The recent release of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) “Global Information Technology Report 2014” has been making the headlines in South Africa today. It is a weighty document, but the one finding reported that has caused most concern to South African’s is that the quality of South Africa’s maths and science education places it last out of 148 countries considered. On the face of it this is a damning statistic, but the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has been quick to dismiss the significance of the report’s conclusions.
The DBE pointed out that the report’s conclusions were not based on the results of any testing or assessments at schools, but were the opinions of business executives. Selected business leaders were asked to comment on the quality of maths and science education in the country. Of course as the employers of school leavers there is every reason for the business leaders interviewed to express an opinion. With business leaders in Haiti, Chad and Lesotho ranking their science teaching higher than we do in South Africa, there is clearly some cause for concern here. The debate looks set to continue but there remains little doubt that there are serious shortcomings in the quality of science and maths education in South Africa. We know from our bursary scheme that mathematics is often the subject area that students struggle most with, and require most extra tuition, after leaving school for further education.
Fortunately we are confident that many Masiphumelele students are getting a strong grounding in science due to the success of our Science Lab programme. The project, which has been running since 2011, has provided Ukhanyo Primary School with exceptional science learning facilities. The project leader, Fran Loudon, has committed three years to the project during which time the qualified science teacher has transferred her skills to the school’s teaching staff. Science is a subject area that is now delivered with confidence and enthusiasm.
There is definitely an interest in science subjects among the school children of Masiphumelele, as we know from the large number of school leavers approaching Masicorp for bursary support to study science subjects at university. We currently have students taking biotechnology, pharmacy, mechanical engineering and agricultural sciences. There maybe problems in science teaching nationally, but we are making great strides to rectify this in Masiphumelele.