Looking at Maths, Science & Technology differently… For the future of SA
Monday, 23 July 2007
The shortages of skills in maths, science and technology in South Africa are well documented. This unfortunate state could hinder the government’s drive to grow the economy at the rate of 6% annually. This situation is further worsened by the unimpressive maths pass rate at matric level. President Thabo Mbeki alluded to this problem and challenges facing the department of education in his 2007 state of the nation address. “…The fluctuating Matric pass rates do indicate that much more needs to be done to stabilise the system and ensure steady improvement. At the same time, the number of Matric students who pass Mathematics at the higher grade is only slightly better than in 1995…” said the president in his prepared speech. We do have a problem, but is enough being done?
There are quite a number of initiatives by government, NGO and business community meant to address the Maths, Science and Technology skills shortage. But is there more to be done to help the country out of this national crisis? When Phillip Haupt of the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) was asked to offer his educated opinion he said, “It starts at home from a very tender age, a child has to be assisted in seeing his environment with inquisitive eyes. The formal education has to be built on some foundation substance”. What does this really mean? “We have to stimulate our children’s thinking; we have to help them ask questions about their everyday occurrences.” He says. “Every kid plays with a ball at some stage; we can interrogate for instance, how a kid determines if he kicks the ball it will reach his friend. Just from that question, distance; thrust of the kick, intensity and direction of the wind can spark a very interesting and educational conversation”. Haupt explains. He however insists that it has to remain fun, cool and relevant to the child based on age and discussion activity at hand. He further states, “We need to teach our kids denominations of monetary coins so that when they go shopping for sweets, bread or milk they can understand how much they need to have and how much change if any to expect”. This may be something that many parents overlook, “Keep it cool and interesting from the kid’s perspective. We can then add building blocks as the time progresses” he concludes.
At Ekurhuleni, we are very fortunate to have institutions and individuals committed to the advancement of Maths, Science and Technology. Reunert Ltd, a JSE listed company has invested heavily on educating children, in particular children who hail from previously disadvantaged communities. Through its flagship Reunert College, Reunert provides academic advancement for matriculants from disadvantaged communities by improving their matriculation results for mathematics, science, English and accounting. Reunert College was established in 1993 and has campuses in Boksburg and Alrode, both situated in the Ekurhuleni municipality. Students who receive bursaries from the college qualify at Universities and Universities of Technology in Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Computer Sciences and Accounting, being the skills that are required by the company. Reunert College is continually evaluating different avenues to better the output of maths, science and technology skills transfer into the general South African economy.
Nikita Cindi, an Ekurhuleni resident is an individual who has been fascinated by the maths, science and technology field ever since he can remember. Mr. Cindi strives to “kill the notion that Maths is difficult”, he teaches township matriculants in Daveyton mathematics on weekends. Cindi is currently working with students from H.B Nyathi; previously Lesiba High benefited from his services. He read Mathematics at Keele University, in Stafford-shire, in the UK. He holds an MSc degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of Wales, Bangor. Cindi says, “I have always wanted to see a black child excel academically, especially is Maths, Science and Technology fields. I invest time in making this dream a reality”. Cindi has worked for the SABC as a specialist producer for mathematics, science and technology programming. “The only way to kill the ‘difficult-maths’ myth is not to present maths as an intimidating subject. We need to come up with ways to teach it better, also maths textbooks are dull and boring, we need to change the design and make it interesting to the students”, Cindi vehemently articulates during this interview. He represented South Africa as a science educator at the 1993 NASA Space Camp in Alabama, USA, where he received hands-on training as an Astronaut. In conclusion, Cindi says, “It is up to the teacher to make the presentation of his subject appeal to his students. My personal philosophy with mathematics is that students have to understand, appreciate, enjoy, apply and pass.”
It is clear that in order to win the battle against necessary critical and scarce skills in the maths, science and technology disciplines, South Africa ought to make the enthusiasm and interest in these fields a culture from childhood. Organisations like the CSIR, Reunert College together with the ministries of education, science and technology and other stakeholders have to work together on many overarching, sustainable programmes to address this problem. These programmes have to be integrated in their approach and include dedicated and passionate professionals of Cindi’s calibre.