Last year, South African primary children in no-fee schools learned 50-75% less than they’d usually learn, according to the National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Study (Nids-Cram). And that’s in a country where prior to Covid-19, the learning gaps were immense. Now, collaboration is needed to help turn the situation around and give the country’s biggest and often most overlooked asset – our children – a strong educational start. Corporates can play a major role in this.
Khoza says that we must act now. “Fewer than 2.2% of our Matrics pass with over 80% in maths. Over half pass with just 30%. We need to invest in this space to help young people attain good careers and achieve financial independence. Mastering financial literacy can help improve quality of life and empower more people to be economically active. This lightens the burden on our government.
“If we do not drive more learners to Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) subjects, we risk having a huge number of young people who can’t meet the skills demand of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We must act. Maths unlocks innovation and entrepreneurship. It gives our young people the power to start their own businesses and solve our shared problems. That’s why numeracy is the cornerstone of the Capitec Foundation.”
How to recover from the consequences of Covid-19:
The 2019 TIMSS ranked South African grade 9 students last for maths and science. It also raised alarms that the pace of progress is slowing. And that was before Covid-19. The pandemic has exacerbated the stark divide in the country’s education system.
Experts suggest it’s likely to hit hard at foundational phase, especially in reading and maths. Many children at no-fee schools continue to attend intermittently – if at all. This means lots of missed steps, which take a long time to make up as learning maths is a cumulative process. This means children could be playing catch up for years to come – especially those with no access to remote learning. The digital divide is another massive hurdle for South Africa to overcome.
Khoza says, “In terms of online learning, we have a triple challenge: the availability of resources in schools, the cost of data, and the skills to effectively use tech for learning. There’s also a lack of good learning content. Plus, how are learners supposed to follow a lesson online when they’re struggling to grasp key concepts in a classroom? Former Model C schools have now mostly made a blended approach part of the curriculum. But quintile 1,2,3 schools (our poorest schools) don’t have that option. So, the gap widens.”
Collaboration between governments, corporates, NGOs and NPOs is vital to target the gaps. Here are Khoza’s suggestions based on Capitec’s future-fit multipronged approach:
- Complementary is key: It’s vital any learning interventions complement what is being learned in the classroom.
- Leverage resources: Covid-19 fast-tracked adoption of online learning opportunities. Corporates can collaborate to broaden accessibility, meaningfully. For example, a tech company could sponsor a computer lab. Capitec can provide specialised maths tutoring and upskill teachers to use tech. And a mobile operator could support with connectivity. It’s important efforts are sustainable and target different areas of impact.
- Teachers matter the most: Online platforms are just a channel, they do not replace the teacher. There needs to be a focus on how to teach maths. One teacher could impact about 4500 learners in a teaching career. The teacher must be empowered to maintain the performance of the whole class. Platforms and support initiatives that provide teachers with rigorous training, tackling key subject topics is very critical.
- Solutions must be realistic: Accessibility and consideration of the context is critical and zero-rated data platforms so young people can access content on their phones at home is key in bridging the gap.
- It starts at the top: Principals create the environment that teachers need to thrive. We never impose a solution. The principal is part of the solution. It’s about co-creation. Before rolling out any initiative with a school partner, we ask the principal to attend a one-year school management programme. This is run with the UCT Graduate School of Business and the Principals’ Academy. Principals are also mentored for three years by a retired school principal. This prepares the principal so they can buy into and support the programme.
He concludes, “A world without maths is unimaginable to those of us who have received a solid foundation in numeracy. But it’s a potential reality for many young people who are at risk of never receiving a solid mathematical start in life. We need to address this urgently. We ask other players in the private and public sector to help us meaningfully address the learning gaps. We have no time to waste.”