The South African government is spending R1-billion rands to help pupils in primary and high schools do better in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The R1-billion rands will be spent on resources directed on the maths and science subjects. The Department of Basic Education has also established, for the first time, a special directorate on science, technology, engineering and mathematics to provide focussed attention.
The department’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said that they want all schools to offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The investment by the Department of Basic Education is expected to address some of the obstacles that prevent the entry of rural and township learners into the maths and sciences.
Approximately 80% of the country’s learners who attend rural and township schools rank low in international tests for reading comprehension, as well as scientific knowledge. This was revealed in a recent study published in the South African Science Journal. The study zeroed-in on poor reading and comprehension skills as the basis of the challenge for South African township learners to struggle with STEM.
“It is very well known that reading is a very big problem among South African learners and it stresses the importance of focusing on reading in the lower grade, the foundation phase and in the intermediate phase, getting learners to read for pleasure because only then will they develop skills that they need so that later when they are in the senior phase or the FET phase they can read for example science text with comprehension,” says Angela Stott, Chief Officer of the School Partnership Project at the University of the Free State.
She conducted the research.
Stott’s findings are supported by Professor Mary Metcalfe who explains that performance in many subjects is linked to confidence in the language of instruction.
“If learners often struggle in maths and there is lots of evidence for that, they struggle in science and other subjects not because the scientific or mathematical concepts are necessarily on their own the problem but the access to those concepts through a language with which learners are not familiar and therefore difficulties with vocabulary and difficulties with comprehension,” Metcalfe says.
Mhlanga says their study shows that the reading ability of learners is improving. “We also have done an early grade reading study, if you can check the first study it shows that they are making improvements in terms of the reading ability of our learners,” he adds.