Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Maths and Science Education in South Africa

After unsuccesfully seeking funds (in 2004/5) - for the Activ Science UCT programme that supported black scholars doing Maths and Science - I have only a tiny taste of the difficulties facing poor students. We barely manage to send our children to a priviledged community school - where the students seem to all do very well - and so few of our peers have any idea of what poor scholars face. It's bleek, and it paints a limited picture of our future. Less than 50 non-white students in every 1000, get a C (60% or more) for Maths HG at school.

Solani Ngobeni , wrote a critical piece in (the Sunday Times) about Where are all the black postgraduate students? She also takes some power shots "Why are black students not enrolling for doctoral degrees en masse? Is it because we are lazy? Is it because of our crass materialism that we cannot wait to earn fat salaries in the private sector, to buy fast and expensive German sedans and expensive mansions in previously whites-only suburbs?"

That's pretty shocking but there could be another reason. Possibly there are just too few black science students to allow for this to occur naturally. It's a theme that's IMHO too often overlooked by business and civil society which it effects the most. It's hopefully being discussed in education circles and I noticed that it was recently recognised by the Minister Naledi Pandor as a critical priority. She says (on iol): "The impression that science is only for the rich, the clever or the select few should be dismantled", and also recognised that "strategies to encourage the many pupils who enrolled at SG to consider HG studies, and provide them with the necessary support to achieve success, had to be devised".

I've asked about the effectiveness of the HIP2B2 campaign, but I haven't yet seen a reply. It's been more than a few months, although I sense it's going to take a bit more than a PR campaign. The web site is pretty cool. A big flash mural linked to a (still sparsely populated) community portal, puzzle "codebreaker community", well done animation tools, periodic table type info and other stuff.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Very interesting article. I am a South African living in the UK and have been reading articles over here, which also paints a scary picture about the Sciences and Maths in the UK education system. It would seem that not just Blacks or any other ethic group in SA is suffering. Educators must find creative ways to teach Maths and Science and keeping it alive in schools and universities. There has been a drop of pupils taking Maths and Sciences in the UK and enrollment numbers at University level has decreased. So much so, that some Institutions are merging or have closed their Physics or Sciences Departments due to low numbers and the associated costs of running them at a loss.

The government, Industry and Sciences Bodies are trying to reverse the trend, but with pupils just not interested, or saying that Maths and Sciences are too difficult, it seems they've got an uphill struggle on their hands.

I did Maths, Science and Biology and Geography at school (over 15 years ago) and found some of it very hard work, but managed to pass them all. Although I didn't dare take Maths or Science (Chemistry & Physics) on HG. Looking back I wish I did, but I didn't have proper support and was educated in a "Coloured area" during the Apartheid-Era.

At the time, it was more important to finish school and go study further in a discipline that was easier and would lead to a well paid job soon after graduation. That mentality has just gotten worse, and that is why we see more Business students than Sciences/Maths students, especially from non-white backgrounds.

For me now, I realise that I made a mistake and now I am retraining myself and find myself studying Maths ans Sciences yet again and following a path I should've 15 years ago. My Maths (SG - D) and Sciences (SG - C) were average at school and I now feel I could've done better if I had worked harder, had better support and opportunities. Agh, well it's never too late.

6:14 pm  

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