Great strides have been made by the Department of Basic Education, but there is a long way to go

Written by:
Boitumelo Finger
Published on:
July 12, 2023

In the early 2000s, the South African National Government began to emphasise the importance of centralising Mathematics, Science, and Technology (MST) education as part of a human resource development strategy aimed at boosting the country's economy.In the early 2000s, the South African National Government began to emphasise the importance of centralising Mathematics, Science, and Technology (MST) education as part of a human resource development strategy aimed at boosting the country's economy. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) subsequently released a National Strategy for MST Education (2019-2030), which aimed to improve educational outcomes for learners, particularly those from disadvantaged communities. The strategy set out specific aims, goals, and outputs, focusing on teacher development, partnerships between stakeholders, and MST curriculum development. In this op-ed, I will reflect on the developments around the MST strategy since its inception and highlight the need to focus on addressing the main educational problem areas. My full analysis of the National Strategy for MST education can be found here.

There are four strategic aims of the DBE’s strategy.

The first is to provide quality learning for all learners through relevant MST curricula and interventions. Although some progress, such as the implementation of new Science subjects in the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) curriculum and the participation in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments to evaluate Mathematics and Science achievement, has been made, concerns arise over the equal access to and implementation of these subjects in lower-income schools due to the country's inequalities and the effectiveness of the TIMSS assessment. Additionally, an inquiry commissioned by the DBE revealed that technology is substantially overlooked as a subject, and not enough attention is placed on General Education and Training (GET). Furthermore, "Science" is commonly interpreted as Physical Science, disregarding other science subjects. It is essential to recognise how public awareness of science interlinks with its promotion.

The second strategic aim aims to improve teacher demand, supply, utilisation, development, and support. The DBE provides teacher training programs and workshops, but teachers have cited that the quality of training offered has become increasingly displeasing. The government has explored various ways to address these challenges, including refocusing the Funza Lushaka Bursary for Teachers to cater to candidates looking to specialise in languages, MST, and commerce. I believe that the DBE can further address these challenges by exploring alternatives such as incentives, accreditation, and accolades, as there are issues with the retention of MST teachers, and the shortage of qualified MST teachers across the country, with some teachers not being suitably qualified to teach the relevant subjects. I also recommended that teachers are encouraged to be actively involved in the formulation of these programs to ensure teacher improvement, satisfaction, and enthusiasm are reached.

The third strategic aim aims to improve the provision, management, and effective utilisation of resources. The DBE established a Commission of Inquiry in 2022 to evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of MST implementation in provincial contexts. A conditional grant has been put towards The Dinaledi Schools program, which aims to advance the participation and performance of learners in MST subjects but has been challenged with meeting the 60% national requirement of learners taking MST subjects in the FET phase. The grant has provided resources to these schools to implement MST projects and encourage girls to participate. Although these schools have been considered unsuccessful in recent years, initiatives such as the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) expo and job shadowing programs for girls have been successful in cultivating interest and engagement in MST learning. I believe that a more concerted effort should be placed into the improvement of MST programs and building awareness around these schools to avoid disadvantaging learners if these schools were to be taken away.

The fourth strategic aim aims to improve partnerships to enhance the quality of MST education. This will be achieved by establishing networks, enhancing multi-disciplinary stakeholder partnerships, and strengthening international networks to add value to MST programmes. Procurement policies advocate for partnerships with the education ecosystem, and NGOs/NPOs play a crucial role in bridging education gaps. The use of emerging technologies, such as EdTech, is becoming increasingly relevant due to the lack of access to MST resources for a large portion of learners. EdTech can bridge this gap by providing multi-dimensional content that promotes technological and scientific awareness to support and improve the shortcomings of the curriculum. EdTech can also develop inclusive and low-cost products for learners in disadvantaged schools, actively train teachers on how to use solutions, work alongside teachers in content development and pursue partnerships with the DBE and other education stakeholders.

When considering all these factors, it is evident that various initiatives have been undertaken to achieve the aims and objectives set out in this strategy. Some have been pleasantly surprising, while some may require further attention. Many of these objectives correlate with the work of the Injini, an EdTech Accelerator and Think Tank,  in highlighting the importance of collaboration in addressing educational outcomes in South Africa.