Speech Notes: Education Portfolio Committee Report and Budget 2020/2021

Issued by Yusuf Cassim, MPL
Shadow MEC for Education

Honourable Speaker, Fellow South Africans… I greet you with the universal greeting of peace, As-salamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.

The prospects for improvement in the education system and its outcomes for learners in the Eastern Cape is looking increasingly more precarious.

Preparations for the reopening of schools have been completely bungled, the department wasted money it doesn’t have paying up to 5 times more for PPE compared to what can be procured on the open market and is embroiled in an illegal procurement scandal with a company belonging to ANC crony Iqbal Surve.

Many schools are in financial distress and are battling to pay teacher salaries due to the non-payment of school fees caused by the lockdown crisis, only 87 000 of 152 000 deserving learners have a prospect of accessing scholar transport, there are 3 530 teachers with comorbidities, with no plans or budgets in place to replace them, and the already dire school infrastructure crisis has gone from bad to worse.

Around half of the infrastructure budget will be gobbled up by covid19 related purchases and over R200m in accruals. The programme was already in a mess.

Additional costs associated with claims for late payment, suspensions and terminations are projected at well over R200m. That’s over R200m down the drain due to mismanagement and poor planning.

Perhaps the most telling symptom, would be installing sanitation at only 16 schools out of a planned 262 in the financial year ended in March, before the lockdown kicked in.

Amongst all the considerable sins of this department, the most egregious is its blind pursuit of a better matric pass rate, even if it means artificially inflating it at the cost of the futures of hundreds of thousands of learners.

It is telling that whilst the matric pass rate features prominently as a performance indicator for the department, the learner retention or drop out rates do not feature at all. For it is the drop-out rate that is hiding the true extent of education crisis in the province.

Using the matric pass rate as the main yardstick to assess performance is not a credible measure of the quality of education, as it fails to account for those learners lost along the way.

Earlier this year, the Department celebrated an improved matric pass rate in the province, up from 70,6% in 2018 to 76,5% in 2019. But, if we really start looking at the numbers, we see a system that is being blatantly manipulated to present a picture of improvement, shedding learners before the exams, in a desperate attempt to rig the outcomes.

Let’s start with an easy example. The pass rate given by the Department excludes progressed learners – learners who have been moved from Grade 11 to 12 even though they did not pass – presumably to enhance the impression that the system is generally performing well.

If we look at progressed learners in the province, of the 17 007 progressed learners who started their Matric at the beginning of 2019, only 4 152 wrote their final exams, and of those only 2 712 learners passed.

The Department claims this as a 65.3% pass rate for progressed learners. The reality is that only 15.95% of progressed learners who started out as Matrics in the Eastern Cape at the beginning of 2019, passed.
But the rabbit hole goes much deeper.

Of the 139 962 Eastern Cape learners in grade 10 in 2017, only 63 198 wrote their National Senior Certificate in 2019. Of these learners, just 48 331 passed. This means that the real matric pass rate in the Eastern Cape is a shocking 34,5% – a far cry from the 76,5% presented by the Department.

What happened to the other 76 764 lost learners?

I use the Grade 10 figures here to counter the urban migration excuse, as learners are far more likely to stay at one school for their last three years of schooling.

If we look at the 2018 results, Of the 148,346 learners in the province who were registered for Grade 10 in 2016, only 65,733 wrote their NSC exams in 2018.

That’s another 82,613 learners lost.

This means, in four years, 159 377 Eastern Cape learners have been lost. They’ve just disappeared from the system.

That’s enough youth to fill the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium, to capacity, four times over! And they are just gone.

How do you lose four stadiums full of people?

The truth is that since 2015, which saw the highest number of pupils receive their matric results, there has been a steady decline each year. This should be a real and urgent concern for all of us.

If we carry on this trajectory, more than half of all learners who start Grade 1 this year, will never see the inside of an NSC-exam room.

The DA is very concerned about the low learner-retention and high dropout rates in the Eastern Cape and this number is set to grow as the Department phases out the Multiple Examination Opportunity (MEO) to learners.

MEOs make up 20% of the learners in the Eastern Cape, which also artificially inflates the matric pass rate, compared to just 3% in the Western Cape.

The Department’s much toted turnaround strategy for the province appears to be to cast the learners who need the most help by the wayside and prevent them from writing.

Preventing learners from writing their final exams in the hollow pursuit of improving the overall pass rate misses the point entirely.

One has to wonder if the Grade 9 exit strategy being put forward is not merely an attempt to legitimise a process that is already in place?

The thinking needs to change.

The DA-run Western Cape continues to keep learners in school and yet again maintained the lowest dropout rate in the country. They have done so by doing the hard yards to actually improve teaching and learning outcomes.

They passed provincial legislation which make way for the assessment of teaching and learning in the classroom and school functioning as a whole with these assessments published for parents and communities to see.

They have also created an independent School Evaluations Authority tasked with supporting school improvement by identifying factors that matter most for quality education, particularly learning, leadership, governance and safety with reports to be published online. Their markers are also tested to ensure they can pass the examinations they are expected to mark.

These are the kind of examples that we must follow if we are to truly do justice to our children