Following the National Teacher Union’s (NATU) Centenary Principals Conference in Durban two weeks ago the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, MP agreed to urgently meet with the union leadership, who indicated the need to raise issues regarding the administration of the KwaZulu Natal Education Department. This urgent meeting convened on Wednesday, 28 March 2018.
In their comprehensive report, NATU raised a litany of extremely serious concerns and a variety of anomalies taking place in the KZN Department of Education. The productive five-hour meeting, resulted in Minister Motshekga making various commitments in response to the NATU submission. Among other things, the Minister agreed to meet with the KZN MEC for Education, Mr Mthandeni Dlungwane, MPL as a matter of urgency, to raise the concerns directly with him; but also to urge him to meet with NATU leadership to discuss matters of common concern.
Based on other initial reports at the NATU Centenary Principals Conference, regarding concerns around the management and administration of the KZN Department of Education, the Minister had already deployed a team from the Department of Basic Education to investigate human resource management and practices in the provincial education department. The Minister noted that she was very concerned with what seemed to be huge inefficiencies regarding human resource management and practices in the provincial education department.
One of fundamental resolutions taken at the meeting, was that the Minister would consider deploying a multi-disciplinary team, comprising senior line function managers from the Department of Basic Education (including senior officials who are specialists in their respective line function areas from the other provincial education departments), the National Treasury, and the Department of Public Service and Administration. This team will not only focus on the alleged human resources and financial mismanagement and maladministration, but will also investigate alleged misdemeanors related to the governance, funding and resourcing of public schools in the Province of KwaZulu Natal. The team will also assist and support the KZN Department of Education with the implementation of sustainable interventions in all areas of concern
One of the many concerns raised in the NATU report relates to the funding of schools and allegations that schools are not being given the requisite financial allocations. Such funding of schools gets exacerbated by the huge numbers of undocumented learners, especially in the far-flung rural school in the province. The Minister acknowledged that the phenomenon of undocumented learners is a national once, and it places enormous pressure on compliance towards and accountability for a variety of directives from sister departments, such as the Department of Home Affairs and the National Treasury – working together with their provincial counterparts. The Minister stressed the fact that there is currently no national directive for provincial education departments not to fund and resource schools with learners who do not have, or cannot produce any form of bar-coded identity document.
The Minister committed to convene an urgent meeting with the Minister of Home Affairs to find a way to deal with the phenomenon of undocumented learners, so that compliance and accountability is made a norm across the system. Such an intervention will definitely lessen the burden faced by the teachers, who have to face learners (documented or undocumented) on a daily basis, teachers who cannot afford to discriminately deliver on their core mandate of ensuring quality teaching and learning among all learners. NATU is correct to assert that it is not the responsibility of the schools, nor the teachers to issue that all learners are documented.
NATU also raised their serious concern regarding the distribution and over-supply of sanitary towels to schools in the province. Both the Minister and NATU affirmed the importance of this intervention, as it becomes a positive enabler for young girls to constantly attend school, and avoid the intermittent possibility of missing out on valuable teaching and learning time. There is some research that suggests that if you provide a girl with sanitary towels, her chances of staying in school are enhanced. In light of this, NATU and Minister Motshekga unreservedly and wholeheartedly support initiatives to increase learner retention, including the distribution of free sanitary towels to school girls from poor families. Nonetheless, such initiatives must seek to complement the core business of school, and not to disrupt nor detract from Departments core business.
There are reports that in KZN, the situation is so grave and the oversupply of sanitary towels has resulted in spectacular pile-ups in schools. NATU raised concerns that the provincial education department is unable to adequately provide for budgeted core mandates and programmes of the department, due to the huge over-spending of the sanitary pad programme, which is peripheral to the core mandate of the sector.
NATU suggests that what started off as a very good idea, has turned into an eyesore in many schools. The sanitary towels were supposed to be given to the learners who are in need; but NATU says that even some former Model C schools, are beneficiaries of this programme; and that even some Grade R and Grade 1 learners have been sent home with sanitary towels.
The Minister was deeply concerned by this, especially when considering that some schools are reported to not have enough learning and teaching support materials (LTSMs), yet they are fully stocked with sanitary towels. NATU is convinced that there is a serious element of deliberate unauthorised over-expenditure in the procurement of these sanitary towels, and demanded that the Minister should institute a forensic investigation on the associated supply chain management, to which the Minister agreed.
NATU made another serious allegation that the schools that were lawfully allocated with section 21 functions in terms of the South African Schools Act (SASA), are being unlawfully stripped off such powers. NATU says this is done without informing the affected schools on what functions of the SASA section 21 they failed to execute lawfully. Also NATU alleged that the provincial education department was forcing these schools to forcefully accept goods and services on the schools, without due consultation, nor explanation. The Minister takes these allegations extremely seriously, and agreed that a forensic investigation into this matter needs to be conducted to determine how and why these anomalies seem to be taking place in the provincial education department.
NATU also presented a number of outstanding grievances that the provincial education department had failed to address. The Minister agreed that the DBE will go through the grievances raised by principals on a case by case basis, and deal with them as thoroughly as possible.
Considering the gravity of the concerns raised, NATU appealed to the Minister to intervene in the provincial education department by applying all the available avenues, including invoking the relevant legislative and constitutional provisions, such section 100. The Minister has agreed that the concerns raised in the report are indeed serious, and warrant an investigation into the Province’s management and administration. The multi-disciplinary team, that the Minister is contemplating, will among its duties unearth all inhibitive anomalies within the KZN provincial education department, and provide the requisite assistance and support to the extent possible. The Minister does not wish to pre-empt the extent of the alleged irregularities, anomalies and misdemeanours, while at the same time, she does not wish to be seen as casting aspersions on the seriousness of the issues raised by the NATU. The focus must be the correct remedies for the correctly identified challenges.
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