Towards strengthening SA education

It is therefore important to bring people from all sectors together to talk about ideas and best practice to help equip teachers in preparing learners for the 21st century.

The FirstRand Foundation hosted a “CSI that works” breakfast session in Johannesburg last week that provided one such an opportunity.

The breakfast was hosted by Sizwe Nxasana, chairman of the FirstRand Foundation and chief executive of FirstRand Limited. In attendance was Dr Sello Rapule, chief executive of Protec who worked on the Sediba project of the North West University that is focused on promoting science, maths, and technology teaching in formal and informal educator training programmes, Cedric Lidzhade, principal of Mbilwi Secondary school in Limpopo and Zorina Dharsey, director at the Western Cape Primary Science Programme that supports science teaching and learning in primary schools.

“By looking at the statistics, it is clear that a lot of money is spent on education. And while access to education has improved, the quality is not where it is supposed to be.

“South Africa ranks last or close to last on many international comparisons especially when it comes to science and maths. And with no clear framework for collaboration between the public and private schools, it is difficult for people to see practical examples of what works,” said Nxasana.

The FirstRand Foundation, after looking at the South African landscape, identified three organisations that are working and trying to strengthen maths and science teacher education.

The Sediba Project 
An example of how education, the government and the private sector can work together was illustrated through the Sediba Project.

“Established in 1996, Sediba is focused on delivering high quality content in the further education and training phase of maths and science education.

“We compared math results of learners in grade 12 last year with their test scores from a few years previously. There was no improvement. But the learners are just a reflection of what goes on in the classroom. In fact, a recent study has shown that in financial maths, learners only know 17% of the content,” said Rapule.

Sediba started as a pilot project with 35 teachers involved. The project has reached almost 2 000 teachers since 2002 but Rapule admits it is still just a drop in the ocean.

“We have more than 390 000 teachers in public schools across the country. An additional challenge is that the average age of teachers in South Africa is 46 years. This means that 15 years from now, the majority of teachers will be on pension. We are simply not replacing our teachers fast enough.”

Sediba is taking in 50 teachers for every subject a year. And while the number seems small in comparison to what is required, Rapule says the teachers of the project create a ripple effect in the system.

“The difference 50 teachers make not only to the learners, but to those teachers who have not gone through the training is immense.

“More than 30 000 learners are exposed to physical science and maths teachers currently enrolled through the Sediba Project as one teacher impacts around 175 learners every year.”

Mbilwi Secondary School
For Lidzhade, the Mbilwi Secondary school is an example of how the hard work, dedication, motivation and commitment of teachers can contribute to a positive environment.

“We started in 1979 as a science school focused on grade 11 and 12 learners. All the principals of the school were previously educators there. Today, the school takes students from grade 8 upwards and remains committed to providing a quality learning experience in maths and science,” he said.

Part of its success can be attributed to the fact that the school recruits young graduates with bachelor of science qualifications and not necessarily teaching ones.

“We encourage them to enrol in a part-time diploma in education to supplement their knowledge in science and maths. At the school, we are serious about our time management and lesson planning to provide learners from grades 8 through 11 with the strong foundation required for grade 12.”

The school also provides compulsory enrichment programmes such as support lessons in the afternoons and Saturday classes focusing on maths and physical science.

“We teach and assess our learners continuously. The theory is that learners cannot perform well if they are not given enough tests, assignments, homework and projects. This has seen us become the first black and rural school to join Club 100 with more than 100 learners who pass maths with 50%,” he said.

Western Cape Primary Science Programme 
The final participant of the morning was the Western Cape PSP. This teacher in-service training and support organisation was established in 1985.

It has expanded its focus from maths and science teaching to such diverse areas that include language and environmental education.

“We believe that children need to be engaged in learning. When we work with teachers, content forms an important part, but we also need to make sure they know how to teach,” said Dharsey.

She feels that teachers need to engage their learners with activities instead of just giving a steady flow of one-way information.

“We support teachers by building their knowledge on how to teach and provide them with materials to teach with.

“There is also a project that speaks to first-time teachers where they are exposed to a mentorship programme giving them access to experienced campaigners in a joint teaching environment.

“The mentoring process includes individual consultation, workshops, group consultation, classroom observation, team teaching and accessing resources.”

Ultimately, the PSP wants competent and knowledgeable teachers for the learners of the country. And that is after all the goal of both the public and private sectors when it comes to education in South Africa.

The next CSI that Works breakfast will be hosted on October 16 and will focus on the role of bursary programmes in supporting tertiary education, especially among previously disadvantaged communities

This article has been paid for by FirstRand Foundation. Copy and photographs were supplied by the foundation.



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