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The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education is satisfied with the overall preparedness of the Gauteng Department of Education to begin the 2021 academic year.
“The briefing we have received has assured us that schooling will commence in earnest come the 15th February. At the centre of commencement of the academic year is the need to ensure safety for both teachers and leaners. The department has assured the committee that personal protective equipment will be delivered from 3 February 2021, and will be completed before teaching and learning commences,” said Ms Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, the Chairperson of the committee. Regarding the R431 million decontamination, disinfection and cleaning of schools contracts, the committee noted the briefing it received from the department and will await the conclusion of the investigation before it can have an informed view on the matter. “Despite this, the principle of transparency, good governance and prudent spending of taxpayers’ resources should remain an integral pillar of processes of government,” Ms Mbinqo-Gigaba emphasised. While the committee is generally satisfied with preparedness, it is concerned that the department has to date not placed all learners who applied. This will have a negative impact on the lives of the 1.48% (3 283) of learners who have not yet been placed. Although the committee is cognisant that Gauteng faces an in-migration, with 222 275 applications for placements, placing unprecedented pressure on its systems and resources, it has requested that the department expedite processes to place these learners. The committee welcomes the information that delivery of learner and teacher support material is almost complete, with 99,8% of texbooks delivered to schools that participate on the central procurement system. The remaining schools have requested the department to deliver when schools open because of a fear of burglaries. The continued vandalism of schools is a major concern for the committee, because resources are then diverted away from building additional schools (which are necessary to meet demand), to repair and replace vandalised schools. The committee urged the department to engage the security cluster and communities in the province to create the stakeholder compacts that are critical in resolving the challenge. “We have to urgently address the vandalism of schools, as it robs our children of the opportunity to improve their lives through education. Society in general must also take ownership of the schools, as they are critical in the development of their communities,” Ms Mbinqo-Gigaba said. The committee welcome the fact that the School Nutrition Programme continues to make an impact on the lives of vulnerable children. The 1 546 187 million learners from quintile 1 to 5, the 16 493 learners who are being fed even though they have not returned to school, and the 667 learners who are receiving food parcels attest to the positive impact this programme has on the lives of the poor. The committee welcomes the employment of 32 monitors in the 2020/21 financial year to further strengthen the monitoring of the programme. Regarding catch-up plans, the committee welcome the intention to hold extra-curricula classes to ensure that learners are adequately prepared for examinations. The committee also welcomes the plans for additional support to teachers in relation to learning and assessment guidelines to support teachers in the implementation of the recovery plan. The committee called on the department to ensure that schools have replacement teachers so that teaching and learning continues in those cases where teachers are unavailable due to increased risk caused by co-morbidities. The committee also emphasised the need to strengthen psycho-social support to teachers and learners during this difficult time. The close working relations between the department and stakeholders is welcomed and must be carried through into the coming academic year, as collaboration ensures plans are implemented effectively.