Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report ranked South Africa last in the world for the quality of its maths and science education.
It was a tragic – albeit all too expected – indictment on the country, and once again exposed gross inefficiencies in the teaching of these important subjects.
A small team operating in Imizamo Yethu, however, is determined to prove that with the right guidance and tutorship, South African pupils can turn around their flagging fortunes in maths and science to become engineers and captains of industry.
In January, the Maths Clinic, a registered NPO, opened its doors under the management of programme directors Mpumezo Dungelo and Bheki Mtonintshi. With a strong emphasis on improving girl pupils’ maths and science skills in response to South African women’s lack of representation in the fields of engineering and technology, the results have been nothing short of spectacular.
In only a year, the Maths Clinic’s intake has grown from 12 to 20, but even more impressive is that during this period its pupils have experienced a massive improvement in results. One pupil who scored 36 percent in the first term achieved 79 percent in the third term, and, according to Mr Dungelo, this pupil is now on course to achieve 90 percent in the current exams.
“The clinic was a long time in the making, but Imizamo Yethu community leader Kenny Tokwe was very helpful in putting us in touch with the right people,” he said.
“Since opening our doors, we have had a 75 percent attendance record, every day from Monday to Friday. We are very proud of that.”
While Mr Dungelo quipped that he did not want to give away all the Maths Clinic’s secrets, he said a major factor in the performances of pupils was its approach to study.
“What you often find in our schools is that only one approach to solving a problem is taught. We teach our pupils three different methods, because each of them is different and will find the answer in the method that is best suited to them.
“South African teachers are often under tremendous pressure to complete the syllabus in a set time period, where we do not have as much pressure. We are not here to teach maths and science from the ground up, but improve on the skills they already have.”
What is particularly significant is that Mr Mtonintshi, in his capacity as the Maths Clinic’s behavioural manager, attempts to ensure that pupils’ performance is not affected by difficult circumstances at home.
“Factors such as divorce can definitely affect learners, so Bheki monitors the situation at home. If a pupil does not attend classes, he will call the parents to ask what is wrong or if there is anything he can do for the pupil.”
Mr Dungelo said one of the greatest challenges was off-setting the effects of schools no longer offering physical science as a subject, particularly in Hout Bay.
“This means that pupils have to go to schools in other parts of Cape Town, in Camps Bay or Claremont. That costs a lot of money, both at the school and in terms of the transport costs their parents have to pay. What we are trying to do at the Maths Clinic is fill that void, so that pupils can improve their maths and science skills here in Hout Bay.
“One of the difficulties we face is that a lot of pupils want to come to us, but we have to explain that we only improve skills, we don’t teach maths and science from the beginning. That being said, we are looking at establishing another centre to serve the Hangberg community, and hopefully if that succeeds, we can expand to other parts of Cape Town and South Africa as well.”
The Maths Clinic will hold an open day at Sijonga-Phambili community learning centre in Penzance Avenue on Saturday December 3. Pupil registration takes place from 8am to 9am, while the workshop will run from 9am to 1pm.
For more information, contact Mr Dungelo at 071 075 1235 or Mr Mtonintshi at 073 568 9692.