/ 8 November 2017

Dismissed student teachers are suspicious of ‘untrustworthy’ education NPO

Expand: English is used in other languages
Expand: English is used in other languages

A group of teaching students in Cape Town are accusing education non-profit organisation (NPO) Numeric of exaggerating its relationship with the department of basic education’s (DBE) bursary scheme Funza Lushaka and using students’ bursary money to fund itself.

According to its website, Numeric trains and funds postgraduate education students to become maths teachers. The students attend weekly classes with Numeric for instruction in maths and pedagogy, and coach disadvantaged learners at after-school math programs in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

But some students say Numeric isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They say the programme’s relationship with Funza Lushaka is illegitimate and that they have to give half of their bursary money to pay for the organisation’s operations.

“I feel that Numeric is untrustworthy,” Tieho Hans, a dismissed student, told The Daily Vox. Hans said when the fellows started to ask questions about the way the organisation operated, it threatened them and stopped their stipends instead of trying to solve the matter through dialogue. “This made us feel that there was something they were hiding,” he said.

No clarity from Numeric on its relationship

The fellows selected for Numeric’s training programme receive a R70 850 bursary which covers tuition through the distance-learning institution University of South Africa (Unisa), textbooks, stationery and printing costs, a laptop, transport and a stipend. In its agreement, it states that it will also apply for a R58 000 Funza Lushaka bursary on the fellows’ behalf. Should their applications be successful, fellows are expected to pay half of their bursary money to Numeric. The other half is made available to the students in addition to the Numeric bursary money.

The Funza Lushaka bursary is a DBE initiative aimed at addressing the shortage of teachers in specific subject areas and school phases. Once recipients start teaching, they’re expected to pay the bursary back to the DBE.

Hans said that essentially this means students are offsetting Numeric’s costs from their own pockets the following year, when they get jobs as teachers. “Do they recognise that I will have to pay R58 000 back to DBE and I would have spent half of that on Numeric?”

This year, 12 of the 15 students on the Numeric programme chose not pay the 50% of their DBE bursary money to the organisation in August citing qualms with Numeric’s relationship with Funza Lushaka.

“This organisation implied that they had a relationship with Funza Lushaka,” Hans said. But that was not the case. Hans said that, in an email sent in October last year, Numeric had indicated that it would apply for Funza Lushaka on the fellows’ behalf as a batch application and the applications would be identified as Numeric applicants. This led him to believe there was a working relationship between the two.

But the fellows became suspicious when Funza Lushaka communicated with them individually and not Numeric itself. They then enquired with the bursary scheme about its affiliations and learned that no NPO is partnered with Funza Lushaka.

The fellows sought clarity from Numeric about its relationship with Funza Lushaka in August, but never received it. Despite holding meetings with managing director Andrew Einhorn and another member of management after they had not paid the 50% back to Numeric, no agreement was reached.

Three of the 2017 fellows who received the Funza Lushaka bursary repaid their stipends to Numeric. Numeric said it would take disciplinary action should the fellows continue to refuse to pay as this would not be fair on those who had paid. Numeric then stopped paying objecting fellows their stipends.

“Had [Einhorn] given us a chance to raise our concerns and made [us] understand what was going on, we might have reached an agreement and maybe would’ve been able to pay him, but that did not happen,” Hans said.

In a letter to Numeric management in September, the objecting fellows said they would stop coaching because the organisation had breached contract by neglecting to pay the stipend. They also didn’t believe it had a right to demand their bursary money. Fellows then neglected to show up for the following Monday’s coaching session.

Einhorn maintains that the fellows shouldn’t have dragged parents and learners into the issue. Despite the fellows’ attempts to find substitutes, six classrooms had to close until the end of the third term. Einhorn said this was bad for Numeric’s reputation, and bad for the learners. “When 10 coaches suddenly say, ‘We’re not coaching,’ it’s very serious. We have obligations to our partner schools, the parents and to the children in these programmes,” he said.

The fellows signed a code of conduct which stipulates that neglecting to show up for the after-school programme is grounds for immediate issuance of a final warning.

Numeric held a disciplinary hearing against the fellows at the end of September, chaired by an independent third party from Cape Labour Consultants. The fellows accused the chair of being biased and walked out. The hearing continued without them and the chair recommended that they be dismissed. The matter was voted upon and the fellows were dismissed.

The dismissed fellows have taken their case to the CCMA. A hearing has been set for November 15.

Funza Lushaka bursary is a ‘top-up’

Numeric is registered as public benefit organisation (PBO) with the department of social development and SARS under the name Bluestream Education. Einhorn said the organisation is audited every year.

He told The Daily Vox the money from Funza Lushaka is one of a few types of fundraising streams for the training programme. The agreement is that if the Funza Lushaka bursary application is successful, fellows will get half of the Funza Lushaka money as well as the original Numeric bursary. The other half of the Funza Lushaka bursary money is used to subsidise Numeric’s fellowship. Einhorn said none of the money goes to its operational costs. “It offsets the cost of our stipend that we pay,” he said.

Students on the programme get R70 580 from Numeric and, if they are successful in the Funza Lushaka application, they get an additional R29 140 – half of their DBE bursary money – for a total of R99 720. “In short, if you get Funza Lushaka you get R30 000 top up,” Einhorn said.

Einhorn said the organisation takes a calculated risk about what funding it can achieve; had the students not received Funza Lushaka bursaries, it would have dipped into its reserves to pay for their stipends. He said Numeric had appealed directly to the bursary scheme for funding for the past two years but has not been successful.

DBE national spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department manages the Funza Lushaka bursary programme. “The department does not have an agreement or partnership with Numeric,” Mhlanga told The Daily Vox. The only agreement Funza Lushaka recipients are required to sign is with the DBE and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Mhlanga does not agree with students paying half their bursary money to an NPO. “Bursary money must only be used for tuition fees, books, accommodation, food, transport and other costs that will enable bursary holders to be successful in the academic courses they follow,” he said.

Mhlanga said the DBE has met with Numeric to learn about its work and its strategy to attract graduates into the teaching profession. He said the DBE was not aware of any previous complaints about Numeric and its work aside from a Facebook post from October this year written by one of its 2016 fellows. However, the department did not follow up on the fellow’s complaints. — The Daily Vox

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