SA Schools Have Reached a Crisis Point

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SA Schools Have Reached a Crisis Point – But a Lack of Access to Quality Labs is an Obstacle that can be Overcome

Beryl Labs is proud to be in laboratory building industry; the research and teaching that occurs in a properly resourced facility directly contributes, in a myriad of ways, to the betterment of people’s lives. In the South African context, however, this may be especially true given the fact that leaders in science, technology, engineering and maths (the STEM fields) have repeatedly pointed out that human capital supply in these industries is far less than it could be. In other words, as a society, we should be directing appropriate resources towards the education of future scientists, engineers and technologists.

But, as is often the case, this is far easier said than done. South African education has reached a crisis point, becoming the focus of unrelenting criticism. Unfortunately, much of the furore is justified: in the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study report, South African students tested extremely poorly. At grade 9 level, we were ranked at 38 out of 39 countries for maths, and last for science1. The OECD has placed our education system at 75 out of 76 countries, and only 37% of children starting school go on to pass the matriculation exam. Just 4% earn a degree2.

Whereas there are many factors in play that have contributed to the debacle, from my own perspective, one aspect is weighing heavily on my mind. Out of some 25 000 schools, 85% have no labs, and only 5% have adequately stocked science facilities3. The Department of Basic Education’s Guidelines Relating to Planning for Public School Infrastructure4 stipulates that all public schools (both primary and secondary) must have 1-2 labs, depending on their size. This goal is clearly not being met. And whereas I am very much a believer in a holistic approach to education, the fact that only 17% of schools are without sports facilities (compared to the 85% without labs) suggests that we are not prioritising STEM education as much as we should.

A common misconception among educators and governing bodies is that labs are too expensive and out of reach for purely government-funded schools. Sponsors, however, have shown a willingness to come to the table. Our work at Batlhalerwa High School, generously funded by the Kaefer Group, is a prime example of how strategic partnerships can meaningfully tackle our current education crisis.

Over the past year, Kaefer has invested time and resources in various much-needed developmental projects at the school, including a refurbishment of the school’s assembly area and library. This year, with the assistance of Beryl labs, Kaefer is donating a science lab.

Historically, the school has enjoyed a high interest in the physical sciences; disappointingly, though, this enthusiasm amongst the students has sharply declined in recent times. On close inspection, a chief culprit for this downturn appears: learners have opted for commerce subjects over the sciences as they are tested (as part of their final Matric exams) on practicals that they have never performed due to the lack of facilities.

As the primary intervention in the effort to curb this increasing lack of participation, the school’s management approached their donor who in turn reached out to Beryl Labs to design and build a lab where practicals can be conducted. I can’t help but feel pleased that we have, firstly, a real chance to regenerate the lost interest in the physical sciences, and secondly, to make a truly positive impact on young lives. In my view, by giving curious minds the opportunity to study not only through a textbook, but also through a hands on empirical approach to the various sciences, we will ignite their imaginations and evoke a greater sense of excitement.

In summary, it is clear that significant obstacles lie ahead; but with innovation and the right equipment, I feel quite certain that South African students can succeed in a competitive and technologically progressive world.

Please contact us at Beryl Labs for further info on our cost effective school laboratory solutions.

David Yu, Director – Beryl Labs Africa

 

Notes:

 

  1. South African Performance on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study: http://www.naci.org.za/?p=4241
  2. South Africa has one of the World’s Worst Education Systems: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21713858-why-it-bottom-class-south-africa-has-one-worlds-worst-education
  3. Rich School, Poor School – the Great Divide Persists: https://mg.co.za/article/2012-09-28-00-rich-school-poor-school-the-great-divide-persists
  4. Guidelines Relating to Planning for Public School Infrastructure: http://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/Publications/Planning%20for%20Public%20Infrastructure.pdf?ver=2014-05-15-125932-000