Great Progress at the Maths Lab

Maths and science education in South Africa continues to be a problem area according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness report. While the methodology used in the report has been questioned it is painful to see the standard of maths education in South Africa ranked at 138 out of 140 countries in the 2015/16 report.

labIt is therefore encouraging to see the success of the Maths Lab at Ukhanyo Primary School. The lab has now been in full operation for three school terms.  In this short time, we have happily watched our “test group” of 250 grade-4 learners and their 4 teachers embrace this new learning environment.  In a very short period of time, teachers have seen that children crave a school in which they get to experience daily success with hands-on activities; an environment where the learning is fun. Even better, knowledge retention has increased and behaviour problems have decreased.

After only 12 months of operation, the mid-year tests showed that students had moved from the previous year’s 16% pass rate to a 33% pass rate.  At the end of 2015, the end-of-year scores were even higher!  In 2014 17% of the 4th grade passed the end-of-year test, while in 2015 52% of the students passed!


The Maths Team would like to expand the Lab next year with tablets and laptops as we are envisioning a “flipped classroom” in which advanced students could move forward in self-paced instruction.   This would challenge the advanced students while providing additional motivation for the ones who are struggling.   The use of i-pads would provide access to online programs such as the Khan Academy, ensuring that there are literally no limitations on how far a motivated student can advance.

At a time when the news media is bemoaning the state of Maths education in South Africa, we are excited by what we see happening at Ukhanyo. Scores are improving dramatically, and we are seeing first-hand what happens when both teachers and students are exposed to new learning methods and improved teaching resources.


A Braai With The Bursary Students

It is currently the mid-term break for our bursary students and most of them have returned home to Masiphumelele for the vacation. We took the opportunity to meet up with them for a social event around a braai last Saturday and were rewarded with a beautiful clear winter’s day. The event took place at Gordans Camp in Glencairn, just a short drive from Masi, and in a pleasant secluded location in the Glencairn Valley.

Many of the students already know each other but these events are important for the newer students to meet those who have been studying for 3 or 4 years already and share experiences. The older students may have been several years ahead of the newcomers at high school and have some valuable tips to pass on to the newer students.

Paul & Sinthembile

The event also gave the students the opportunity to say goodbye to departing bursary manager, Susan de Vaux, and to welcome her replacement, Dr Louise de Waal. After several years as bursary manager Susan is leaving Masicorp as she will relocating overseas for part of the year. We look forward to welcoming her back when she is once again in the area. Susan is seen here with final year CPUT agriculture student Khuselo Mchithakali.

Susan & Khuselo

Khuselo is also seen below in the picture with fellow student Zintle Magazi (International Studies, Stellenbosch University) and the incoming bursary manager Dr Louise de Waal. Louise previously worked at the University of Wolverhampton in the UK and is well used to tutoring students. We wish her well in her new role at Masicorp.


Sadly it was all over to quickly, and there was just time for one last group photo before the short trip back to Masi. We will be holding formal one-to-one reviews with all students later in the week and then its back to campus to complete the academic year.

Group pic

Catching Up With Our Trail Runner – Elize Taylor

For Masicorp volunteer Elize Taylor the last week has been spent far out of her comfort zone in the wilderness of the Richtersveld on behalf of the young sports stars at Ukhanyo Primary School in Masiphumelele. At the start of the year Elize set herself the target of completing three trail runs to raise funds for a sports field project managed by local NGO, Masicorp. After completing a number of long distance running events in recent years, including the Comrades Marathon on a number of occasions, she started the year by completing the African X event in nearby Elgin. She will finish the year by completing the Wildrun in the Eastern Cape, but last week’s transfrontier trail in South Africa and Namibia was always going to be the main challenge.

Fig 2

The distance was daunting enough – 200 km in five days – but it was the terrain and elevation that were her main challenges. Elize admits she is not technically skilled and has a fear of heights. Therefore the scaling of several rocky outcrops and small to medium sized mountains was a big challenge. In fact, it was often coming down that was the main problem, with a minor fall on day one not stopping her from continuing.

The course was real wilderness, with GPS and maps needed to ensure Elize and her running partner stayed on the trail and made it to camp before dark. It was often a case of following trails left by goat herders, although they often simply disappeared into the shifting sands. On the Namibian side of the border the runners made use of the tracks left by herds of zebra to cross the rocky desert. Often she had to run with sand impacted in her socks and running shoes as there was simply no time to stop and clear them out. There were some scary moments along the way. When crossing a dry river bed in Namibia, a lone Kudu bull that had been startled by the runners suddenly charged past them, passing just ten meters from Elize and her partner.

fig 3

Elize is aiming to raise ZAR 25,000 to complete the construction of an all-weather sports surface at Ukhanyo School in a project that was begun by Masicorp late last year. It was the fact that she had already received many donations that kept her focused and committed to complete he trail. She is honest enough to admit there was a fair amount of fear too, given the wild terrain and absence of any farms or towns to retreat too.

As a fairly strong runner at a young age, Elize has had a passion to develop sports facilities at Ukhano School for some time. Masicorp has an excellent relationship with Ukhanyo Primary School, which takes all 1,600 of the township’s children aged 6 to 14. With Masicorp’s assistance the school has developed teaching facilities that are a benchmark for township schools, but their sports facilities remain limited. She recognizes the qualities that competitive sport can bring to a child’s development, including self-discipline, compassion, perseverance, team-work and health benefits. These are skills that cannot be taught in the classroom. With the right facilities. Elize can see youngsters from Masi eventually making the Western Province sports teams and seeing parts of the country they would otherwise never visit. Sport provides opportunities to meet other communities and cultures and is an excellent way of keeping youngsters motivated and out of trouble in their developing years.

With her final trail run still to come Elize is still seeking funds toward her target of ZAR 25,000. If you can help please make a donation to her via her fundraising page HERE.


Pack For A Purpose

Pack For a Purpose is an organisation that aims to make it easy for caring travelers to make a difference in the locations they visit. Established in 2010, the program encourages travelers to pack a few extra supplies they can donate to deserving communities across the world. Once a traveler has confirmed their travel plans, the website will direct them to projects that are making a difference in the region and the supplies each organization is in need of. Some of the organizations supported include schools, orphanages, family care centers and nature reserves.

Earlier this year we met with Sylvia Rein from Cape Town based tour operators Absolut Tours. Given that their tours visited the Cape Peninsula, Sylvia was keen to establish a network where their customers could bring educational supplies into Masiphumelele. The company have used Pack For a Purpose as their platform and now have their own webpage, featuring details of Ukhanyo School for their customers to view.

Handover Absolut Tours Silvia & LouiseV2

The scheme seems to be working and this weekend saw the first handover of a collection of stationery and writing supplies for the school. Many thanks to all of their clients who have contributed to the scheme and we look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with further kind donations.

First stationery donation Absolut Tours