Formulas for success

Boy Taking Notes From Textbook In Chemistry Class

Government has its sights set on having at least 350 000 learners passing mathematics at National Senior Certificate level by 2024. Backed by a mathematics, science and technology grant totaling R347 million for this financial year, the teaching of these subjects is currently under the spotlight.

Today we are finding innovative ways in which government is approaching the advancement of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In August, students were invited to participate in Speed Dating For Your Brain, a game where the ring of the bell moves you on to the next table exploring topics ranging from crystallography to women in science. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when one considers the multitude of Olympiads and similar events available to our students each year.

The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement’s (SAASTA) Moloka Matlala spoke at the recent FP&M SETA Skills Development Summit about the advancement of science and technology. Initiating the discussion with some facts and figures, Matlala says in China the ratio is one engineer to every 30 people, in India one to every 57, but in South Africa the number is a staggering one to 3 166.

“We need to create awareness around the study of engineering through career guidance. We also need to assist learners to gain entry into tertiary education. We all know that for engineering you need 60% or above and many times we take the learners that scored between 50% and 60% and we ensure that we give them learner camps,” he says.

Matlala says SAASTA recently received one of its biggest mandates and a new framework released by the Department of Science and Technology that needs to be implemented across the country. This framework has at its core the popularising of science, technology and innovation and making it relevant and accessible. He says this will be done in ways which complements teaching at school level.

“We want to encourage learners to pursue higher educations and inculcate scientific research amongst school-going youth. For you to be able to have learners who are innovative you need to teach them how to do investigative learning and a little bit of research. Another output this framework aims to achieve is to develop a critical public that actively engages with and participates in, for example, the National Science Week that was launched on Saturday. We had a lot of exhibitions there and many of those were showcasing some of the indigenous knowledge systems,” he says.

Matlala says last year they were able to give ten bursaries to Olympiad winners which would allow them to study civil engineering – a field often emphasized by the Department of Public Works. He says they are also collaborating with the Department of Basic Education at the moment and are running a number of technology workshops.

“We go out there to meet learners and educators and give them career booklets. We also arrange scientists and engineers who interact with these learners and give them some background on how they went on to become engineers and scientists themselves. We take some of the learners to industries that apply medicine and science so they are able to see how it is applied in our daily lives. We also run a lot of science festivals and participate in them on an annual basis. We participate in Municipal Africa Engineer Week annually and also in Sasol Techno. We send learners to Beijing’s Science Festival every March and September to participate there. We also participate and support a number of provincial science festivals taking place across the country,” he says.  

According to Matlala, SAASTA further provides support to around 34 science centers around the country which are open to the public. Matlala highlights the National Science Week as one of their flagship projects and this year the theme focused on light and light-based technology. “When looking at the exhibitions, a lot of them were dealing with light and how light can be transformed into a source of energy. You will be amazed in terms of the usage of light from merely enjoying it when it is cold to using it as entertainment or using it to secure your house. You might not even be aware how many everyday applications use light: when you do the scanning of the prices, when you pass security checks, you use the laser light to be able to check inside your bags when you check in at airport or so on,” he says.

Matlala stresses the need for collaborative intervention in the country. He says we have many interventions in math, science, engineering and technology, but that there is little collaboration between them. From a physics point of view he says the different STEM components are working in different directions and cautions that the end-result of forces might be zero. He also points out that many interventions are targeted at grade 10-12 learners since schools measure their output based on the number of matriculants that passed.

“We are missing the point because many of the science subjects need a good foundation. It is like a house, if you don’t have a good foundation then the structure can be as good and nice as it is, after a few years you are going to get cracks and the same things applies to math learners. I was listening to how poorly learners are performing and the high drop-out rate and it is because the basic principles of math and science were not embedded in them. Many of them memorize the question paper and pass with high marks, but at end of the day when they go to university they are dropping out because they get frustrated due to their lack of the basics,

“We also need to seriously look at the integration of the entrepreneurial skills at school level because there are no guarantee that all these learners are going to get employment. Encourage them to be innovative, and encourage them to create jobs. Work-integrated learning is the very key because if you want the learners to relate what they are learning to the world out there, then there should be work-integrated learning, they need to be able to see how to apply the theory they learnt,” Matlala concludes.


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This edition

Issue 58