In many respects, the matric class of 2021 endured even greater challenges than the previous year’s cohort, given that these matrics were the first to contend with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic for two years running.
School closures, teaching delays and rotational learning wreaked unprecedented havoc on the curriculum while the learners were still in grade 11. Teaching of subjects was severely curtailed, yet the class of 2021 was still expected to be conceptually fluent in this material given that it formed part of the year-end National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations.
The challenge, particularly for those matrics from South Africa’s townships, was made all the greater in that many of their parents and guardians also lost their jobs and even their lives, while some homes experienced domestic abuse and other forms of violence.
Yet in a remarkable outcome, matric learners benefitting from the Promaths programme of the Kutlwanong Centre for Maths, Science and Technology (“Kutlwanong”) in the East London township of Mdantsane achieved a 100% pass rate for mathematics and the same for physical sciences – the two “gateway” subjects deemed most critical for South Africa’s future growth.
Even more significantly, 92% of the 60 Mdantsane pupils participating in the programme scored higher than 50% for mathematics and 90% of learners above 50% for physical sciences. All told, 95% of these Promaths learners achieved Bachelor’s passes, allowing them to access the country’s leading universities.
It is worth remembering that the Mdantsane learners lost some 70% of contact sessions during their grade 11 year, having been hit by hard lockdowns, random school closures and phased-in teaching.
To put this performance into context, the national general pass average for mathematics was 57.6% while the physical science average was 69% at the end of 2021.
The difference is even more apparent in the provincial breakdown. Of the 43 886 Eastern Cape matric learners who wrote mathematics in 2021, only 7 032 achieved 50% and above. And of the 30 738 learners in the province who wrote physical sciences, only 6 505 scored 50% and above.
Tumelo Mabitsela, CEO for Kutlwanong, explains that more than 30,000 learners have passed through the Promaths programme since its inception 16 years ago.
The programme’s success is highly dependent on private sector partnerships with funders like the Datatec Educational and Technology Foundation, which has been funding the Mdantsane Promaths group for 10 years.
Maya Makanjee, Chairperson of the Datatec Educational and Technology Foundation, says investing in organisations like Kutlwanong that are working directly at addressing the STEM needs in South Africa is paramount.
“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.
While the entire Mdantsane cohort put in exceptional performances, Ulwazi High School’s William Somta stood out for scoring a perfect 100% for mathematics and 99% for physical sciences. To cap a magnificent schooling career, William also received the MEC Award for being the top achiever in the Buffalo City Metro in 2021.
Another Ulwazi High matric, Olwami Mazomba, also shone with 97% for mathematics, while Vulamazibuko High School’s Inathi Melento registered 91% for maths and 90% for physical sciences.
The effectiveness of the Promaths programme, designed to speed up top-level results among grades 10-12 learners in previously disadvantaged areas across South Africa, and the impact it is having on the young people of Mdantsane is plain to see.
In 2016, some 62% of pupils achieved 50% and higher for mathematics and 74% for physical science. In 2021, those percentages rose to 92% and 90% respectively – a dramatic improvement in anyone’s books, especially considering the difficulties presented by the pandemic in the past two years.
So how has this been achieved?
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lessons learnt in 2020, Kutlwanong Promaths centres adopted a blended teaching and learning approach. This approach included:
- A combination of online and contact classes approach was be adopted for grades 10-12 in 2021. This was to ensure that centres were able continue with teaching and learning without compromising the core curriculum/ skills/ knowledge required for learners to achieve outcomes;
- Online classes for Grade 12 learners ran on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 6pm and 8pm;
- Online classes for Grade 11 ran on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 6pm and 8pm; and
- Online classes for Grade 10 learners ran during the winter holidays and on public holidays (8am-3pm) and some Fridays between 6pm and 8pm.
Given all that has transpired since 2020, facilitators at the Kutlwanong Promaths centres have had to rethink their strategies while recognising that internet connectivity and web access in township and rural areas remain a huge problem in South Africa.
But by employing a combination of online and face-to-face teaching sessions, they have been able to keep learners firmly on track, and also recover sessions that had been lost to the lockdown.
Promaths also focuses on upskilling teachers by providing teaching aids to help educators deliver lessons in a more engaging, memorable way.
The content of the programmes is aligned with the National Department of Education’s CAPS curriculum, so learners are able to practise in a highly relevant, appropriate manner. And the Promaths model focuses on both mastering theory and repeated content practice, with routine tests undertaken to ensure that students have grasped a concept before moving on to the next one.
“Ultimately, our dream as an organisation is to see black underprivileged 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,” Mabitsela says.