Intergovernmental Fiscal Review 2001: Education

NCOP Finance

11 October 2001
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Meeting report

FINANCE SELECT COMMITTEE

FINANCE SELECT COMMITTEE
12 October 2001
INTERGOVERNMENTAL FISCAL REVIEW 2001: EDUCATION

Relevant document:
Intergovernmental Fiscal Review 2001
[Education: Chapter 3 (page 27)]

SUMMARY
The meeting served to draw attention to the relationship between fiscal conditions and policy in Education. Minister Asmal pointed out that the process of stabilising the education system was reaching its end, and there would be an emphasis on improving the quality of education. He cautioned however that HIV/AIDS was one issue which represented a threat to this stability. In terms of the functioning of government, he said that the principle was that the Education MECs in the provinces decided how funds were to be set. He returned on numerous occasions to the need for provinces to set their own priorities. Other issues highlighted by the Minister included the need to improve the quality of teachers and their training, and to bring the budget in line with the goal of an 85:15 split between personnel and non-personnel expenditure.

National Treasury reiterated many of the points made by the Minister, as well as drawing attention to the development of indicators for both needs and performance. The Schools Register of Needs was a significant development. One area of concern was there was a serious need developing for the maintenance of existing schools, where the focus in recent years had been in providing new schools.

Various MECs and provincial department representatives also made submissions. Common themes which emerged from these were the progress in the development of evaluation methods, the successes and continuing problems in providing learner support materials, the need for larger budgets for maintenance and the issue of the impact HIV/AIDS will have on the education system.

MINUTES
Input by Minister of Education
Professor Asmal said that this review provided an opportunity to investigate the ways in which policy intersected with fiscal conditions. He also said that the education system had been through a painful stabilising process over the last few years, and this process was now reaching its end. The education system had been engaged in increasing efficiency through transparency, while recognising that development education needed to engage with the issue of poverty. There was a constant need to maintain a balance between fiscal discipline and social priorities. He also drew attention to the success in developing infrastructure throughout the country.

An area which he made reference to on several occasions was the distinction between national policies and provincial implementation. He said that the Education MECs were responsible for deciding how money is to be spent. As an example, he referred to the Western Cape, which had seen its education budget shrink over the last few years. He said that this affected equity, but that the provinces had to decide their own priorities.

With regard to HIV/AIDS, he said that this would have a significant impact on the budget in future. It would also have a significant effect on teachers. There was a need to increase the number of teachers being trained, as this number was insufficient. Another area of concern in terms of training was the need to train and develop capacity at the level of middle management.

Professor Asmal's also drew attention to the success that was being achieved in bringing down the percentage of the budget devoted to teachers' salaries. He said that this had come down from 90%, with the goal to peg it at around 85%.

Input by National Treasury
The presenter said that turning the education system around was a tough task, since there were three priorities: universal access; greater equity and improved quality. The first two had been accomplished to a large degree, but now the focus was on improving the quality and solidifying the gains of recent years. After the reorganisation, Treasury felt that the current budgets were sustainable and that cost drivers such as personnel had been brought under control. Where personnel expenditure had increased, this was due to wage settlement packages, which were once-off costs.

The increase in capital expenditure of 53 % which he referred to under medium term projections was of a fairly low base and ought not to be misconstrued. Stability has been achieved in learner numbers, and it is now possible to make assessments of schools' needs. To this end, the Schools Register of Needs is an important development, as are various other indicators of performance and need which have been developed.

In terms of physical infrastructure, he drew attention to the fact that this has increased significantly, but that some of these gains had been undone by the absence of adequate maintenance. For example, 15% of existing toilets did not work. Overall, there is a trend towards a deterioration in the condition of existing schools.

Another cause for concern was the lack of female learners passing mathematics and science.

One area which was also highlighted in the presentation was the impact of crime on schools, which was responsible for the loss of R155 million.

But overall, the message from Treasury was that spending was under control, effective management was now in place and the focus can now shift to improving the quality of the education system.

Eastern Cape input
The MEC from the Eastern Cape said that spending had decreased despite the increase in the budget. There was a continuing lack of learning materials, a lack of parental participation through governing bodies and a continuing high rate of absenteeism among teachers. This it was suggested was partly due to the impact of HIV/AIDS, and research was needed to assess the numbers of teachers affected. There was also an inability to improve the quality of teachers. However, with regard to maintenance, progress was being made due to the co-operation between the Departments of Education and Public Works with the involvement of Finance. In conclusion, closer co-operation between the levels of government was advocated, to ensure that finances were directed towards the appropriate priorities.

Mpumulanga input
The MEC from Mpumulanga said that there had been a gradual improvement in the systems and management as well as delivery within that province. The province was now able to spend 99% of its budget. There was also a trend towards non-personnel spending, with the goal of 85% being spent on personnel to be reached by 2003/2004. There was also a great improvement in the delivery of learning materials, although this year there had not been sufficient money to provide 100% of what was needed. However, 100% of the stationary needs were catered for this year. One area of concern was the transport of learners. There was a budget to transport 7000 learners to and from the rural areas, but there were 30 000 learners in need of this service. As a result, learners were walking long distances to schools, which negatively affected their performance at school. He added that approximately 12 000 classrooms were still needed.

Western Cape input
The MEC from the Western Cape indicated that a detailed briefing was to follow, but said that 8000 teaching posts had been lost over the last six years. She added that the severe shortages in capital development budgets had lead to the making of ad hoc arrangements, which had a negative impact on planning.

Northern Province input
The Northern Province MEC was not present, but gave apologies, and a representative from that province made a submission. He said that at the rate of classroom production in his province, it would take forty to fifty years to deal with the backlog, and the deep rural areas had the biggest need in this regard. He said that this was partly due to the trade-off between maintenance and new classrooms. 87,8% of the current budget was spent on personnel, but this was set to rise to 89% due to the filling of several principal and HOD posts. These posts had been left vacant due to budget constraints, but it was now felt that this was unacceptable as there was a need for effective management at the school level. Various policies had been developed at a national level which further burdened the already strained budget of the Northern Province. As an example, he said that for 2002/2003, R220 million was to be spent on learner support materials, when the need was for R400 million.

North West Province input
A representative from the North West Province also mentioned the issue of transport saying that those on farms and in rural areas needed support. The issue of school maintenance was again highlighted. Also of concern was the fact that independent schools received government subsidies and there was a need to assess the level of transformation in these institutions. The issue of abuse of learners was raised, and connected to both lack of transport and lack of sanitation facilities. It was felt that learners were vulnerable when walking to and from school, highlighting the fact that it was not just abuse in school which was a problem. The lack of toilet facilities was felt to increase girls' vulnerability to abuse. There is a need for a program to enable teachers and others to identify learner-victims of abuse, both those abused at school and in their homes. It was recommended that a centre be created to assist abused learners, with counselling etc.

KwaZulu Natal input
A representative from KwaZulu Natal asked if there was the possibility of creating a national policy to make the lives of those attending farm schools easier, as the transport issue was not the only concern in this regard. It was suggested that these are the most marginalised learners in the country. It was also suggested that water and electricity were among the most basic requirements for learning to take place. The question was asked whether some way could not be found to finance the provision of these once and for all to try and address this.

Northern Cape input
A member of the Northern Cape department said that the buildings for farm schools were a problem in that province owing to its geographic size and relative poverty. He also said there was a need to engage in capacity building, and that the budget allocation for maintenance of facilities was insufficient.

Discussion
The Northern Province presenter commented that they had more teachers than classrooms, with 58 000 teachers and 42 000 classrooms, some of which lacked water, electricity and telephones. This created the situation where children were being taught in old buildings, shacks and under trees, which was obviously unsuitable but made worse by bad weather.

The Chairperson asked that comments be limited to specific suggestions.

Prof. Asmal said that children have the right to basic education, but he had seen instances of teachers without matric. He said that provinces needed to identify their priorities, but that there was often not the lack of political will, rather than a resource shortage, which prevented certain improvements from being made. He suggested that an agreement be sought between Education and Water Affairs, to provide goals for the provision of water and sanitation services. He said that a similar need existed for the schools feeding scheme to adopt an integrated approach with Health and education working together.

On the theme of integration, Prof. Asmal suggested that closer co-operation between provinces was also needed. He chastised the speaker who had said that there was a trade-off between efficiency and quality, saying that this was a matter of finding the right political balance. With regard to transport, he said that some provinces had been trying to consolidate this, but that there were problems of corruption and monopolies. He did however agree that farm schools should be looked at as a matter of urgency. The Minister agreed that child abuse should be a priority for the department, saying that sexual abuse was immediately dismissable and illegal. He said schools had an obligation in this regard, to avoid a community backlash if they do nothing. He said that provinces should enter efficiency contracts with schools and teachers, where failure to live up to the contract led to dismissal. He returned to the issue of physical needs of schools, saying that he viewed computers as physical needs in schools. He also said that sixty percent of schools lacked libraries, but that a further twenty percent were likely to have a room designated as a library, with a few books in it, but that this did not really constitute an adequate library. He said that there was a need to identify concrete demands. With regard to maintenance, he said that it was his personal feeling that the Department of Public Works could be demolished because it was cheaper and quicker to hire private contractors.

A member of the Free State department stated that they were encouraging the teaching of essential subjects, but felt that the teacher training colleges were inadequate. It was also pointed out that priority-setting was difficult when unreliable officials within the department did not provide accurate information, and this problem needed to be addressed first. The issue of poor quality teachers in 'African' schools was illustrated by the fact that many principals at these schools took their children to former white schools. The issue of discipline in schools also needed to be addressed.

The issue of sanitation was discussed by a representative from the North West province, who said that there had been a case reported on television concerning a secondary school where learners were forced to use the bushes in the absence of toilet facilities. From reports on sexual harassment in schools, it became clear that this practice encouraged sexual harassment of female learners and the lack of ablution facilities was disruptive and had a negative effect on discipline. Girls could not go alone, for security reasons, and generally this situation was untenable.

With regard to farm schools, a question was asked as to whether the provision of bicycles would not be a viable alternative as even this would increase the safety of girl learners. Another possibility raised was that of boarding facilities for learners who had to travel long distances. The issue of private schools was also raised, because it was felt that there were many such schools opening up in towns and people from the rural areas often felt that these were inherently better than the closer schools. Many of these schools are of inferior quality, and operate just for profit. The development and improvement of government schools should be encouraged, to remove the desire for alternatives. The speaker also drew attention to the somewhat arbitrary way that priorities were set, saying that a school could be identified as a priority one year, and then ignored the next. This suggested that there needed to be a more comprehensive method.

Another speaker brought up the fact that R155 million was lost due to crime and burglary. He asked how, given that schools were meant to be community centres, such high levels of crime and burglary were possible. He said that surely this suggested that the communities did not respect the schools. This was often an internal problem, requiring reconnaissance. Particularly worrying was the fact that computers were the most likely targets. He did however caution that any decision with regard to added security measures would need to be implemented in the same way across the board, to ensure fairness. The speaker also suggested that the small number of female learners passing maths and science was worrying as it undermined efforts to encourage equality. He asked whether society was encouraging this situation and recommended that steps be taken to identify the causes and address this issue. His final point was that some provinces had complained that the national department gave extra money to them towards the end of the year, and said that it had to be spent before the end of the year. This was done to ensure that more money could be given to the education department the following year. He asked if this was still happening.

The chairperson of the Finance Department in the Northern Province noted that at one point the HODs of the various departments had been gathered together. The Department of Transport had said that Education was unwilling to sponsor the transport of learners. Education said it was national policy. The Northern Province is one of the poorest provinces, with high levels of unemployment. Learners were forced to travel long distances, which was unsafe. They then arrived at school tired and hungry. She asked for the Minister's response.

Prof. Asmal said that this was untrue, that there were no rules in this regard and that it was up to each province to decide how to spend its money. There were tough choices, for example between sanitation and transport. He thanked those present and asked that any questions be sent to him, as he had made it departmental policy to respond to any and all queries within two weeks.

The Chairperson adjourned.

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