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

CityPress - - Voices -

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

PHOTO: CHRISTO­PHER MOAGI

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

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