No Quick Silver Bullet To Maths Education Amongst Township Youth, But There Is A Solution

Ongoing corporate support and a results-driven grassroots programme has and can make a significant difference

Addressing the poor uptake of mathematics as a subject is crucial if South Africa is to prosper as a nation.

The current reality is that less than 30% of all matric students take maths as a subject, with only half that number passing their final exams.  The impact is felt immediately in the corporate sector, particularly in terms of gender parity where women account for only 23% of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) professionals in the country, according to Statistics South Africa.

Encouraging township youth to take maths presents a considerable challenge since resources are scarce and all too often single-parent households are unable to meet their most basic needs. Crime and drug and alcohol prevalence detract further from a learner’s desire to pursue the subject.

The problem is not insurmountable, however.

Corporate-backed entities like the Datatec Education and Technology Foundation have recognised the importance of investing in maths programmes in townships to produce outstanding graduates who will not only take the country forward, but also uplift their own communities.

For more than 15 years the Foundation has partnered with OLICO Maths Education to change the lives of township learners, who annually feature among the top 20% of maths performers nationally. This relationship is unique in that corporate social investment cycles are usually reviewed on a one-year-basis or only operate on a two- to three-year funding cycle.

The long-term approach has worked wonders, says OLICO co-founder and director, Andrew Barratt.

“The major advantage is we’ve been able to do a deep dive into trying to solve the complex issue that is maths education. The ability to test, refine, adapt and repeat is not something that can be rushed if we want solutions that make a genuine impact,” he says.

“We are so much wiser, more informed and better equipped for this challenge though the long-term support of partners like Datatec.”

It is an approach highly valued by 18-year-old Kwena Molapo High School learner Candy Mamabolo, whose maths marks have improved significantly since joining the OLICO programme in 2017.

“I really enjoy that they take time to explain things to you properly and give you the time to understand the maths,” Candy, who dreams of becoming a chartered accountant one day, says.

“My maths improved so much that I even placed second in a maths Olympiad.”

Another Kwena Molapo High learner, Modishe Motsepe, 14, has become the most improved male learner in the programme.

The aspirant software engineer concurs that taking the time to “explain things nicely”, with every pupil being accommodated, makes the programme what it is today.

The partnership between OLICO and the Foundation grew from humble beginnings. Initially, only a small group of Datatec staffers volunteered on an informal computer literacy project in Ivory Park, Midrand.  This project later turned into a tutoring programme that evolved to focus on maths support across all grades.

Ten years ago, OLICO pitched an idea to pilot a maths programme in Diepsloot. Only two funders were prepared to invest in the initiative – the Datatec Foundation being one – and today OLICO is a multiaward-winning maths support intervention whose programme and materials are used extensively by learners, NGOs and schools across South Africa.

More than 3 200 learners are enrolled annually in the programme, in which lessons are held twice a week in schools and community centres in Gauteng, Limpopo and the Western Cape. What’s more, more than  8 000 learners have accessed OLICO’s free WhatsApp Maths Hotline to speak to a skilled maths tutor to help them with their maths work.

The partnership with OLICO was further strengthened on Mandela Day this year when Datatec helped renovate a lab at OLICO’s Diepsloot centre with a new coat of paint and some minor repairs. Datatec also recently funded the installation of a second computer lab at this centre to help  cater for more learners.

“The fact is NGOs can’t operate on project costs alone,” Barratt says.

“There are inevitably core organisational expenses that need to be covered. This is an area that has improved dramatically over the past 10 years thanks to Datatec’s involvement.”

Datatec Foundation chair Maya Makanjee  says education is the key that will unlock prosperity for all South Africans, regardless of their backgrounds and upbringing.

“Success in maths and science is critically important if we want to grow the pool of young people pursuing

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