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How to invest in Maths and Science education 

STEM subjects form part of historically excluded knowledge systems (30-40% of secondary schools in the country did not offer maths beyond Grade 9 before 1994), resulting in a continued significant divide between historically advantaged and disadvantaged groups. In 2016, the proportion of black learners who passed maths with 60% or more was 9%. By contrast, the proportion of whites passing with more than 60% was 52%, while the proportions for coloured and Indian pupils were 20% and 40% respectively. In maths literacy, only 8% of black learners passed with a mark of above 60%, compared with 20% for coloured learners, 44% for Indians, and 73% for white learners.

Maths tutoring service Brighter Futures conducted diagnostic tests with more than 8 000 high-school learners in 2017. The results revealed that concepts like multiplication are not being properly mastered from as early on as Grade 3. The average performance of fractions at Grade 4-7 level was just 31% and integers at 32%. As a result, Grade 9 learners unable to achieve 50% or more were encouraged or mandated to switch from mathematics to maths literacy in Grade 10. On average, 50-60% of learners drop to maths literacy in Grade 10. According to Grade 12 matric results in 2017, 66% of learners wrote maths literacy, with only 34% writing pure maths.

Both learners and educators require intervention to improve STEM-subject outcomes within education. Education stakeholders are finding ways to aid and support both, and public-private partnerships are often the most successful means to achieve this. According to the World Bank, interventions in sub-Saharan Africa include raising the status of maths and STEM education to a national priority, improving initial teacher training, supporting practicing teachers, providing more and better textbooks, supporting teachers with technology, supporting student self-learning through technology, emphasising that maths is not just a subject for boys, and changing attitudes towards the subject.

Examples of intervention models

Supporting teachers

Many learners struggle with maths and science due to the language barrier, the large number of children in classrooms, and a lack of resources and facilities at schools. However, another crucial factor is ineffective teaching methods, which can be attributed to a lack of school leadership. A study conducted by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in 2018 showed that only six of 22 primary-school teachers in 24 of the poorest schools across several provinces were able to perform a simple calculation in maths, and teachers scored as low as 5% for maths during a simple survey held to assess teacher competency.

In order to improve maths and science education in South Africa, various organisations have developed training courses and workshops aimed at developing innovative approaches within the classroom and enriching the skills of in-service teachers within the field. Teacher development is critical, in terms of both maths and science content and teaching methodologies. Continuous learning should also be a priority.

An African Union target for 2063 is to increase the number of qualified teachers by at least 30%, with a focus on STEM, since learners cannot thrive at STEM subjects without sufficiently qualified and committed teachers.

Alexandra Education Committee workshops

Alexandra Education Committee (AEC) conducts workshops in maths and English for 19 primary school teachers in and around Alexandra.

UWC boosts maths and science teaching

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) provides support to teachers at both primary and secondary levels, with the aim of improving maths and science results in schools. These programmes have been implemented in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape provinces.

Maths Centre offers STEM training

The Maths Centre, which operates across all provinces, aims to equip teachers, learners and parents with learning materials and programmes that will develop their competency and performance in curricula from Grades R-12. Subjects covered include maths, science and technology.

LEAP Science and Maths Schools train future leaders

The LEAP Future Leaders Programme is a teacher-training programme aimed at identifying, training and developing leaders in education.

KZN’s Vula Programme boosts maths, science learning

The Vula Mathematics Academy (VuMA) interacts with teachers in KwaZulu-Natal to help improve maths and science teaching.

Narrowing the gap for rural teachers

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Schools Enrichment Centre (AIMSSEC) sets out to narrow the gap for previously disadvantaged rural teachers with respect to transition rates into maths and science careers for their learners. They up-skill maths teachers through professional development courses and help to create an interactive school mathematics community.

Short courses from the Stellenbosch University Centre for Pedagogy

SUNCEP offers short courses in a number of subjects, including maths, science and management, assessment and moderation. This is in addition to their Advanced Diploma in Education.

ORT SA maths and science intervention

The ORT SA STEM Academy offers primary and high-school maths and science interventions in the form of teacher training, mentoring and seminars. They also offer seminars in STEM education specifically, and coding workshops for teachers.

Siyavula subject advisor training

In partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Sasol Inzalo Foundation (SaIF), Siyavula designs and conducts workshops for intermediate phase and senior phase Natural Sciences and Technology subject advisors across all nine provinces (encompassing Grades 4-9).

Numeric’s teacher training and internships

Numeric has developed a low-cost, scalable model to deliver high-impact after-school programmes in low-income areas. It offers short courses for in-service teachers and other community organisations.

Supporting learners

Closing the maths and science achievement gap can be difficult, particularly as learners have different needs, learn in different ways, and face a range of diverse challenges. Teachers often want the best for their students but may lack support. Interventions include online tuition, supplementary teaching, coaching, communities of practice, holiday programmes, after-school programmes and more.

Telkom and FOTAD help girls with maths and science

The Future of the African Daughter Project (FOTAD), in partnership with the Telkom Foundation, aims to have girls from previously disadvantaged areas matriculating with maths and science subjects, and have girls pursuing further tertiary education in maths and/or science-related fields.

Sanlam’s Blue Ladder Schools improve maths results

Sanlam’s Blue Ladder Schools project partners with schools, educators and communities across the country to improve maths tuition, nutrition, and upgrade key facilities. In 2018, the project partnered with 75 under-resourced schools to assist with improving maths competency. The project benefitted around 72 000 learners with its whole-school approach. The project has helped to raise learners’ maths results by an average of 13% in primary schools and 18% in secondary schools in Gauteng, and increased teacher performance by 17% in secondary and 8% in primary schools in Gauteng, and by 17% in the Western Cape. In KZN, a 10% higher maths pass rate was achieved.

BRIDGE aims to increase maths and science graduates

BRIDGE’s Maths and Science Learner Support Community of Practice supports learners, teachers and schools in maths and science. They bring together programme implementers and key investors to increase the number and quality of maths and science graduates in the country.

North-West University empowers disadvantaged school children

North-West University’s Ikateleng has been empowering school children from disadvantaged backgrounds for 31 years. It provides supplementary teaching in mathematics, economics, business studies, accounting, life science, physical science and English to high-school students from Grades 10-12.

CASME learner programmes address problem topics

The Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Education (CASME) offers weekend and school holiday programmes to address problematic topics in collaboration with their teachers. Their approach is to address prior knowledge and skills gaps and therefore advocate a cohort-based programme running over three years, from Grades 10-12. They also introduce ICT resources into their learner support initiatives. At primary school level, they run Mathematics Olympiad programmes for Grade 4-7 learners. They have around 200 schools participating.

Primestars EduCate assists disadvantaged youths with revision

Primestars EduCate is a nationwide matric maths and science revision programme, made up of 10 pre-recorded revision sessions, five in maths and five in science. The sessions cover the entire curriculum and are aimed at preparing disadvantaged South African youth for their matric exams. The programme is sponsored by the Capitec Foundation, SASRIA, Telkom and Bidvest Steiner.

Opportunities for children living in Alexandra

The Alexandra Education Committee (AEC): Saturday school programmes aim to prepare Grade 7 learners for high school, while their holiday programmes provide extra lessons in English, maths and science to Grade 10-12 bursars (the AEC’s primary focus is to raise funds to provide bursaries for quality education for disadvantaged children living in Alexandra. AEC sponsors 176 children, paying for their school fees, transport, school uniforms, textbooks, stationery and one meal a day. St Mary’s School also runs a Saturday school programme for learners in Alexandra and surrounding communities – learners from five schools attend the Ikusasa Lethu Programme for Grades 10-12, which enhances learning and assists scholars to access tertiary education. Maths and science are two of the subjects offered.

Thusanani Foundation supports high-school learners

The Thusanani Foundation supports Grade 9-12 rural and township high-school learners as well as high-school drop-outs with the aim of improving the pass rate in STEM subjects, as well as improving young people’s attitudes towards maths and science. The foundation offers Winter and Spring School Revision Programmes as well as study guides and additional learning materials.

Investec’s Promaths provides extra tuition

Maths and science learners in Grades 10-12 at selected schools across South Africa benefit from Promaths, a partnership between Investec and the Kutlwanong Maths, Science and Technology Centre. The programme provides extra tuition in maths and science to high-school learners showing potential in these subjects. 

Numeric offers after-school programmes

Numeric partners with 36 schools in Cape Town and Johannesburg, with 85 active coaches and 2 000 participating learners. Programmes are targeted at learners in Grades 6, 7 and 8 and the one-year programme covers arithmetic and pre-algebra. These programmes are not aligned with the curriculum, but focus on building maths intensively and rapidly from the ground up.

Zenex Foundation helps disadvantaged learners

Zenex Foundation’s Mathematics, Science and English High School Project aims to develop schools with potential into high-functioning schools that offer quality maths, science and English teaching and learning to disadvantaged learners. The ISASA Mathematics & English Learner Support Project seeks to turn poor-functioning public schools into high-functioning independent schools – to date, it has implemented in 22 schools in KwaZulu-Natal. It offers bursaries, extra academic support, mentoring and psycho-social support to qualifying learners.

ICT initiatives

Maths and Science ICT Initiatives are beneficial to both teachers and learners as they are easily accessed, usually via the internet, on computers, tablets, smart phones, and other communication mediums. These initiatives are also flexible as they are not constrained to being used at a certain time or in a specific location. Teachers can use them as aids and resources in the classroom and students can also access various ICT programmes for extra-lessons and exam preparation.

Syafunda uses mobile to assist high-school students

Syafunda is a learning and data management platform that provides access to localised digital content for math, science, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and digital skills through mobile technology. It integrates teaching practices on video, audio and e-books into the school system through a wireless digital library for high-school students.

MSM software provides free access to maths and science content

Maths and Science Marketing (MSM) produces software to enable teachers, schools and learners to move into the 21st century. It provides free access to 100 000 pages, links, simulations and video clips pertaining to maths and science content.

Mathletics courses make learning mathematics fun

Teacher-developed Mathletics software meets all national curriculum standards for GET and FET, primary through to high school, and makes learning maths fun for pupils. More than 200 000 teachers have used it to support their classroom teaching.

My Top Dog’s customised learning support

My Top Dog’s learning platform offers support in a wide variety of subjects, including maths, science and physics, for Grades 4-12. Experienced subject matter experts guide learners, and learning content supports public and private school curricula.

Khan Academy provides free, world-class education to everyone

Non-profit organisation Khan Academy is a global learning resource for learners of all ages, empowering them to study at their own pace in and out of the classroom. Subjects include math, science, computer programming and more. They partner with institutions like NASA, the Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences and MIT to offer specialised content.

Specialist Schools

The need for better education in maths and science in South Africa has led to the founding of schools that specialise in these subjects. These schools generally accept learners from high-need communities that demonstrate an aptitude for maths and science.

LEAP Science & Maths Schools

LEAP Learning Centre offers tutoring to learners in the LEAP Science and Maths School’s partner communities in Cape Town. Interventions include tutoring programmes, Saturday classes for extra lesson support, and leadership camps.

High-quality STEM education by The Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology

The Academy provides specialised schooling for learners with the potential to excel in STEM subjects. Learners from disadvantaged communities who display potential in these subjects benefit from high-quality education that gears them up for tertiary studies. Grades 8-12 are catered for and there is accommodation for up to 300 learners in Cape Town.

Engen Maths and Science Schools outperform national average

Engen’s investment in Maths and Science Schools is aligned with the Engen bursary programme and skills development scheme. It currently supports nine maths and science schools across South Africa. In the past, the pass rate of these schools has beaten the national average by as much as 17.4%.

Midlands Community College provides a second chance

The Midlands Community College’s Grade 12 maths, science and technology upgrade programme gives students a second chance to upgrade their results in order to be accepted into their desired field of tertiary education.

Other initiatives

Various initiatives have been implemented to encourage the development of learners’ maths and science skills. These include school bursaries and scholarships, competitions, science fairs, exhibitions, and a variety of ad-hoc educational programmes.

ASTEMI Olympiads and Competitions

Non-profit organisation the Association of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics & Innovation Olympiads and Competitions, set up in 2016, forms part of the ‘Youth into Science Strategy’, which aims to nurture young people with talent interested in pursuing a career in science.

Siyavula’s open textbook production

Siyavula works closely with the Department of Basic Education to produce CAPS-aligned maths and science textbooks that cover Grades 4-12.

Cape Town Science Centre’s school programme

The Cape Town Science Centre’s CAPS-aligned programmes support science-loving learners, and run teacher-enrichment workshops that help teachers to improve their knowledge.

SAILI’s scholarships for low-income families

Successful Students in Successful Schools (SAILI) offers scholarships for promising maths and science students, directing academic talent into working parts of the South African government high-school system.

South African science fairs and science expos

This webpage provides information on science fairs and expos held around South Africa, focusing on school activities and young scientists. Eskom’s Expo for Young Scientists celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year.

Shell’s education programmes                                           

Shell’s STEM-related programmes, run in conjunction with learning institutions like the Maths Centre and the READ Educational Trust, focus on building teacher and pupil capacity to increase skills in these areas. Their flagship Rally to Numeracy programme has increased teachers’ understanding and teaching of the maths syllabus and improved numeracy levels in beneficiary schools. Shell also offers scholarships for maths and science learners and provides annual bursaries for tertiary education, based on students’ financial need and academic performance.


Recommended Resources

  • Trialogue Maths and Science CSI Forum

    Companies spend only around 1-1.5% (around R4.3 billion) of what government spends on education (around R360bn, with around R230 on basic education), so it is essential that interventions be targeted to achieve the necessary impact.  Read more and watch the presentation by Nick Rockey, Trialogue's MD, at the Maths and Science Education CSI Forum in March 2019. 

  • Investec's CSI in Maths and Science

    In this video, Nicolas Mmako, CSI Consultant at Investec, asserts that Investec’s aim is to empower people through education, from high-school level through to tertiary level. One of the company’s objectives is to facilitate an increase in the number of learners who matriculate with a decent pass in English, maths and science. In partnership with Kutlwanong Centre for Maths, Science and Technology, Investec is rolling out extra maths and science lessons from Grade 10-12 learners in both rural and township schools. In this video, Mmako explains the strategy Investec follows to give learners the best possible chance of success.

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