2016 – A Great Year at the Maths Lab

project1The Maths lab at Ukhanyo School continues to produce extremely encouraging results. Following on from the practices developed last year, each day starts with a “morning dance”, and then learners work for 10 minutes on revision sheets that cover concepts taught over the course of the entire year, thus giving the children daily reminders of Maths skills.

The biggest challenge was to convince teachers to swap lengthy lectures for student drills, games, and practice activities. Hence, we established a weekly faculty meeting to discuss how students learn best and what activities produce the desired results.

Over the year, we watched the teachers adopt the new ideas about  Maths instruction – especially when they saw the effects that these “new strategies” had on the learners, the improvement of classroom management, (students no longer bored) and the impressive test scores – just look at this improvement:



Masicorp will be showcasing the Maths Lab at the Horses for Causes race day at Kenilworth Racecourse on Feb 11th. Entry is free so why not co e along for some racing and support ourselves and the other NGO’s participating on the day. Further details are available here:

Reinsurance Group of America (RGA) visit Ukhanyo School

We were delighted to recently welcome some of the local and international staff of the Reinsurance Group of America (RGA) to Ukhanyo School last week. RGA are an international global life and health reinsurance company with operations in 27 countries, including offices in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. Their visit was part of their giving 67 minutes for Mandela Day, which is an annual event in South Africa. Nelson Mandela fought for social justice for 67 years and the concept of the day is for everyone (individuals and corporations) to give at least 67 minutes of their time to Nelson Mandela has fought for social justice for 67 years. We’re asking you to start with 67 minutes.

Our visitors from RGA generously provided an incredible 1,830 pre-prepared packs of gifts for the children, which were distributed one to each child. Every child in each grade received a pack. Quite a logistical feat for the visitors, staff and Masicorp volunteers. Each pack contained learning materials, health products (e.g., toothpaste) and healthy food (oranges and apples), as well as a few sweets as a treat.

It was also an opportunity for the staff of RGA to meet our team and learn about our projects at the school. Everyone was able to see for themselves by visiting the Maths, English and Science Labs as well as the new running track that has now been installed at the school. The Maths Lab in particular has benefited from a kind donation from RGA and was one of the highlights of the tour. We are hugely grateful for the interest of RGA in our work and hope that this can be the start of a longer term relationship as we further develop the sports and teaching facilities at the school.

There was a lot of excitement among the pupils with their bags of goodies, but it was lovely to see them taking the time to thank the visitors personally. This included one of the pupils giving a hand written note of thanks to one of our visitors before they departed. Our team, the school staff and the learners all hope it will not be too long before the next visit.


An Update from the Maths Lab

Earlier this year we reported that the maths lab at Ukhanyo School was ready to receive learners. Thanks to the generous contributions of our donors and the skilled craftsmanship of Masicorp volunteer Paul Dibble, the Lab environment is inviting and comfortable and we are pleased to report that good progress continues to be made.

In May we were able to hire a full-time Maths Lab Assistant, Nothula2kathula Gomba, (Thula).  Thula is from the local community and has experience as an after-school maths mentor.  She hopes to have a teaching career in the future and is seen here in the lab with Laurie.

Each morning four sections of grade 4 learners spend 45-50 minutes in the Lab with their teacher, Scott or Laurie, together with Thula. The aim is to demonstrate that efficiency of learning, knowledge retention, and even student behaviour improve directly as classroom instruction shifts from a teacher-centric to a student-centric model.  All 240 grade 4 learners are taken through the same curriculum, and each teacher gets to observe lessons taught by Scott or Laurie. Later in the same week, they teach the lessons that they have observed and grow in their own teaching skills.

teacher 2It has been pleasing to see the teachers rearrange their own classrooms to emulate the Maths Lab setup, so that they can circulate and observe learner progress more readily. Scott and Laurie recently returned from a four week winter break in the US and found that the Maths Lab was being used effectively with the teachers following the lesson plans that had been left in place. In particular Zama Maqwathini (seen here with his class) has demonstrated a lot of energy and excitement about this new experience. In the first week after the return of Scott and Laurie he was ready to teach a lesson to his 2nd section of students, after watching Scott model the lesson with his 1st section.  However, he asked if he could modify the lesson slightly and greatly improved the learning experience with his ideas.


This first half of year has been more challenging than expected, with delays in setting up and acquiring classroom materials, but the rewards have far exceeded our hopes. Our thanks go out to the many donors that have helped to fund this ambitious project.

U.S. Board Member, Jane Philippi, Visits Masi

We’ve been happy to welcome Jane Philippi, from our U.S. Masicorp Board, for a recent two-week visit.  Jane, who has been involved with Masicorp since 2002, came to see her many friends here and also to view progress on various projects since she and John and Carol Thompson, Masicorp’s founders, visited in 2014.

Two highlights of the visit were the Masi Educare Pre-School and the new Maths Lab at the Ukhanyo Primary School.  Construction began the week Jane arrived with foundations being laid for the addition of 8 refurbished container classrooms to Masi Educare!  The old farmhouse building that was home to the existing school with its 60 children is also getting a further facelift, including a new roof that was installed during Jane’s visit.  The children have been moved to temporary quarters elsewhere in Masi.  When completed, the school will serve 160 young children!  Masi Educare is an important step toward Masicorp’s vision of quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) being available to ALL the children in Masi.  Jane also met with the Seedlings team managing all of Masicorp’s ECD initiatives including critically needed teacher training.

masi  edu

Masi Educare expansion underway!  Jane Philippi and Fiona Maitland, Program Director, Seedlings

The brand new Maths Lab in Ukhanyo Primary School was another stop.  The Maths Lab joins the English and Science Labs at the school.  These programs, structured to improve teaching skills, are transforming primary school education in Masi.  Maths skills have has been particularly weak link for our children.  Our last blog provided details on the Maths Lab, and the two American teachers, Scott and Laurie Smith, project leaders. They have made a minimum 3-year commitment to the children at Ukhanyo!

maths lab

Maths Lab at Ukhanyo School:  Scott and Laurie Smith with Michael Tyhali, Principal


It works!!

Jane spent time with a few of Masicorp’s university bursary program students and recent graduates.  Busi Ngcwama is teaching at False Bay College where she also just started a netball program for girls.  Loyiso Tunce, who just completed his Master’s Degree from Witts University, is interviewing for positions in urban planning.  Thulisa Mayekiso is a cluster mentor at Nal’ibali, a reading club program for township children.  She manages the program throughout Masi.  Jane and a couple of other Masicorp volunteers also traveled to the University of the Western Cape (UWC) to meet with a few of our current bursary students there.


Phumza Kibi, Phumlani Mtshawuli and Zodwa Bleki taking a break from first-term exams at UWC


 Siviwe Makeleni studying Law at UWC

To quote Jane: “There’s so much visible progress in just one year.  It’s especially encouraging to see many new volunteers from the surrounding communities and among Masi residents as well – making a difference in the lives of the people in Masi.  Contrary to so much of what one reads and hears in the press, we are seeing children get an education and become young adults with good jobs!”

We were delighted to have Jane visit us and we thank her and all the incredibly generous U.S. donors she represents. Our world-wide donors and the many Masicorp volunteers, all working as a global team, make it possible for the people of Masiphumelele to build a better future for themselves.

Thanks again Jane – come back soon!


President and MD

The Maths Lab is Ready for Learners

There is no escape from the fact that Mathematics is a problem subject area for South African learners. While many schools across the country have reported good matric pass levels, the national press has been quick to report that mathematics pass grades are falling – and this is even true in the generally less taxing mathematics literacy subject area. It is even more worrying to note that in many parts of the country this poor performance in mathematics is linked to a lack of ability in the teachers delivering the subject material. This was highlighted in the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Information Technology report, which ranked South Africa’s science and maths education as the worst in the world.

Much has subsequently being written about the report and its perceived shortcomings, but many education experts in South Africa have recognised the need for a better quality of learning experience in the science and maths subject areas. The Centre for Development and Enterprise has specifically addressed the issues around maths education in South Africa in a series of reports that can be downloaded HERE.

We have previously reported how the Science Lab project is bucking the national trend in science education at Ukhanyo School in Masiphumelele. This month sees the start of a similar initiative to improve mathematics teaching. The Maths Lab is a refurbished classroom in Ukhanyo School, where we will be attempting to raise the quality of the learning experience for teachers and learners from Grade 4 onward.

S & L 3Masicorp is very fortunate to have Scott and Laurie Smith to lead the project. Scott is a qualified engineer and mathematics teacher, who has taught maths from elementary to high school level in the United States. Scott and Laurie arrived in Cape Town six-months ago to establish the Maths Lab and have spent that time designing an open learning space with re-usable teaching aids, which Ukhanyo teachers will have access to for maths classes. They have spent much of their recent time trialing the new teaching aids with Grade 4 learners, who have responded very positively to the increased contact time.

Previously teachers were having to select one pupil at a time to solve problems on a blackboard in front a class of around 40 learners. Now each student will have their own whiteboard, and all learners can work through the same problems together. Scott will be available to guide the teachers in the use of the new materials and to advise them on how to improve the learning experience for their learners. Just as with the Science Lab, the aim is teach the teachers so that the facilty becomes a sustainable resource for the school.

student maths

Scott and Laurie have volunteered their time for three years to manage the project, with start-up funds for the new facility being provided by an extremely generous anonymous donor from the United States, as well as Bateleur Capital in South Africa and a few others. We cannot thank them enough for their commitment, and with the first classes due to start at the end of this month we know the teachers and learners at Ukhanyo will also soon be extremely grateful for their work at the school.