Despite the enormous challenges faced by the matric class of 2020, learners benefitting from the Promaths programme in the East London township of Mdantsane rose to the occasion to record remarkable performances in maths and physical science.
The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa disrupted academic learning on an unprecedented scale, with the hard lockdown introduced in March last year proving to be incredibly taxing for matrics preparing for their all-important final exams.
Yet as it has done so successfully in previous years, the Promaths programme of the Kutlwanong Centre for Maths, Science and Technology was not only able to steer learners through troubled waters, but deliver them exceptional results in these two "gateway" subjects.
The programme is designed to speed up top-level results among Grades 10-12 learners in previously disadvantaged South Africa areas. For many years, it has enjoyed a highly successful track record in the Mdantsane cohort.
As was the case with learners and institutions in the rest of the country, the 2020 Promaths cohort were forced to contend with the pandemic's effects, and for many, that included the emotional trauma of losing loved ones.
Many parents and guardians also lost their jobs while some homes experienced domestic abuse and other forms of violence.
Covid-19 also meant that Promaths centres had to rethink their strategies while recognising that internet connectivity and web access in the township and rural areas remain a massive problem in South Africa. But by employing a combination of online and face-to-face teaching sessions, Promaths was able to keep learners firmly on track and recover sessions that had been lost to the lockdown.
The outcome for the Mdantsane cohort was beyond what even programme facilitators would have imagined.
The group of 60 Eastern Cape learners recorded 100% pass rates in both maths and physical science, but even more impressively, they achieved overall averages of 63% and 67% in these two subjects, respectively.
There were also 13 distinctions for maths and a staggering 22 distinctions for physical science among Mdantsane's Promaths learners.
Remembering that 2020 was a year like no other in recent history, some of the results are nothing short of spectacular. Likhona Mnyamana, of Khulani Commercial High School in Mdantsane, scored a near-perfect 98% for maths and 97% for physical science.
In contrast, another Khulani learner, Faith Tonnie, scored 86% for maths and 90% for physical science. At Wongalethu High School, located in Mdantsane Unit 2, Liphelo Morris left matric with 86% for maths and 91% for physical science.
Another standout performer was Sandisiwe High School's Kelly Mugonera, who notched up 80% for maths and 87% for physical science. As a measure of just how much the Promaths learners benefit from the programme, in the 2019 National Senior Certificate examinations, the Eastern Cape pass rate average for maths and physical science was 41.8% and 70.3% respectively.
By comparison, Mdantsane's Promaths learners achieved 98% and 99.8%, respectively. It is the kind of success Tumelo Mabitsela, CEO for Kutlwanong, has become accustomed to in the past 15 years thanks to the tireless efforts of the Promaths team, who in that period have spurred more than 22,000 learners onto greater heights.
Mabitsela also credits this success to private sector partnerships with funders like the Datatec Educational and Technology Foundation, which has been funding the Mdantsane Promaths group for ten years.
The Foundation aims to improve education, specifically in 'STEM' (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in underprivileged communities in South Africa.
"Aside from the vital skills gap that maths and science education fills, many people overlook the real-world, day-to-day needs these vital subjects play in our ordinary living, such as helping us to problem solve, or reason logically, or challenge our thinking," Mabitsela says.
"Ultimately, our dream as an organisation is to see underprivileged black learners moving up through the ranks and going on to pursue careers in engineering, finance, science, maths and technology. Nothing makes me happier than when I hear about professionals in these fields who once benefited from being on one of our extra-tuition programmes."
Maya Makanjee, Chairman of the Datatec Educational and Technology Foundation, believes it is vital to invest in organisations like Kutlwanong that are working directly at addressing the STEM needs in South Africa.
"Maths education faces many challenges in our country, but we believe that with long-term thinking, consistency and partnerships, we can make a meaningful difference," she says.
With the demand for STEM-based career professionals growing day by day, South Africa's deepening maths-education crisis desperately requires creative interventions.
Kutlwanong's Promaths learner programme Used a multi-pronged approach to provide additional maths and science tuition to Grade 10, 11 and 12 students.
Promaths also focuses on upskilling teachers by providing teaching aids to help educators deliver lessons in a more engaging, memorable way.
The programmes' content is aligned with the National Department of Education's curriculum so that learners can practice in a highly relevant, appropriate manner. And the Promaths model focused on mastering theory and repeated content practice, with routine tests undertaken to ensure that students grasped a concept before moving on to the next one.
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