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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
26 October 2004
NATIONAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FOUNDATION ANNUAL REPORT: BRIEFING
Documents handed out:
National Science and Technology Foundation Annual Report 2004
The National Science and Technology Foundation (NSTF) briefed the Committee on the Foundation's Annual Report for 2004. Members raised concerns about the teaching of mathematics and science in schools and the ability of students from disadvantaged communities to pursue higher education and careers in the sciences. Members also asked about increasing skills training and improving the co-ordination between the Departments of Education, Science and Technology, and the NSTF.
National Science and Technology Foundation briefing
Dr M Hlongwane (CEO) outlined the Foundation's relationship with various spheres of government, it's interactions and networking with other stakeholders, and it's partners and sponsors. He then discussed the functions and objectives of the Foundation, their challenges and suggested solutions. He explained the current economic situation in South Africa and argued that science and technology could assist in achieving sustainable development. He discussed the Foundation's strategic direction for 2003 - 2006, emphasising the Foundation's skills development and training strategies.
Mr P Nefolovhodwe (APO) noted that many students passed their mathematics and science matric exams, but their families were financially unable to assist in furthering their education. He asked if something could be done for such students. Dr Hlongwane argued that this was a "gap" in the current system. He stressed the necessity of determining the origin of this gap to eliminate the problem.
Mr Nefolovhodwe argued that university science graduates had difficulty finding employment because, although they had knowledge, they lacked the necessary skills. He asked how students could acquire such skills prior to graduating.
Mr Nefolovhodwe mentioned that good mathematics and science teachers were concentrated in a small number of schools. He asked how the knowledge of such teachers could be disseminated to other schools.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) felt there had been an impressive increase in the percentage of students passing their mathematics and science matric exams. Therefore, he questioned Dr Hlongwane's assertion that the country was confronting a mathematics and science 'crisis'. He asked if Dr Hlongwane was perhaps referring to the quality of mathematics and science teaching. Professor I Mohamed (ANC) also wanted clarification on this issue. Dr Hlongwane asserted the problem stemmed from the fact that few students who passed their mathematics and science matric exams went on to university and, of those who did, very few graduated with degrees in science or technology.
Mr Ainslie enquired if the Foundation was engaged in projects to encourage the teaching and study of mathematics and science. He also asked for an explanation of the challenges in overcoming the dearth of skills within the country.
Professor Mohamed asked if co-operation between the Department of Education and the Foundation had improved. Mrs F Mahomed (ANC) asked if there were difficulties in co-ordinating the work of the Department of Education with the work of the Foundation.
Dr Hlongwane responded that the relationship between the Department of Education and the Foundation had improved over the years. Regular meetings with the Minister of Education were desirable, as were regular meetings with the Department of Science and Technology. The relationship between the Department of Education and the Department of Science and Technology was also improving, as they had signed an agreement to work more closely together in the future.
Mrs Mahomed asked for an explanation of the problems associated with training teachers in mathematics and science.
Mrs Mahomed asked how the Committee could assist the Department of Science and Technology and the Foundation.
Mr J Blanche (DA) argued that textbooks should be written in mother tongue languages. He felt the country would see a dramatic improvement in student performance if students were allowed to learn in their first languages.
The Chairperson argued that the fundamental problem lay with the lack of co-operation between stakeholders to form a co-ordinated strategy to improve and promote science and technology. It was difficult for people from disadvantaged communities to contribute to science and technology within their communities. The Foundation should be run by individuals who had experienced the challenges confronting disadvantaged communities. He stressed the need to learn from the educational systems of other countries, as they could provide useful solutions. He asserted the importance of understanding that all students 'learned differently'.
The meeting was adjourned.
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