First the bad news: While South Africa is crying out for skilled, technical orientated people, it is a sad fact that in the Global Information Technology Report 2016 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), South Africa was ranked last in mathematics and science education quality. South Africa also finished close to last – 137 out of 139 countries – when looking at the overall quality of its education system.
The report ranked SA’s mathematics and science education quality lower than that of Nigeria, Mozambique and Malawi. This is the third year in a row that South Africa has finished last in the WEF mathematics and science education quality rankings.
Now for the good news: Given the right motivation and opportunity, there are those who are able to buck the trend and in this article, FleetWatch highlights two such people.
The first is Keith Nare, a PhD candidate at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) who is pursuing his doctorate in physical and polymer chemistry and was recently appointed a research associate at SANRAL’s materials lab in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. He also volunteers as a maths and science and homework club mentor.
Nare’s relationship with SANRAL started while still working as a visiting student at the SANRAL Training Academy for Candidate Engineers last year. He officially joined the lab in January this year. Education plays an important role in Nare’s life and he volunteers with Masifunde Learner Development at Walmer High School in Walmer.
“I am a homework club mentor as well as a Mathematics and Science tutor. I love teaching. It is a response to an outer call from within to give back to the community. It brings joy to see other young people grow and get to realise that their birthplace shouldn’t determine their future. The future of the country is in the hands of the youth and how far they are willing to spread the ripple effect of extended responsibility for community development in the spirit of Ubuntu,” says Nare.
He encourages high school learners and other tertiary students to continue studying.
“Perseverance, humility and the willingness to go the extra mile will make a big difference. I encourage them to get mentors that can help them grow.”
Nare became aware of the research associate position during his interactions with SANRAL and Labco (Labco is the tendered and appointed laboratory service provider for the SANRAL Training Academy in Port Elizabeth) while still working on his MSc.
“SANRAL and Labco helped me with other tests I couldn’t do at the University. The whole idea was to partner with SANRAL in fostering an industry-academia partnership to address the current challenges faced by industry in understanding the intricate details to the chemistry behind polymer modified bitumen. Emphasis for me, though, was crumb rubber modified bitumen.”
Sean Strydom, SANRAL Southern Region materials specialist, explains that Nare’s position at SANRAL involves Rheological testing which is a highly specialised testing using high end testing equipment of which there is only a handful in the country.
”The test data Keith is generating will assist us in ensuring our new Performance Specification of bitumen is best suited to South African road conditions. The data is being generated by testing bitumen samples from SANRAL’s construction sites from across the entire Eastern Cape,” says Strydom.
Nare has a BSc (Biochemistry and Chemistry), B.Sc. Honours (Chemistry) and an M.Sc. (Physical and Polymer Chemistry) all from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Heading for Harvard
The second person to buck the trend is Sasasa Dlamini, an attendee of the Engen Maths and Science School (EMSS) at Mangosuthu University of Technology, who completed matric with an 89% average and distinctions in all his subjects. A learner at Westville Boys High School, Sasasa is now bound for Harvard University in the United States to study economics or politics.
Sasasa, who first heard about EMSS at a career expo, describes his journey to get to and from his EMSS studies as “long and exacting, but world changing.” Catching a number of taxis just to make the classes was, however, worth the effort.
“The approach of the Engen Maths and Science Schools and their teachers were highly motivating,” he stresses. “Knowing that someone believes in you is a great feeling.”
Through sheer hard work and the supplementary classes offered by the EMSS, Sasasa eventually achieved distinctions in maths and science – and a place to study at Harvard.
“This is an opportunity to change my world. My EMSS teachers always taught me that I could do more. And since both economics and politics are premised on changing the world, perhaps I can repay their faith in me by creating the means to solving challenges and employing thousands of people. Choosing which subject to study will be tough, but I’m really excited to get this opportunity.
Mntu Nduvane, Engen’s manager of Corporate Social Investment says the company is extremely proud of the learners who participate in the EMSS programme. By continuing to grow the minds and talents of the future, the EMSS initiative is changing our world, helping people to explore new horizons and gain new experiences. EMSS is a national initiative that addresses key skills shortages in the engineering and technical fields by providing after hours Maths and Science education to learners who show an advanced aptitude in the subjects.
EMSS exposes learners from grades 10 to 12 to high-quality teachers, tuition and educational materials. Currently, Engen supports nine Maths and Science schools across South Africa.