Programme of support to DBE: DSI & SAASTA briefing; with Deputy Minister

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

03 March 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation met virtually for a briefing by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement on the programme of support to the Department of Basic Education.

The Deputy Minister told the Committee that he had hosted 35 learners from a Hermanus primary school as part of National Space Day, which exposed learners to opportunities that existed in mathematics, engineering, science and technology. This ultimately fed into the national system of innovation and the tasks of contributing toward the fourth industrial revolution.

Members raised concern over the low number of women enrolled in mechanical engineering programmes at universities, and stressed that maths and science needed to be encouraged at the primary level. There also needed to be ways to measure the demand and impact of the work done by the Department. They questioned why the DSI had signed an agreement with only seven provinces, and what the challenges were with the other two provinces. They asked about the criteria used to select candidates for the Department's programmes of support, and encouraged the involvement of learners in Maths Olympiads. The Committee also encouraged raising awareness of the initiatives, and said it wanted to make it practical in communities to ensure that the initiatives were translated into what the children were studying

Meeting report

Mr Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister (DM) of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, said he had hosted 35 learners from Zwelihle Primary School as part of National Space Day. The learners had been exposed to the centre itself and the type of opportunities that existed in mathematics, engineering, science and technology. In a practical sense, this was a beneficial relationship, as children were exposed to the Maths Olympiad which they were trying to revive. It was both beneficial for education, science and innovation as well as the country. This meant they could plant a seed amongst children at the primary and high school level to take an interest in this field. This fed into the national system of innovation and the tasks of contributing towards the fourth industrial revolution.

DSI Support for Basic Education

Mr Imraan Patel, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Research Development and Support, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), made the presentation to the Committee. Dr Sibusiso Manzini, Chief Director: Research Development and Support, DSI, and Mr Isaac Ramovha, Director: Science Promotion, DSI, also contributed to the presentation.

In 2014, DSI adopted a framework for activities to support basic education. The framework is based on three principles:

-Basic education is the responsibility of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and its provincial counterparts, which play a leadership and resourcing role.

-DSI support for basic education is only an add-on to what DBE and provincial departments of education are providing.

-DSI support for basic education should be derived from services and products generated in the normal course of the department delivering its mandate.


Institutional arrangements

DSI and DBE signed a formal collaboration agreement in 2004. DSI has signed formal collaboration agreements with individual provincial departments of Education:

-Seven provincial departments of Education have signed the agreements.

-Process is underway for agreements to be concluded with Eastern Cape and North West.


Each province has identified not less than 100 schools, usually maths and science focus schools, as the recipients of DSI support. Support is provided through several stakeholders and roleplayers which are given funding and in-kind support by DSI:

-30 science centres that are supported by DSI and located throughout the country.

-Six science councils reporting to DSI and the institutions, where they exist.

-25 organisers of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI) Olympiads and competitions organisers spread throughout the country.


Provision of support to schools is coordinated by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA).


Existing support activities

-Problem-solving, creative and innovative mindset, cognitive flexibility, digital literacy and computational thinking are the skills for the future of work.

-STEMI Olympiads and related competitions are instruments used globally to develop skills for the future of work in learners.

-DSI funds and provide in-kind support to organisers of STEMI Olympiads and related competitions so that they can expand the reach of these activities.

-Participation in STEMI Olympiads and related competitions is still low, with between 300 000 and 400 000 learners participating per annum.

-Integrating relevant career awareness in the classroom teaching and learning of STEM subjects stimulates learners’ interest in STEM and raises awareness of the relevance of the subject matter.

-DSI provides STEM career awareness

-Learners are exposed to science, technology and innovation exhibits through events such as National Science Week, science festivals and ministerial makgotla – where they also interact with scientists.

-Provide learners and educators access to science laboratories through science centres with such facilities or provide outreach to under-resourced schools.

-Use scientists at universities and science councils to develop complementary Learning and Teaching Support Materials based on DSI priority areas to provide real-life examples and apply concepts learned in the classroom.

-Deploy, through the DSI-National Youth Service programme, unemployed STEM graduates to schools where they serve as teacher assistants

-Following the train-the-trainer approach, DSI trains educators on intellectual property management through its National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO).

-The ultimate beneficiaries of the training are the learners, who, when armed with intellectual property management knowledge, will be able to protect their ideas from potential exploitation.

-The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) conducts the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) on behalf of DBE.

-Through the South African Research Chair Initiative managed by the NRF, several research initiatives have been established at different universities

-DSI, as part of the Decadal Plan, has undertaken to support implementing 21st-century skills (coding and robotics) at basic education level.

-To date, DSI, through the Centre for High Performance Computing of the CSIR, has established a three-year train-the-trainer initiative targeting selected officials of provincial departments of Education.

In 2022/23, which is the first year, 85 officials from 74 school districts across the nine provinces were trained

-Decadal plan includes a grand challenge focusing on the future of skills, education and work. As a grand challenge, the focus is on impact and transformative change

-Significant bottom-up efforts in the last few years within the NSI

-DBE is a critical role player and will be involved in co-design arrangements.


 (See attached presentation for details)


The Chairperson said it had been really exciting to see DM Manamela interacting with the children in Hermanus the previous week. This type of work was not necessarily within the scope of the Department. When the Committee visited the Northern Cape, it had said it was aware that there was a need to contribute to the succession plan and eco-system that would feed into the greater mandate of the national system of education, but it also wanted the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and other departments to take responsibility. If they invested in some of the schools the way they did in the Northern Cape, the bare minimum that could be expected was maintenance of those capital investments when the DSI and various government departments had made contributions.

She said there needed to be ways to measure the demand for the work the DSI was doing, and the impact of its work. The initiative at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) spoke to more young women being involved in mechanical engineering, and the feeder into this was looking at the enrolments in this discipline and considering what was being done in basic education to ensure that there was a big enough feed into the rest of the eco-system. If those numbers could be increased, one would be able to see the results of the programmes presented to the Committee today.

Mr Ramovha said there were so many roleplayers in the space that measuring the impact could sometimes be difficult to establish. They also expected to focus on tracking the participants in their activities to establish where they went after passing their Matric. They would focus particularly on what they would enrol for. Some systems were already in place to track what happened to those who left the programme, and whether they were immediately employed or went on to pursue further studies.

Dr Manzini said many programmes were meant to stretch the levels of success through graduations etc. The Department would use every opportunity to extend the reach of its programmes. The DSI had a very good relationship with the DBE and other provincial education departments. He said the Chairperson and Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) had spoken specifically about the number of graduates and that more women were graduating than men. However, women were still vastly outnumbered in some areas such as engineering. In most areas of science, technology and innovation, women were leading.

Mr Patel said he understood the importance of providing statistics, but some instruments used made it difficult to provide a certain level of detail. He referred to the reading panel's latest report and the number of grade 4 children who were able to read well with comprehension. One needed to look at stretching resources and time, and not only creating programmes. The idea was to create partnerships such as in the engineering space with rocketry. They would work with colleagues in the DSI responsible for advanced manufacturing and space technology. There had been shifts over the past decade that had to be considered. The Department had to find ways to identify target areas and improve its career guidance in an ever-changing world. Young people should be provided with information not to miss opportunities and jobs.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said the Department had signed an agreement with only seven provinces. She asked what the challenges were with the other two provinces, and what time frames were in place to sign an agreement with them. What criteria were used by the provincial Department to make selections for the Department’s programme of support? Were there marked differences between girls and boys in rural and urban schools and between state-funded and private schools? How did the provincial departments of education support these schools to participate in these programmes? How did the DSI dispense its support, as there were no specifics regarding the location of centres and organisations? This would be helpful for oversight. Had the Department partnered with any private organisations? She said that the Department should break down the demographics when making presentations.

Dr Mamoeletsi Mosia, Managing Director, South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), said the system to recruit participants was advertised through the Agency's website. Most individuals should be from the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI) space.

Ms Tarabella-Marchesi said it was important for learners to be exposed to technology and know what was out there. She was concerned that despite all their efforts, they were not seeing students pursuing science degrees and engineering. This was primarily because learners were not taking the subjects they needed. She had visited the University of the Free State a couple of days before the meeting and spoke to 27 students. Most of them had decided to pursue teaching and theology. Only one student said they would do a BSc in Computer Science and Mathematics. This was an indication that they were far from achieving the target.

She asked why the collaboration agreement with the Eastern Cape and the North West took so long, given that the programme started in 2004. There were between 300 000 and 400 000 participants per annum. What was the target for this? In any given year, there would be approximately 12 million students in basic education. When would the Department achieve its set target? One of the reasons why students did not take mathematics and science was because the foundation was very weak. Learners began to choose subjects in grade 10, when the reluctance was seen and many students dropped out. She asked if there was a way to extend maths and science participation to assist schools in improving their outputs. The number of children participating in maths and science had also decreased during COVID.

She said it would be good to expose learners to competing in Olympiads. The disadvantaged schools did not have laboratories; even if they did, they may not have a teacher. How could teachers be capacitated for maths and science subjects?

Mr Ramovha said children were already participating in the Olympiads with their counterparts on the African continent, such as the Pan-African Mathematics Olympiad. The Department was working on expanding the participants from between 300 000 and 400 000, and acknowledged that there was a relationship between the number of those participating and the number of students who took up maths and science as subjects. The Department was trying to stimulate interest by targeting foundation phase learners.

Mr T Mogale (EFF) said maths and science needed to be encouraged at the primary level. More should be done to encourage children before they reach the secondary level. There were only two centres in the Free State, but this province had been leading in the Matric results. Why was this the case?

Mr Ramovha responded on the distribution of science centres in the Free State. He said that the ownership of the centres ranged from the government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector, as part of their corporate social investments. The DSI had also started to approach universities. The two centres in the Free State were part of the University of the Free State. One was at Boyden Observatory, whose location was determined by it being an ideal location for an observatory to access the skies. The other was located on campus to link together various faculties. The Department was in the process of trying to come up with a framework that would incorporate how to strategically locate future science centres. Thus far, its focus has been biased in favour of secondary schools, and lower levels have been neglected. In future, it would start at lower levels. The DBE had other partners, such as science centres, councils and universities. There were several NGOs involved in Olympiads and science fairs. These partners had their own sponsors who provided funding support to them.

Ms Elspeth Khembo, Director: MST, Curriculum Innovation and E-Learning, DBE, said the collaboration between the DBE and the DSI was very strong, as it had developed a review on maths, science and technology strategy to include National Development Plan (NDP) targets. 450 000 matriculants would pass maths and physical science by above 50% by 2030.

The Department would facilitate the Free State and North West partnership. During COVID-19, the numbers had decreased, but they held meetings to address the situation and encourage children to participate in maths and science. They acknowledged a shortage of teachers, and programmes were in place to mitigate this, such as using unemployed graduates and Teach SA. Graduates then got deployed to places like the Northern and Eastern Cape, where teachers did not want to go.

The Chairperson thanked the Department for its presentation, and said she appreciated that the science and technology landscape was intertwined with what the country had set out to achieve. The Committee recognised that more work needed to be done and greater collaboration had to occur, and implored the DBE to play its role while welcoming the interventions from the DSI.

She summarised the Members' contributions, and said she wanted to make it practical in communities to ensure awareness of these initiatives, and that they were translated into what the children were studying. There was a disjuncture between industry and government, letting children know what they could do.

The meeting was adjourned.


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