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If schools had modern laboratories, it would entice more learners to take science as a subject, and perhaps go into the crucial fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics after school.
This was one of the reasons the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund, now part of Anglo American’s Group Foundation, helped pay for a science laboratory at one of Gauteng’s top government schools. And it seems to be working.
In 2015, when construction started on a state-of-the-art science centre, 32% of the matric group at Parktown High School for Girls in Johannesburg was taking physical science as a subject.
This rose to 40% in 2016, when the science centre was officially opened. Since then, there has been a steady increase in the number of learners taking science in matric. Last year, 48% of the matric group took physical science as a subject, and scored an average of 70%, with 27% of the group getting distinctions.
Tracey Megom, the principal of Parktown Girls, says: “The centre was built as a brand-new building; there was nothing there before. We had two fully functional prefab science labs – which we still use – but we were not able to teach all our science classes in a laboratory, which was not ideal.”
Megom says the science centre is “a beautiful, modern building” that contains four fully functional, state-of-the-art laboratories, and which “blends incredibly well with our 96-year-old school building”.
Parktown Girls is one of Gauteng’s top-performing schools. It is the top feeder school to the University of the Witwatersrand, and boasts a consistent 100% matric pass rate.
“As one of the top girls’ schools in the country, we have a responsibility to ensure that our girls are prepared for the future, and we want to see them excel in careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields – we want our girls to become leading women in these fields,” says Megom.
“If we are serious about producing strong woman leaders, we must be serious about our facilities and what we can offer the girls who come to our school. If we can give them the best, then we can expect the best – that is what our country needs.”
Chiara Klinkert has had most of her high school science lessons in the new labs. In 2015, when she arrived at Parktown Girls in Grade 8, they were still building the science centre. Now in Grade 12, Klinkert describes the laboratory with enthusiasm.
“It’s a beautiful building, quite big, and there are only four classrooms in it. Every classroom even has a smartboard for interactive activities.”
A subject such as science is easier to grasp when you are able to experience it, she says.
“It makes learning a lot easier – you get to really see things in person and experiment for yourself. You get to investigate, rather than learn out of textbooks,” says Klinkert.
“I think that, when you’re actually doing experiments and interacting, it enriches you and you figure things out for yourself. I don’t think I would have taken science if we didn’t have a lab.”
Tracey Megom, the principal of Parktown High School for Girls, says the idea for the centre was born years ago, but the school initially struggled to come up with the money to build it, so parents started fundraising and looking for partners.
“We have a large number of girls doing physical science until Grade 12 and, to get the best out of them and to pique their interest in the subject so that they consider these fields for tertiary study and beyond, we needed to ensure they were learning in a conducive environment,” she says.
The Anglo American Group Foundation is one of the dedicated instruments through which the company channels its corporate social investment spend. Its multimillion-rand investment presented an opportunity to open up the science, technology, engineering and maths fields as viable career options for young women.
Norman Mbazima, who was chairperson of the fund when the money was allocated, says: “Parktown Girls is one of the province’s top schools, but it’s also one of the most multiracial and multiclass schools.
“If you look at the profiles of the pupils who go to that school, you will find that some of their parents are domestic workers or gardeners who work in the Parktown area. People often think that it’s an affluent school given its location, but, actually, a growing number of the pupils it serves are children who would ordinarily not be able to get that kind of quality education.”
Following Anglo American’s contribution, the construction of two conjoined laboratory and classroom facilities for life sciences, physics and chemistry began in 2015, and the science centre was opened in late 2016 to the school’s 1 100 learners.