A review of last year’s matric results highlights the gaps in education in South Africa (SA) and nowhere is it more obvious than in the STEM industries of engineering, science and technology.
There has been a growing call for government and private business to grow scarce skills in STEM in order to fill the gaps in education and increase job creation. Also, as never before, it is of prime importance to educate learners at school level in order for a country’s workforce to be relevant in growing its economy.
The Role of PROTEC in Advancing STEM
PROTEC, established 40 years ago by members of the SA Institute of Civil Engineers to increase the pool of black engineers in the country during the apartheid years, is still making inroads, especially in opening up an increasingly 4IR-focused world and addressing gaps in the education system. In SA’s government schooling system, the onus is resting squarely on education support organisations and NPO’s such as PROTEC to ensure matriculants would be able to pursue careers in STEM.
All Things are Not Equal
While the government is brandishing its belief of equal education opportunities for all, the divide between private education in SA and that of government schools, are as wide and unequal as ever. Of the almost 900 000 learners in government school who wrote their final exams last year, only 45 000 passed with marks higher than 50%. In gateway subjects such as science, a mere 21 000 achieved more than 50%. This figure, despite only 20% being necessary for maths students to pass and subsequent “enhanced” passes to show educational improvement, measured against other countries and SA private school, are at the bottom of the education pile.
A New Model for a New World
Among the top critically scarce skills in SA – technology, engineering and finance –the PROTEC Model is a shining example of how learners with STEM potential had been assisted to achieve excellent matric and bachelor pass rates.
Working with high schools in targeted areas, PROTEC identifies and selects learners with potential in STEM subjects and provides education support in Maths, Science, English and World of Work life skills lessons by facilitators and tutors as part of a comprehensive e-learning platform.
The continuing excellent results have beyond a doubt demonstrated the effectiveness of the model in matric, through tertiary education and into STEM careers. To date, over 30 000 learners from disadvantaged communities have successfully passed through the PROTEC programme and are qualified engineers, doctors, scientists, educators and other professionals. By contributing to the pool of STEM skills, it is estimated that about 85% of PROTEC alumni are employed by corporates in SA.
The organisation’s matric results, both before and during the pandemic, had been excellent, with the Class of 2021 achieving a 99.5% pass rate and a significant 78.2% bachelor pass rate.
The 2021 matric results from PROTEC’s AngloGold Ashanti Project, which has been running since 2019 for 39 learners in Diepsloot, is another success story. Learners achieved a 100% pass rate and a 95% bachelor pass. In maths alone, the top six learners had an average of only 35% in 2019 and matriculated with a combined average of 84%, showing major improvement.
Often businesses seem to view their Corporate Social Investments (CS) initiatives as mere box-ticking exercises. However, once a business funder engages with PROTEC, teams and beneficiaries and recognises the real impact of their involvement on individual lives and on communities, their engagement increases exponentially.
The Road Ahead
PROTEC is 100% funded by private business and other donors, working with like-minded organisations sharing its vision of young people in successful STEM careers taking their rightful place in a brighter future for SA, especially as the job market constricts and unemployment is at its highest ever in the country (33.9%).
According to Balan Moodley, CEO of PROTEC, the organisation is committed to continuous evaluation and re-engineering of its strategies to ensure they remain relevant in STEM education support.
Under consideration are plans to expand PROTEC’s geographical reach and support of a larger number of beneficiaries, ongoing development of its e-learning platform and introducing a more structured approach to empower beneficiaries to put theory into practice. The ultimate aim is to equip learners to adapt to the changing employment landscape and developing a programme to assist teachers in the GET (grades 8 and 9) and FET (grades 10 to 12).