglected. The Department would report back on that issue.

Mr Boinamo wanted to know what the learners were being fed. He also asked why spending in some provinces did not tally with other provinces.

Ms Dudley asked the Department to explain how age affected the decision whether a child would be included in the feeding programme. She said that as far as she was concerned hunger was a universal phenomenon.

Ms van der Walt agreed that hunger did not stop with maturity.

The Chairperson responded that after the Polokwane ANC Conference it was decided that age should not be the criteria for the NSNP, but the criteria should instead be poverty.

Mr Tredoux said that there were limited resources. The Department tried to push those resources as far as possible, but was eventually forced to enforce the age regulation in an attempt to prioritise the most needy.

Ms Dudley asked why there was such a huge gap between the amounts spent on HIV/AIDS across the provinces, and particularly why KZN had only spent 25% of their allocation. She said she wanted an explanation as to how the strikes affected the implementation of the HIV/AIDS in KZN only.

Mr Tredoux indicated that HIV/AIDS life skills could form part of the normal curriculum in schools. He said that a large portion of the conditional grants was used to capacitate educators and the community. The reason for high expenditure in the Free State was because this province specifically funded the conditional grants first, and only thereafter would the equitable share funds be considered. The reason for low expenditure was attributed to the fact that in rural districts claims came in slowly and were processed later than in urban areas.

Mr Ntuli suggested that the Committee should visit schools across the country to see for themselves what was happening. He added that this was the role of the oversight committee.

The Chairperson agreed with Mr Ntuli that this should happen so that the Committee could formulate a report.

The meeting was adjourned.

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