Youth lose out because many schools don’t offer maths and science

Matrics in more than 1 100 schools did not write science or maths in 2021. Of those matrics who did write the exams in 2021, only 23% scored above 50% for maths and 27% got 50% or more for science, according to the department of basic education’s National Senior Certificate (NSC) exam report last year.

This is the rather worrying situation South Africa’s education sector finds itself in. And it flies in the face of the government’s strategy to embrace the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) by 2030. 

The government has said many times, and it is borne out by the department’s annual performance plan, that there should be an investment in curriculum innovation to prepare the youth for the jobs of the future.

The plan involves introducing coding and robotics as subjects for children in grades four to six and high school pupils in grades eight and nine by 2025.

But coding and robotics require a solid foundation in maths and science.

In 2013, there were 512 schools with no science candidates and in 2021 there were 781, that’s an increase of 269 schools where no matrics wrote physical science, again according to the 2021 NSC exam report.

Six provinces saw an increase in the number of schools with no matrics writing the maths exams, either because learners did not take the subject or because the school did not offer the subject.

In 2020, South Africa ranked 59th out of 63 economies in the Institute for Management Development’s (IMD’s) World Competitiveness Yearbook — its lowest ranking since the inception of the yearbook. 

In the IMD’s digital ranking results, which measure the capacity and readiness of the same economies to adopt digital technology, South Africa ranked 60.

Its overall top weaknesses were listed as digital and technological skills, as well as higher education achievement. To compete globally, South Africa must first foster an economy that empowers its citizens with the future-fit skills. This is done by ensuring our children have access to two crucial gateway subjects — maths and science — that make this possible.

Phasing out maths and science from schools has a detrimental effect on the ability of the youth to compete in the 4IR space. Research shows how doing maths and science is critical to success in almost every career. Regardless of whether the technical skills are used or not, these subjects teach our children to think and to problem solve and are beneficial in allowing them access to higher education courses.

Part of the problem is schools cannot find teachers for these subjects. Bbut why are we just phasing them out without looking for creative solutions?

The solution is there — leveraging technology. Access to high-quality content in maths and science has never been more accessible than now because of technology. Over the past two years, we have discovered that educational technology can be brought into our homes. During the lockdown, a substantial number of children were still able to learn and progress because technology made it possible.

Before we write off key subjects that allow our students to be agents in the fourth industrial revolution, we need to look at scalable solutions that can step in when teachers are not there. The solution to some of these concerns is to combine digital learning with the brick-and-mortar school environment. 

At AdvantageLearn.com, we invest a large amount of our time and resources in our Neo Series, a maths and science flexible learning solution that empowers the learner, parent/guardian and educator to support or enhance the science, technology, engineering and maths learning experience. 

School districts in the United States are using technology as a solution to the teacher shortage. This involves experimenting with virtual staffing to meet the need for teachers.

We know that virtual schooling can work, the Covid lockdown proved that. Because of technology, virtual staffing allows teachers and students to communicate in real time, even if they can’t be in the same place.

Digital help is a great resource in our under-resourced schools. Although technology will never replace good educators, educators who embrace technology are able to offer their students the subjects they need to get ahead in life.

James Lees is the co-founder and managing director of AdvantageLearn.com

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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