Department of Education Budget & Strategic Plan 2008/09

Basic Education

03 March 2008
Chairperson: Prof S Mayatula (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Director-General of the Department of Education briefed the Committee on the Department’s strategic plan for the period 2008 to 2012 as well as the budget and operational plans for 2008/09.  He outlined the Department’s vision, goals, priorities and operational plans and gave a breakdown of the anticipated national and provincial expenditure for the 2008/09 to 2010/11 financial period.

Members asked questions about improving teachers’ performance and the quality of teaching, the political bias in history textbooks, financial support for no-fee schools, ensuring safety in schools, language proficiency and literacy, enrolment in FET colleges, rural and farm schools, recruitment of teachers, schooling for disabled children and the school nutrition program.

Meeting report

Members of the Committee were concerned over the recent incidents of racist behaviour at the University of the Free State.  A proposed visit to the Free State to gather information, a workshop to discuss the issue and the Committee’s program for the following weeks was discussed.

Briefing by the Department of Education (DoE)
Mr Duncan Hindle (Director-General, DoE) presented the Department’s five-year strategic plan and the budget and operational plans for the 2008/09 financial year (see attached document).  He outlined the Minister’s vision, continuing approaches, the five broad priorities and the nine major goals that were set. The Department’s strategies to achieve the goals was presented.

Mr Hindle explained the departmental structure and summarised the main functions of the administration, planning and monitoring, general education and training, further education and training (FET), social and school enrichment programmes and the higher education branches.

Details of the Education Vote 13 were provided.  The total adjusted budget for 2007/08 was R106.3 billion, of which R16.4 billion was allocated to the national department and R89.9 billion to the provincial Departments of Education.  The overall budget increased by 15.5% to R122.8 billion for 2008/09.  A breakdown of the provincial budgets for 2007/08 to 2010/11 was included.  Summaries of the DoE’s budget for the same period were provided.  The Department’s priorities for the 2008/09 to 2010/11 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) allocations were listed.  The presentation concluded with the education system priority bids for the 2008 MTEF.

Discussion
Adv A Gaum (ANC) referred to a report in the Sunday Times on the common denominators that existed in countries with excellent education systems.  It was found that the calibre of teachers was more important than small classes.  To ensure that the quality of teaching was of a high standard, top performers were recruited and good teachers were well-paid.  He remarked that the plans submitted appear to be more “business as usual” than “business unusual” and did not include any plans to weed out non-performing teachers or to recruit the high performance to provide the quality education that was needed.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) said that his party supported the Minister’s vision of achieving social cohesion but wanted to know if this was achievable if the content of textbooks was politically biased.  The issue was raised in a presentation made to the Minister of Education and he asked if Mr Hindle was aware of this and had taken the matter into consideration when compiling the catalogues of textbooks referred to on page 12 of the presentation.  He asked if the administrative weaknesses identified in Section 20 and “no-fee” schools were addressed as some of these schools were found not to be in control of their finances.  He referred to the objective to create safe and caring schools and said that teachers were afraid to go into some of the schools with high crime levels.  He asked what steps were being taken to ensure the safety of teachers and pupils at schools.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) remarked that there were sufficient funds available for education but there was a lack of discipline and commitment in schools.  Teachers were treated with disrespect and unless these issues were addressed, an improvement in the quality of education will not be achieved.  He asked if teachers will be taken out of the classroom to undergo training and development or if there were alternative plans in place.  He said that language proficiency was critical for people’s development but achieving higher levels of literacy was a serious challenge.  He wanted to know what was being done to improve the level of literacy.

Ms M Matsomela (ANC) asked what priority was given to farm and rural schools when undertaking research.  Certain interventions may work in urban schools but may not reach rural areas or may be irrelevant.  She noted that matriculants were encouraged to attend FET colleges and asked if anything was being done to encourage non-matriculants to enroll as well.  She referred to the international co-operation and partnerships formed between institutions of higher learning mentioned in the presentation and asked what spin-offs were achieved, particularly in view of integrating communities.

Ms M Mentor (ANC) referred to the budget allocation to the Northern Cape and said that the percentage increases were dismal in the light of the increased numbers of pupils in the province.  She said that it was difficult to deliver service within the budget constraints and asked if the lack of performance and the low pass-rates were related to that.  She asked what mechanisms were in place to ensure continuity when there was a change in politicians.  She applauded the evidence-based approach taken but noted that research and development was only 1.8% of GDP.  This percentage was too low and she wanted to know what Government was doing to ensure that adequate resources were allocated to research and development.  She remarked that most incidents of racist attacks and violence in schools were perpetrated by boys.  She said that although teachers’ labour organisations were supported, better service delivery was not being secured and asked what can be done about improving the level of service delivered by teachers.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) asked whether the same norms and standards applied to vocational schools as to ordinary schools.  He understood that FET colleges were a provincial responsibility and asked what national support was provided for these colleges.  He noted that teachers should be rewarded according to their performance levels but that the actual performance of teachers was not monitored and that the teachers’ unions were opposed to the introduction of a monitoring unit.

Mr B Mthembu (ANC) requested that quarterly reports were made available to the Committee to allow Members to carry out their oversight responsibilities and to identify institutions subjected to under funding.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) requested clarity on the refusal by National Treasury to approve funds for the purchase of textbooks.  He said that there were cases where children with disabilities were refused entry to schools, even though there was room for them.  He asked what could be done to ensure that all children went to school.  He asked if there was the threat of a strike by teachers.

In response to Adv Gaum’s questions, Mr Hindle said that schools that work had been the focus of the DoE’s attention and issues like the concentration on learning, the effective use of time, the development of teaching skills and teacher commitment were all aspects of a good education system.  Teachers however lacked commitment and the sector did not attract top academic performers in the past.  He felt that salaries were adequate by international standards and a better calibre of student was now being attracted to the teaching profession.  It was difficult to dismiss under-performing teachers and bad teachers were a management responsibility.  He said that an inspectorate of schools was necessary.  No inspections were done since 1986 and a system of school inspections would help to identify bad teachers.  The Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) was designed to reward good teachers and should provide adequate incentive for good performance.

Replying to Mr Mpontshane’s questions, Mr Hindle confirmed that he was aware of the issue concerning the content of history textbooks and said that the matter was discussed with the heads of the provincial Departments of Education.  He pointed out that the content of history books were by their nature not factual and merely contained someone’s version of the facts.  He said that eminent historians were consulted in the compilation of the national catalogue of textbooks.  He noted the concerns that were raised but warned that the selection of textbooks may not satisfy everyone.

Mr Hindle said that norms and standards were developed to address the administrative weaknesses identified in the Section 20 schools.  Some of these schools did not receive their share of the budgets and deadlines have now been set for the availability of funding to these schools.  All schools will be receiving funds to purchase essential items but it was necessary to closely monitor the application of these funds.

Replying to Mr Boinamo’s question about safety in schools, Mr Hindle said that the DoE can only provide guidelines and procedures to be followed.  He agreed that it was necessary to establish a code of conduct for acceptable behaviour towards teachers and fellow-pupils amongst learners.

Mr Hindle said that it was out of the question to take teachers out of the classroom to undergo training.  Part-time courses were not always effective and a program where a teacher was replaced by a substitute whilst undergoing training for a year was a possible alternative.  Improving teachers’ skills was a collective responsibility but school-time remained sacred.

Mr Hindle explained that the literacy campaign was offered in all eleven official languages as well as in Braille.  He agreed that illiteracy was the biggest reason for the failure of learners in school.  It was found that it was better to learn in the home language but parents choose English as the language of instruction, with the result that the child was compelled to learn in a foreign language.  In addition, instruction in English was not always good.  An alternative was to make both English and the home language compulsory subjects.

Responding to Ms Matsomela’s questions, Mr Hindle said that research on rural and farm schools was done by both the DoE and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.  The findings of the research were used to compile the action plan mentioned in his presentation.  It was found that the small schools did not function well and were not economically viable.  In the Free State, the small rural and farm schools were consolidated.  The action plan was not yet finalised and needed to address issues like transport for the children to school as well.

Mr Hindle said that persons who had passed Grade 10 could benefit from the technical training offered by the FET colleges, particularly if they were out of work and were truly committed to obtain technical qualifications.  He did not see it as a problem if the student did not pass Grade 12 but it was generally found that matriculants performed better.

Mr Hindle agreed that not much was gained by the international partnerships formed with other learning institutions abroad.  However, he pointed out that it provided an opportunity for academics to gain exposure in other African countries and that there was some political gain for the country as well.

Mr Hindle replied to Ms Mentor’s questions and explained that the Northern Cape’s debt had to be paid off by contributions from all the national departments.  The increase in the province’s education budget was above the inflation rate.  He said that the Northern Cape Education Department managed the application of its funds very well.

In the year before an election, the DoE prepared a hand-over report to achieve continuity when there was a change in politicians.  He said that a degree of uncertainty had to be expected during periods of political transition.

Mr Hindle explained that research and development was the responsibility of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and that department received its funding from Government.  He pointed out that the DST invested in education by means of research grants to institutions of higher education.

Mr Hindle agreed with Ms Mentor that the values of boys and the violence perpetrated by boys were a major concern.

Responding to the questions about teachers’ performance and labour relations, Mr Hindle said that all DoE employees were subject to performance evaluations and were not given bonuses if they underperformed.  He felt that teachers’ performance should be evaluated as well.  Although the unions were opposed to the introduction of the inspectorate, the approach was to link higher percentage salary increases to teachers’ performance being assessed by inspectors.

Mr Hindle assumed Mr Ntuli referred to technical schools when he asked about ‘vocational’ schools.  He confirmed that technical schools were treated in the same way as ordinary schools.  Although the FET colleges were managed by the provincial DoE’s, the programs were established nationally.  He said that the Department was pushing the re-introduction of the inspectorate to monitor teachers’ performance and expected that the move will be contested by the unions.

Replying to Mr Mthembu’s question, Mr Hindle said that the operations plan was available to the Committee.  Reports were submitted to the Select Committee on Education and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

In response to Mr Mosala’s question, Mr Hindle explained that National Treasury regarded to purchase of textbooks as the responsibility of the provincial DoE’s and therefore refused the Department’s bid.  However, a better price could be obtained if the books were purchased in bulk and there was a need for more standardisation of textbooks.

Mr Hindle said that the issue of children not being in school when they should be was also a social responsibility and should become everyone’s concern.  He suggested that such instances were reported to the Department’s hotline.  He thought that the formation of community education forums was a good idea and said that the introduction of a learner ID system to control the school attendance of children was welcomed.  He was not aware of the threat of a teacher’s strike at the present time.

Mr Mpontshane asked what role was played by Government in the mass literacy program that was recently launched by the Minister.

Ms Mentor asked if the re-capitalisation of schools had any influence on the current trends experienced in those schools.  She had seen the Oxford range of study guides and wanted to know if other sources of textbooks had been considered for the textbook catalogue.

Ms Matsomela asked to what extent the personnel recruitment industry was involved in recruiting more teachers with scarce skills.

Mr Ntuli wanted to know if teachers were keeping pace with the changes in the curricula.

Mr Boinamo noted that some schools experienced more crime than others and received more support.  He asked whether a preventative program could not be introduced in all schools.  He said that there were thousands of disabled children who were not in school or in poorly-resourced schools.  He asked what was done to ensure that schools for disabled children were better resourced and spread more evenly across the country.

Mr Mosala said that the issue of rural schools had to be discussed in depth and finally dealt with.  Rural schools compared unfavourably with schools in urban areas.  He asked why rural education was listed under “dealing with poverty” in the list of the Minister’s priorities.

The Chairperson asked if the Department planned to extend the school nutrition program.  He said that Early Childhood Development (ECD) meant different things to different people and asked if there can be clarity on the meaning of the different concepts, for example Grade R.

Mr Hindle explained that Grade R referred to the integrated plan but conceded that there was a difference in the terminology used.  He agreed to work with the Department on Social Development to clear up any differences in the meaning of ECD terms.

Mr Hindle said that funds for the National School Nutrition Program was allocated to feeding children in grades 1 to 3 in primary schools during the coming year.  The DoE’s bid for funds to extend the program to secondary schools was unsuccessful.

Mr Hindle suggested that the issue of rural education was a very good topic for a workshop.

With regard to special schools for disabled children, Mr Hindle said that many of these schools were in the process of being refurbished.  The issue of their location was more complex but many such schools were located in rural areas and had hostels to accommodate children.  Ensuring that the child was placed in the right school was an ongoing issue.

Mr Hindle said that the additional support provided to the nine schools that experienced high crime rates demonstrated what could be achieved to address this concern.  As a result, large amounts were budgeted by the provincial DoE’s to improve school security.

Mr Hindle agreed that there were not enough teachers.  However, recruitment efforts, particularly in the area of scarce skills like mathematics, were starting to pay off.  An agreement was signed with a recruitment company for the recruitment of foreign teachers.  The Department of Home Affairs had made 1000 pre-approved work permits available for this purpose but less than 300 were applied for, mostly by private schools.  He said that there were a number of teachers on the Department’s database who were looking for work but the placement system was ineffective and a drawn-out process.

Responding to Mr Mpontshane’s question, Mr Hindle explained that the literacy program was a Government-led project.  A number of service providers and a management company were appointed to implement the program.

The meeting was adjourned.

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