Dinaledi Project: Department briefing

Basic Education

25 October 2004
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041026pceduc

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
26 October 2004
DINALEDI PROJECT: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Mr S Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department briefing: National Strategy for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education

SUMMARY
The Deputy Minister of Education briefed the Committee on the successful Dinaledi Project. In this initiative, the Department had selected 102 secondary schools nationwide that were already performing reasonably well in mathematics and physical science. The aim was to raise participation and performance of historically disadvantaged matric learners by equipping schools with a range of inputs, from science kits to in-service training. The Committee then asked questions around the Project's impact; its assessment of numeracy levels; mother-tongue education; teacher remuneration and shared professional expertise; security of resources; the decline in the number of white learners writing science on the higher grade; business sponsorship of already well-resourced schools; and collaboration with other departments.

MINUTES

Department briefing
The Deputy Minister of Education, Mr E Surtee, and Mr T Ndlvou, Deputy Director-General: Further Education and Training (FET), addressed the Committee. Mr Surtee reported that in 1999, 68% of the learners who passed mathematics on the higher grade were white, as were 59% of learners who passed science on the higher grade. This distortion was evident in that a tiny proportion of black African chartered accountants (1.6%), engineers (2.4%) and other professionals with expertise in mathematics and science.

In 2001, the Department had responded to this challenge by launching the 'National Strategy for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education'. 102 historically disadvantaged schools were selected nationally to be targetted for improving mathematics, science and technology (MST) performance.

Audits of resources in the 102 Dinaledi schools had been conducted. From 2001 to the present, teachers had been taught to use the science and mathematics kits provided; received on-site support on content and methodology; and had Information Technology training. 120 teachers had also undergone leadership training in the United States every year

Schools had been provided with 20 computers each, TV sets, DSTV decoders, and other resources. Learner incentives in the form of financial aid for teacher training, and enrichment programmes in aerospace and defence, had also been offered.

By 2003, the number of African and coloured learners passing mathematics and science nationally had increased by 15% and 71% respectively (although there were still fewer African and coloured learners passing these subjects than white learners). Within the Dinaledi schools, good progress in the number of candidates passing mathematics and science had been made, particularly by girls.

Companies and educational trusts had provided funding for the project. Additional resources would have to be mobilised for the next phase (2005-2009) when the project would be expanded to all schools, including primary schools. Provincial, district and municipal authorities' support was also needed, along with collaboration with other departments.

Discussion
The Chairperson, supported by other Committee Members, asked for a list of Dinaledi schools and for racial figures to be broken down. (The figures presented had shown African and coloured learners as a single category.)

Mr A Gaum (NNP) asked if the assessment of learner performance by some provinces would continue; how current strategies had been informed by these assessments; whether all provinces had MST strategies; the role of mother tongue instruction and learning tables in improving learner performance; whether MST teachers would still be given additional remuneration; and whether other provinces had an Academy (a school for gifted learners with a focus on MST) like the one in Tokai.

Mr Surtee said that testing would continue but that "dipstick" tests did not enable one to monitor progress. A number of provinces had different MST initiatives. The Department supported mother-tongue instruction in the first three years of school. Most indigenous languages were not 'developed enough' to teach mathematics. However, it was important for teachers to acknowledge different languages for reasons of learners' identity and self-esteem.

Although the status of teachers should be elevated, extra remuneration for teachers with scarce skills and working in harsh conditions should still be linked to performance. Gauteng also had an Academy, but it was easier for this province and the Western Cape to raise funding.

Ms L Maloney (ANC) recounted that a school that had come third in a national "best school" competition in 2001, was still very under-resourced. She asked the Department to assist and also to address the issue of formerly white schools not wanting to assist disadvantaged ones.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) said that resources would be stolen if schools could not secure them. He asked for additional comments on pupil migration to schools where the language of instruction was English.

Mr Surtee said that the latest audit would show that areas of deficiency so that the Department could address these. There were some good examples of 'twinning' schools, which the Department encouraged but did not mandate. It was easier to cluster four white schools with four disadvantaged schools. The process was easier because one school could provide the venue and storage facilities, and transport was easier.

Most learners favoured English-medium schools and parents also believed that English proficiency was very important. Mr Surtee could not say whether that this was justified, but repeated that promoting indigenous languages was important for the self-identity of learners.

Ms M Mentor (ANC) said that the achievements of the 102 Dinaledi schools was impressive, but this should not distract from all other schools. For instance, only 11 schools in Gauteng were Dinaledi schools. As an ex-science teacher, she said that science could be promoted by demystifying it. She gave the example of a school testing a community's water supply - schools could thus become centres for community action. She had noticed that the number of white learners passing science was declining - a gain on the one side should not lead to a loss on the other.

Mr Surtee said that future surveys would give separate data for African and coloured learners. He speculated that the number of whites passing science had declined because of the migration of these learners to private schools, where the subject might not be offered. He agreed that science should be promoted by demystifying it, and cited a project where science learners were taken to wildlife reserves.

He agreed that the focus on 102 schools was insufficient. The Department planned to increase the number of schools in the project to 510 within five years. Dinaledi schools were also clustered with other schools for ease of collaboration between teachers.

Ms S Sigcau (UDM) asked how Dinaledi schools were selected.

Ms L Maloney asked the Department to run an "adopt-a-school" advocacy campaign.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) said that because business wanted to be associated with the best schools, the most needy schools received no funding from this sector. He appealed to the Department to influence the way in which companies selected schools for sponsorship. He also asked how the Department was currently collaborating with the Department of Science and Technology and for comment on universities' programmes to develop teachers.

Mr Surtee said they selected schools that performed relatively well but were under-resourced. Provinces had made the selections, but in a few cases, had selected schools that were dysfunctional. Dinaledi schools had also adopted primary feeder schools in their cluster.

The University of Pretoria sent its third-year students to schools in remote areas, but the approach and methodology of such supporting institutions should be checked to see if it was aligned with the Department's.

Another reason rich schools attracted sponsorship was that their ex-students were likely to be in a position to offer sponsorship. However, South African Airways and the South African Defence Force had approached the Department for aid in selecting learners for bursaries. He said that the private sector should be "conscientised to fund more needy schools".

A framework document on inter-departmental collaboration would shortly be released and would give details of the Department's partnerships with the Departments of Science and Technology, Communication and Sport and Recreation.

At this point, the Chairperson proposed that the meeting be officially closed to enable the Committee to attend to routine housekeeping items such as approving minutes and notices of future meetings.

The meeting was adjourned.

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