By Luyanda Makapela
The Dinaledi schools project is on course to increase the mathematics and science skills pool in the country, said Director General at the Department of Education Duncan Hindle.
Delivering his speech during the Education Portfolio Meeting in Parliament recently the Director General said the pass rate in mathematics and science has steadily increased and the department hopes to further increase the current number of participating schools next year.
He said targets had been set for the next few years to increase the number of participating schools from 400 to 500 in 2008.
"We hope to see 50 000 mathematics passes on Higher Grade by 2009,' he said, adding that his department was confident that the momentum would build over time.
The Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor launched the Dinaledi schools initiative in 2001 to address the urgent need to equip learners with mathematics and science skills. Government identified the Dinaledi programme as essential to contributing to the country's economic growth.
The project aims to increase access to mathematics, science and technology and to promote and improve results for these subjects in underprivileged communities.
There are currently 400 high schools across the country, offering mathematics and science at Higher Grade level and have qualified teachers, involved in the project.
In March ten of the Dinaledi schools were awarded at the Most Improved School Awards.
In her speech at the awards ceremony, Minister Pandor said the key objectives of the awards were to recognise and acknowledge schools that were performing well and have achieved good results.
She said recognising and acknowledging schools that are showing consistent improvement and highlighting successes and identifying possible role models was important.
The schools were awarded for improvement in home language and English second language, mathematics and overall consistent improvement.
In February 14 schools out of 6 000 made it into government's exclusive Top 100 Club which recognises schools that have produced 100 or more higher grade mathematics and science candidates.
During his presentation in Parliament, the Director General showed there was a steady growth in mathematics passes.
"Although there had been a dip in 2006 there has been an enormous growth in the number of passes on Standard Grade,' Mr Hindle said.
The numbers suggested that more students could have passed on Higher Grade if they had been given the necessary teaching support, he said.
Mr Hindle further said although the number of Dinaledi Schools was increasing, this was not the case in all provinces. He said in some cases the wrong schools had been chosen for inclusion in the project.
"Schools could not just be given the Dinaledi tag and expect results automatically. Rigid selection is needed to identify the correct schools to participate,' he said.
Mr Hindle pointed out that training teachers was another area requiring attention, particularly for mathematics, science, Information and Communication Technologies and language competence.
As part of efforts to increase the number of science literate learners, the department has tested 4 500 maths and science educators to check their competency levels in teaching such subjects.
In 2006 the department reported that in terms of teacher development 120 master teachers were appointed and an additional 2400 teachers were being trained.
Incentives would be given to the teachers involved in the project, and support from the department would be supplied in various districts, Mr Hindle said.
Coordinators have been appointed and a mathematics, science and technology unit has been established in the department, Mr Hindle said.
"The number of learners writing mathematics on the Higher Grade has increased,' said the Director General, adding that there had been more than 6 500 learner who achieved an A pass mark on Standard Grade during the 2006 examinations, with numerous B and C passes.
Mr Hindle said he wanted to see more learners changing to Higher Grade in their subjects.