With schools shut, kids go hungry (BD Article)

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(The article first appeared in the Business Day on the 23rd of March 2020 under the title “Government needs to come up with a plan to help poor families now that schools are shut“)

The coronavirus pandemic working its way through South African society will have many knock-on effects, one of them will be hunger and malnutrition as 9-million children no longer receive free school meals while their schools are shut.

The population of South Africa today is 59-million people, and nearly a quarter are school-going children enrolled in Grades R-12 (13-million kids). One of the under-celebrated achievements of the ANC government over the last ten years has been the mass rollout of a successful school-feeding scheme to all no-fee schools in the country (Quintile 1-3 schools) – The National School Nutrition Programme. To give you a sense of just how vast that network is, of the 13-million kids in school, 9-million receive a free school meal every day they are at school. Put differently, of all the weekday ‘lunches’ eaten in South Africa, one in six are provided in schools under this program.

In order to fund this the government spends R36-million a day to feed these 9-million kids, amounting to R7.2-billion for 2020 according to the most recent budget. The big question now is what happens to those meals and those kids while their schools are shut because of the coronavirus? I’d like to point to what we know about hunger in South Africa, whether the NSNP program is effective, what other countries are doing and what we should be thinking about.

Firstly, South African schools were going to shut for the first term holidays anyway – we just closed them three days early. The Minister announced that schools will be closed until 14 April 2020, and if you count the school holidays and public holidays in that period there are only 11 school days (even though schools are closed for a whole month). While that might not sound like a lot, any extension of school closures (which seem almost inevitable now) will materially start to affect children’s nutrition, and for some kids, also their immune systems.

The nationally-representative 2018 General Household Survey can help shine some light on the extent of hunger in South Africa. Three stats are telling: (1) When asked “Did your household run out of money to buy food during the past 12 months?”, 22% of households answered “yes.” (2) For households where was at least one child (17 years or younger), 16% reported that in the last year a child went hungry in that household “because there wasn’t enough food.” And (3) according to the StatsSA 2018 GHS report of 2018, 20% of households had “inadequate” or “severely inadequate” food access (p.67). So, even with the NSNP in full-swing, and 9-million kids getting their meals Monday to Friday, the GHS shows that about one in six South African households with kids experience hunger or food insecurity. Similarly, the National Development Plan (NDP) states that “stunting affects almost one in five children (18%), and…about one in 10 children are underweight” (p.299).

There is also corroborating evidence from a 2016 evaluation of the National School Nutrition Programme by JET Education Services. They surveyed 267 schools in 2015 and found that 4% of learners “did not eat at home last night” and 23% “did not eat breakfast.” (JET, 2016: p.58). Encouragingly, 96% of schools did actually serve the main meal indicating that the program is working very well.

South Africa is not the only country experiencing this problem. According to UNESCO over 100 countries have shut all schools as a result of the coronavirus. Most have some form of school feeding system for selected learners and now all are scrambling to find ways of providing meals to those that rely on them. In the US a number of cities have implemented a “grab and go” system, including in New York, Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee and Washington D.C. where distribution points and catchment zones dictate who can collect from where.

There are still no reliable projections as to how the coronavirus outbreak in South Africa will unfold but one thing is certain: there is no world in which the situation in South Africa is less severe in three weeks’ time (when schools are scheduled to re-open) than it is now. If schools are going to be shut for months, then provincial governments need to come up with contingency plans for how they will help poor families provide food for their children. Currently there are no plans in place for sustained school closures. Minister Motshekga has been quoted as saying “We are not going to run special programmes … We won’t be able to do it, so parents must take that responsibility and communities must assist.” If the Department of Basic Education is reneging on its responsibility it should give the school nutrition money to a department that is willing and able to come up with a solution. When one in five children are hungry and rely on these meals for their basic needs, it is clear that free school meals have become part of the social infrastructure that millions of South African children rely on. We cannot simply ignore that because of the logistical complexities involved. The money has already been budgeted and allocated, now provinces need to find innovative ways of getting meals to kids while schools are closed.

Staff briefing: Coronavirus

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(The letter below was sent to all Funda Wande staff yesterday. A number of people have said it’s been very helpful and might be worthwhile sharing here. Hopefully it’s helpful to others as we enter uncharted territory)

Dear Funda Wande staff,

As many of you will have already seen, on the 11th of March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) as an international ‘pandemic’.

  1. What is a “pandemic”?

A pandemic is the most serious classification of a disease epidemic and is declared by the WHO. Less severe outbreaks of diseases are classified as “outbreaks” or “epidemics.” Only once a disease outbreak has spread across multiple countries and is deemed ‘out of control’ is it classified as a pandemic (for example Ebola and Zika virus were not pandemics).  According to the WHO, since 1900 there have been four pandemics (1) Spanish Flu (H1N1-1918), (2) Asian Flu (H2N2-1957), (3) Hong Kong Flu (H3N32-1968) and (4) Swine Flu (H1N1-2009). All of these were strains of the influenza virus. The current pandemic is the first pandemic of a coronavirus.

  1. What is a “coronavirus”?

Coronaviruses are usually found in animals (not humans) and only appear in humans when they are transmitted from animals to us. Previous coronaviruses have come from civet cats (SARS-CoV) and camels (MERS-CoV). The current “novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)” has not been previously identified in humans and the animal source of COVID-19 is still being debated, although many think it came from pangolins.

  1. What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

From WHO: “The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.”

  1. Guidelines from the WHO

The WHO is the highest medical authority on diseases. These are their guidelines and here is their Q&A page.

  1. South African Dept of Health guidance on Coronavirus

This is the South African Health Department’s website on Coronavirus. Which has all the details on South Africa’s response, contact numbers etc. Mediclinic also has a useful interactive portal about screening and testing.

  1. What is happening in SA and around the world?

As of 15 March 2020 there were 61 confirmed cases of Coronavirus. It should be noted that the first confirmed case in South Africa was only discovered 10 days ago (5 March 2020). The rate of infection is growing exponentially as the graph below indicates.

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In China they asked people when they started showing symptoms and reported those numbers and dates, not only official diagnoses. That shows that the total number of infections is 5-10 times higher than current official diagnoses. Thus, there are most likely 250-500 infections in South Africa as of today (15 March 2020).

To give you a sense of how the rest of the world is reacting here are some indications:

  • All flights are banned from 26 European countries into America (BBC)
  • All schools are closed in 30 countries around the world, including in Belgium, France, Germany and Spain (Metro). Nine schools in Cape Town are currently closed after a student at Herzlia tested positive for Coronavirus
  • Italy, France and Spain have virtually shut down their entire countries and asked everyone to stay at home (NYT)
  • As of Wednesday this week all schools will close until (at least) Easter. All large public gatherings (100+ people) are prohibited and flights into South Africa are now banned from the EU, the US, the UK, South Korea and Iran. See President Ramaphosa’s speech here.

 

What are we doing about this at Funda Wande?

There are two principles that are influencing our decisions of what to do in light of the pandemic (1) the health and safety of our staff and the people we work with, and (2) our ability to slow the spread of coronavirus in SA. Our decision to act early and decisively is informed by the fact that it is almost guaranteed that within 2 weeks South Africa will also be fully aware of and engaged in efforts to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. Our healthcare system is not equipped to deal with the large numbers of people who will be flooding into it and we need to delay the spread as much as we can.  See this article for more information about the rapid spread.

  • Cancelling all local and international flights (No FW/BW flights from 15 March – 30 June 2020)

All local and international flights booked from 15 March 2020 to 30 June 2020 should be cancelled, irrespective of whether they have already been booked. We will also not be booking any flights paid for by FW over this period unless personally approved by Nic. As more information becomes available on the extent of the spread these dates may be extended at some point in the future. (This is in keeping with policies of the Endowment, as well as Stellenbosch University and UCT).

  • Special precautions for those who are older or have pre-existing medical conditions.

One thing that we do know about the coronavirus is that it disproportionately affects people who are older (60yrs+), have pre-existing medical conditions (diabetes, hypertension, cancer etc. [1]). If any of these apply to you then you are eligible to work from home for the full duration of Corona pandemic – speak to your line manager.

  • Washing hands regularly, don’t touch your face

It seems old-fashioned but the best method of preventing coronavirus is by washing your hands for 20-seconds with soap and water. Soap essentially dissolves the fatty-membrane holding it together so it just falls apart when it comes into contact with soap and water. The way the virus gets into your system is through your nose, your mouth or your eyes. Respiratory droplets (from a cough or a sneeze) that get into your mouth/eye/nose are what infect you. For that reason don’t touch your face, cough into your elbow and wash your hands often.

  • Social distancing

One of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of the disease is to minimize unnecessary physical contact with others. Stop shaking people’s hands and don’t hug. If people put out their hand to shake your hand or come in for a hug just smile and say “we shouldn’t be shaking hands” There are many alternatives like the foot-tap, the sup, the hip-bump or the bow.  Keep at least one meter away from people who show any symptoms of having flu (still smile and be friendly though J). 

  • If you or a family-member are even a little sick, stay home

If you are feeling even slightly unwell or if a family-member in your household is unwell then please let your line-manager know and stay home and do not come into the office. Either work from home if you feel well enough to work from home or take sick leave. Everyone will be given an additional 5 days of discretionary sick leave from 15 March 2020 to 30 July 2020 (“Special leave” on BambooHR). This is if you are feeling even slightly ill.

  • Moving meetings to Zoom

We will try and move as many of our meetings to Zoom rather than in-person. This includes FW-FW meetings and FW-external meetings. Try and utilize the functionality of screen-sharing, annotating on your screen etc. on Zoom. Everyone can create their own Zoom account (see FW Handbook). As a norm we will use video (not just audio) and all try and be as responsive to the person speaking as possible (body language is a big part of communication).

  • Working from home and spacing out desks

Some FW jobs are possible to do from home. We are encouraging people to work from home where possible. Please confirm with your line manager. For people who cannot work from home (most of the media team) we will space out our desks at the office so you are more than 1m apart.

  • Communal medicine and FW-sponsored 2020 flu vaccine

We will make flu medication available in the Cape Town office (anyone can take and use this for themselves). We will also set up an arrangement with Zettlers Pharmacy (12 Mill St Gardens) for anyone who would like to get the “2020 flu shot” and FW will pay for this. (For people in the LP, EC and Wits offices please speak to your line manager to see how they are arranging this in their province). This is not a vaccine against Coronavirus, but it will help you not to get the “normal flu.” That’s helpful because you’re less likely to get sick.

  • Occupation-specific measures

The guidelines and procedures here are applicable to all FW/BW staff. Where there are specifics that relate to only one group (like coaches visiting schools), your line manager will set up a meeting to discuss the protocols and the best way forward.  

  • Timeframes

Given that we are only sending this out on Sunday (15 March 2020) and that some people will only see this email on Monday (16 March 2020). Everything in here is effective from 5pm 16 March 2020.

  • Don’t lose our humanity and collaborative spirit in the process

Working from home, not hugging or hand-shaking, keeping a distance from others – all of these sound like ways of isolating ourselves from others. While physical distance is necessary to prevent the spread of this virus, that doesn’t mean we can’t make sure we are extra friendly, warm, supportive and encouraging to each other. Watch this short video of Italians in Sienna singing to each other from their balconies to keep their community spirit up while they are forced to stay home while their country is shut down. If you find other examples like this please share them on Slack! Also see here

  • From Nic and the FW ExCo

 

Footnotes:

Also see here: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

[1] WHO: “Most people infected with COVID-19 virus have mild disease and recover. Approximately 80% of laboratory confirmed patients have had mild to moderate disease, which includes non-pneumonia and pneumonia cases, 13.8% have severe disease (dyspnea, respiratory frequency ≥30/minute, blood oxygen saturation ≤93%, PaO2/FiO2 ratio 50% of the lung field within 24-48 hours) and 6.1% are critical (respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or multiple organ dysfunction/failure). Asymptomatic infection has been reported, but the majority of the relatively rare cases who are asymptomatic on the date of identification/report went on to develop disease. The proportion of truly asymptomatic infections is unclear but appears to be relatively rare and does not appear to be a major driver of transmission. Individuals at highest risk for severe disease and death include people aged over 60 years and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer. Disease in children appears to be relatively rare and mild with approximately 2.4% of the total reported cases reported amongst individuals aged under 19 years. A very small proportion of those aged under 19 years have developed severe (2.5%) or critical disease (0.2%).”

Funda Wande Annual Report 2019 :)

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We’re really proud to launch our 2019 Funda Wande Annual Report. I’ve included a few screenshots below but read the full report for all the details!

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“Tito’s business unusual” – Our FM article on #Budget2020

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  • by Nic Spaull & David Carel

In the SONA it’s easy for the President to promise everything to everyone. A Sovereign Wealth Fund for you, a State Bank for you. You get a car, you also get a car, everyone gets a car. The budget speech is different because you now have to pay for all those cars. If you can’t find the money, you can’t spend it. And in this year’s budget the message came across loud and clear: we have reached the end of the road.

Minister Mboweni showed the courage to wake us up from the political twilight zone we have been in for too long: “We cannot go on like this. Classroom sizes are growing, hospitals are getting fuller and our communities are becoming increasingly unsafe.” We are close to a recession (economic growth in 2019 was 0,3%), debt is spiralling, and there are serious unresolved existential risks, such as Eskom. There is no more business as usual.

Government has finally decided to confront what it has been speaking about for a decade: reducing public sector wages. Mboweni announced that over the next three years government will cut the public sector wage bill by a colossal R160-billion. For the last ten years the public sector wage bill has been increasing much faster than inflation, much faster than economic growth and much faster than government’s ability to collect new revenue to pay for it. Those chickens have now come home to roost.

The 2020 allocation to Basic Education has decreased from R250,2-billion to R248,6-billion, falling R12-billion short of what was needed just to keep up with inflation. Because Basic Education is still the largest single line item in the budget and is also the largest employer in the country (with over 400,000 teachers on payroll), it provides the perfect case study of rising public sector wages and the crowding out of other essential expenditures. Over the last ten years teacher salaries have risen 45% faster than inflation, outstripping increases in budget allocations and hobbling provinces.

The two biggest consequences have been rising class sizes and the imposition of hiring freezes across provinces. The government’s own analysis shows that Learner:Teacher ratios have been consistently rising since 2010. Nationally representative independent studies (PIRLS) show that between 2011 and 2016 average class sizes at the Grade 4 level increased from 40 to 45 learners per class. For the poorest 60% of learners, who feel these increases most acutely, the increase was from 41 to 48 learners per class over the same period.

This is the outcome of above-inflation wage increases since there is always a trade-off between head-counts (the number of teachers employed) and salaries (what you pay them). That means larger class sizes and fewer personnel when wages rise in the face of capped budgets. The way provinces hire fewer teachers and save costs is by implementing hiring freezes, which virtually all have had to resort to (see KZNDoE circular 3 of 2018). Government payroll data from 2012 and 2016 shows that there was a 16% decline in school managers employed countrywide despite there only being 2% fewer schools (school managers are more expensive than teachers). There were double digit declines in the number of principals employed in the North West (-12%), Limpopo (-13%), and the Free State (-14%). In Limpopo alone there were 2,996 principals employed on payroll, yet there are 3,867 schools in the province. That is to say 23% of schools in Limpopo have no employed principal.

What’s clear is that this budget has drawn the lines along which factional battles will be fought over the coming year, both within the ANC, and between the ANC and COSATU. It is wrong and simplistic to see confining public sector wages as anti-poor. As we’ve seen with rising class sizes and withering school leadership teams, large wage increases in a time of almost no economic growth has real consequences for schools — especially for the poorest government schools.

We will soon see if the last decade’s crisis in political leadership will continue unabated or if the President has the leadership and backing to broker the needed compromises and new social compacts to move us forward. Minister Mboweni claims support from Cabinet and the President in confronting the wage bill. The big question now is whether the ANC will actually implement these policies, renegotiate already-signed wage agreements, and withstand the considerable heat that will be coming from COSATU. This will be the President’s biggest test to date and we should throw the full weight of our support behind him.

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Dr Nic Spaull and David Carel are researchers in the Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP) group at Stellenbosch University.

This article first appeared in the Financial Mail on the 27th of February 2020 with the title “Tito’s business unusual”

We’re recruiting a COO! Apply!

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The PDF of the Job ad is available here.

(+ a sneak-peak of our 2019 Annual Report which should be out soon!)

Launching “Bala Wande: Calculating with Confidence”!

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As many of you know I’m currently seconded to the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment to develop the “Funda Wande: Reading for Meaning” program. The aim of that is to equip teachers in no-fee schools with the resources and training they need to teach reading for meaning by age 10 (this video explains it well). We have now also initiated a sister program for Grade 1-3 mathematics: “Bala Wande: Calculating with Confidence.” The program is headed by two of South Africa’s mathematics stalwarts: Ingrid Sapire and Lynn Bowie and includes a formal collaboration with Nelson Mandela Institute’s Magic Classroom Collective  who have been working in this area for a long time. The aim is to develop fully bilingual learner activity booklets and video-based teacher guides for Grade 1-3 in all South Africa’s official languages. The big aim is to delink price and quality, and offer “best in the world”, in African languages, openly-licensed and widely available. If the pharmaceutical industry can create ‘generic drugs’ (same quality but MUCH cheaper), we can do the same with early learning resources!

Screen Shot 2020-01-27 at 07.36.56The policy at Funda Wande (and Bala Wande) is that open is always better than closed. Everything we make is Creative Commons licensed and freely available for download. We also have a rule that everything we provide to our intervention schools must be available on our website and on our YouTube page within 2 weeks of it being delivered in our schools. Anyone is welcome to download and use any of our materials for free, and you don’t even need to ask us for permission to do so (but it’s nice to know who’s using them so please do! 🙂

Today we uploaded our first mathematics materials and I am very proud of them. They are the isiXhosa Grade 1 Term 1 Learner Activity Booklet and the corresponding Teacher Guide. Please take a look at them and share them with anyone who might be interested. We are currently running a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) in the Eastern Cape to test the efficacy of the materials and teacher coaches (Grade 1 in 2020; Grade 1+2 in 2021; Grade 1+2+3 in 2022) – more to come on that in due course. Here are some excerpts from the Learner Activity Booklet and Teacher Guide:

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Screen Shot 2020-01-27 at 07.37.20But check out the full Learner Activity Booklet and Teacher Guide (and bilingual Gr1-3 Mathematics dictionary) – all resources are available on our website: https://fundawande.org/learning-resources

We are always looking to collaborate with people who are passionate about Grade R-3 mathematics in South Africa. If you’re an expert on Foundation Phase Maths and speak an African home language email your CV to ingrid[at]fundawande.org and we can see if there are ways of collaborating!

Watch this space 🙂

On Inequality, Golfing and Social housing (BD Article)

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This article first appeared in the Business Day on 22 Jan 2020 under the title “Putting golf club needs above social housing is one way the rich fail the poor

With sex and religion, South Africans don’t like talking about their annual income. We thus often have wildly incorrect estimates of what other people earn and where we fit in the income distribution.

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That’s where research can help. A 2019 report by Stats SA and the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (Saldru) shows that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer.

If SA was made up of 100 people and we lined them up from richest to poorest, the 10th poorest person’s income declined 15% and the 99th person’s income (richest 1%) increased 48% from 2011-2015.

To be in the top 1% in 2015 you needed to have an annual taxable income of R1m or more, making you one of only 350,000 South Africans (R400,000 a year put you in the top 5%). That’s according to Ingrid Woolard’s analysis of anonymised SA Revenue Service (Sars) tax data for her 2019 inaugural lecture at Stellenbosch University, in which she showed that since 2003 the incomes of the top 5% have consistently grown faster than everyone else’s in SA, and especially that of the poor.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise since it is largely in keeping with the negotiated settlement and ANC policy. The post-apartheid social compact was a straightforward quid pro quo: “If you pay your taxes and agree to pay for most of your own health, security and education services, you can keep your property, your wealth, your privilege and your place in society”.

Nowadays, about 5%-15% of South Africans opt out of all public services; 17% have private medical aid, 7% have private security, and 5% have private schooling or high-fee (R12,000-plus per annum) public schooling, according to the general household survey (GHS) 2016-17 and Stats SA victims of crime (VOC) survey 2017-18.

For God’s sake, there are 23 other golf courses and driving ranges in Cape Town and another one literally next door: the King David Mowbray Golf Club

The main reason this is a problem is that the new “integrated elite” governing SA are totally unaffected (and uninterested) in the challenges 70% of the population face.

Redress and transformation are impossible while those in government are unwilling to take the risks on which they campaigned, and for which they were elected. Implementing the National Development Plan, arresting corrupt politicians, large-scale social housing, land redistribution, well-funded long-term teacher development — we only ever hear plans. Name one corrupt politician currently in jail.

Some of these are complicated initiatives that involve long-term appointments, policy reform, and court cases, but even when they don’t the political will is lacking. The most recent and visceral example of this is Cape Town’s indefensible decision to renew the 10-year lease of the Rondebosch Golf Club rather than use it for social housing.

In one of the world’s most spatially-segregated cities, the city in its wisdom has chosen to renew the lease of 450,000m² of prime public land to the Rondebosch Golf Club. And in exchange it asks for the princely sum of R1,000 a year in rent.

This is for the equivalent of 45 rugby fields of public land in the middle of Cape Town. Rather than prioritise the needs of those who live in shacks and are physically excluded from economic opportunity, services and schools, the city instead advocates for the needs of golfers. For God’s sake, there are 23 other golf courses and driving ranges in Cape Town and another one literally next door: the King David Mowbray Golf Club.

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Why does the city consistently oppose civil society when it shows countless sites for social housing and shows the economic viability of using cross-subsidisation models proven in Spain and Hong Kong? In an excellent report on city leases, Ndifuna Ukwazi has shown five viable sites for social housing in Cape Town, yet they are ignored. Where is the city’s courage (or shame) to actually implement its own policies? Through its choices and lack of action, Cape Town spits on the needs of the poor and panders to the rich.

I often wonder how long the SA status quo can carry on before Paris-style gilets jaunes protests break out and stop everything. There is a line in the latest Batman movie in which Catwoman turns to Bruce Wayne and says:

“There’s a storm coming, Mr Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”