Schools of specialisation a seminal moment for SA
Welcome to a new curriculum, designed to foster a passion for science and technology in our learners, writes Panyaza Lesufi
Our daily lives revolve around natural resources. From the toast we eat for breakfast and the ride to school and work, to the books, computers and cellphones we use and the water we drink, our lives depend on the earth’s resources.
Science and technology have produced many goods that benefit humankind. Our country is an undisputed leader in the global economy because of these innovations, enabling the economic advantages and high standard of living we enjoy. To maintain our competitive advantage and keep our economy strong, we must prepare our children to compete in tomorrow’s global market by improving science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) education.
High school students acquire a well-rounded understanding of science by completing biology, chemistry and physics, and maths.
The effective delivery of Stem education calls for a coordinated national effort by all stakeholders – including industry, the public and government.
New technologies might help to meet energy needs, lower gas prices, supply clean water, eradicate disease and reduce pollution. But who will invent them?
Every generation has a seminal moment that earns it a prominent spot in history. This generation faces the daunting task of supplying our nation with capable science and technology workers.
Gauteng is economically viable, but our economic portfolio has its weaknesses – notably, in the dearth of learners and workers educated in IT, which hampers our ability to capitalise on hi-tech opportunities.
While the idea of Stem schools is a worldwide phenomenon, in South Africa we are calling ours schools of specialisation.
This generation’s seminal moment begins with the opening of The Curtis Nkondo School of Specialisation in Soweto, one of 27 such schools across Gauteng. It will focus on engineering, maths and science, information communication technology (ICT), commerce and entrepreneurship, as well as sports, and the performing and creative arts.
Among the 27 schools, 11 are focused on maths, science and ICT; seven on engineering; four on commerce and entrepreneurship; three on the arts; and two on sport. These schools form part of our programme to reorganise schools and change public education so we can build a single, integrated schooling system that overcomes past inequalities.
Our aim is to address the critical-skills shortage in our country. The schools’ facilities will also be made available to nearby conventional schools.
These schools of specialisation are distinct from normal public schools in that they have a strong technical and vocational content.
Learners will be given workplace exposure and career guidance to prepare them for work or institutes of higher learning, such as technikons, further education and training colleges, and universities.
In addition to increasing skills development, these schools will help us deliver a Gauteng empowered by transformation, modernisation and reindustrialisation.
Improving science and technology subjects should be a priority countrywide, given that there will be significant growth in the science and technology workforce in the future. Researchers say that 17 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations in the coming decade will be in science, technology and medicine.
In interviews conducted with business executives, who were asked to assess the quality of maths and science education in the country and score it from poor to excellent, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index for 2015/16 ranked our country poorly at 138 among 140 economies.
With a paucity of technology-educated workers, our economic growth depends on sectors with lower-paying jobs and dim long-term prospects.
In this age of innovation, the jobs that will fuel our economy will be in ground-breaking areas of science and engineering. To this end, we need to bring highend engineering software into classrooms, along with online training for teachers and students, and mentoring from science and engineering professionals.
By building a stronger interest in Stem subjects, we will generate an educated workforce capable of filling jobs critical to the country’s economic competitiveness.
The world is changing apace, presenting a host of career opportunities for Stem learners. To overcome the shortage of maths and science skills, we need to find ways to attract learners to these subjects at an earlier age. Naturally, more and better-qualified teachers will enable this.
Equally important are the support and incentive that we, as a community, can provide students with.
Businesses can reach out by offering job-shadowing or internship opportunities to learners at local tertiary institutions. They can also provide scholarships to students taking science and technology subjects.
To succeed in a global economy, talent is key and education must become innovative in its approach to developing that talent – hence the introduction of our schools of specialisation.
Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for Education
Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi (left) launches The Curtis Nkondo School of Specialisation in Soweto, one of 27 schools with a strong technical and vocational content