Cablegate: Math, Science and Technology Education Remains a Serious

DE RUEHSA #2181/01 2771419
R 031419Z OCT 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (U) Inadequate math, science and technology (MST) education
remains a serious problem in South Africa. The Department of
Education (DOE) and non-government education experts agree that
there are multiple causes for the lack of MST skills, including
under-qualified teachers, minimal resources, and insufficient
student English language proficiency and comprehension. The South
African government (SAG), academia, private companies, and NGOs have
established programs and projects to increase MST capacity. DOE
introduced focused, MST-teaching schools and MST matric (grade
twelve) results are slowly rising, but the number of MST
university-level students remains low. DOE can prevent the loss of
good teachers to overseas employment by improving remuneration
packages, working conditions, and training resources for teachers.
End Summary

Improving MST Education - a National Strategy

2. (SBU) DOE officials Morongwa Masemola and Thomas Masango told
EST FSN that the DOE developed a National Strategy for Mathematics,
Science and Technology Education (NSMSTE) in 2001. The strategy was
designed to improve MST education through teacher and student
education in performance-enhancing programs. DOE initiated
accredited, teacher- development programs such as the Advanced
Certificate in Education (ACE), the National Professional Diploma in
Education (NPDE) in 2002. Over 1,000 MST teachers have been trained
to enhance their MST teaching skills. DOE officials state that math
enrollment has increased by 4.8 percent and science enrollment has
increased by 11.4 percent at dedicated schools between 2001 and
2002. They added that the student aggregate math pass rate improved
by 26.7 percent and the science pass rate rose by 33.7 percent
between 2001 and 2004.

3. (U) The Cabinet announced a priority list for MST education in
2004. This included setting performance targets for all schools,
placing a qualified MST teacher in every classroom and increasing
talent identification and enhancement capacity. The Cabinet also
encouraged establishing interactive digital content on MST through
satellite, TV, Internet, print and multimedia educational portals.
The SAG allocated over R92.1 billion ($11.8 billion) to education in
2006, nearly 18 percent of its total spending.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Improving the MST Subject Content - Revising the National Curriculum
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (U) DOE formulated the National Curriculum Statement (NCS), which
was designed to bring change to the content of MST education in
2008. The new curriculum is an improvement on the older curriculum,
which was an outcome based education system introduced in 2001 to
improve teacher and learner skills to meet MST demands of the 21st
century. The revised curriculum simplifies teaching language,
aligns curriculum with assessment, improves teacher training,
provides student support materials and describes the achievement
levels expected in a student at the end of grades one to nine.
Grades ten to twelve must now take math or math literacy. Note: Math
Literary involves teaching math through the application of math
knowledge to everyday tasks, rather than complex math concepts.
End Note. DOE officials said a revised NCS, effective 2008, phased
QEnd Note. DOE officials said a revised NCS, effective 2008, phased
out the standard and higher grades learning systems, which
encouraged most students to learn MST at the lower standard grade,
as opposed to higher grade level, because it seemed relatively
easier. Learning MST at the standard grade level produced matric
students who could not qualify for entrance to universities.

Some Teachers Struggle

5. (U) The NCS requires provinces to conduct workshops for teachers
and accredit the teachers. The DOE provides short-term grants to
develop and maintain collaboration among teachers, with qualified
MST teachers acting as mentors. DOE officials acknowledged that
some teachers, especially those with a two-year junior college
diploma, were uncomfortable with the new curriculum because they
believed that it contained first-year university material, which was
above their level of training. Teachers also complained that the
government did not provide adequate preparation to implement and
teach such a complex program.

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Dinaledi Focus Schools

6. (U) DOE established focus schools known as Dinaledi (Stars)
schools to improve MST enrollment and performance in grade twelve in
historically disadvantaged schools. Schools chosen by DOE to become
Dinaledi schools were institutions with good academic performance,
but were under-resourced. DOE officials reasoned that these schools
had the best potential for improved MST participation and
performance. The Cabinet-approved program started with 102 schools
in 2001, and increased to 488 in 2007, and now includes some private
schools. Dinaledi schools are funded by a special government
budget, and by private sponsors. National and provincial
coordinators work to accelerate implementation and delivery at
provincial and local levels.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Department of Science and Technology Involvement
--------------------------------------------- ---

7. (SBU) Department of Science and Technology (DST) Science and
Youth Programs (SYP) Deputy Director Koki Selepe reported that DST
launched the SYP Initiative to provide support to MST education in
schools and higher education institutions in all the provinces.
Selepe said SYP activities include establishing science centers,
identifying talented students, and encouraging science Olympiads,
competitions and science camps. SYP targets high school and
undergraduate students, as well as students who have left school.
Selepe noted that DST also conducts workshops for teachers and
students during school holidays, and provides curriculum support to
teachers. DST intends to establish science centers throughout the
country. Selepe conceded that SYP's success rate is not yet
determined. She explained that DST commissioned the Human Sciences
Research Council in 2008 to evaluate and monitor the progress of the
various camps and learning centers.

8. (U) DST supported over 150 lecturers from higher education
institutions and over 1,300 school educators between 2005 and 2007.
The DST has employed 125 unemployed science graduates, who function
as project managers. The graduates are trained through
"UMBUSOBOMVU", a government-sponsored youth development fund.
Trained students are then placed throughout the country as support
staff for teachers. Partners in the SYP projects include the South
African Association for Science and Technology Advancement, South
African Mathematics Foundation, South Africa Mathematics Society,
and the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants. DST has
adopted 18 Dinaledi schools, two in each of the nine provinces.

Multiple Challenges at Grassroots Level

9. (U) Many South African schools are located in previously
disadvantaged areas such as townships, informal settlements, farms
and villages, where the majority of the students are black and
resources are grossly lacking. EST FSN visited schools in four
provinces, all of which cited almost identical problems. School
officials state that many MST teachers are under-qualified, usually
as a result of being educated under apartheid's two- tiered "Bantu"
educational system. The school officials agreed that their schools
lacked adequate teaching resources, and that the government
chronically delivered the textbooks late. Laboratories are poorly
Qchronically delivered the textbooks late. Laboratories are poorly
equipped; and libraries lack good books and Internet connections.
Classes are large and overcrowded, with a teacher-student ratio
averaging between 1 to 35 and 1 to 50. The School officials also
observed that many students lack knowledge of basic math, which
forces teachers to spend too much time teaching basic math.
(Comment. The Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Consulate in
Johannesburg notes that these challenges are compounded in urban
township schools by the relative ease with which members of the
emerging middle class can place their children in schools outside
townships. The remaining students come from families lacking the
resources to transport their children to better-resourced schools.
Indeed, at several schools with which the Public Affairs Section has
run programs, children from child-led households make up a majority
of the students. End Comment).

10. (U) Teachers also expressed concern that students often made
poor subject choices, or did not choose subjects according to their
strengths and capabilities. Teachers attributed this problem to a
lack of parental guidance, a problem intensified by either the
parents' long absences or low educational levels. Teachers noted

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that many students were not motivated to focus on learning MST
because they live alone, or must care for themselves and younger
siblings while parents were away. Teachers reported that working
parents often came home only once-a-week or even once-a-month in
some cases. School officials also commented that many students come
from extremely poor families; which forced students to take odd-jobs
to earn money for food. As one teacher said, "Their focus is on
survival, not school".

Lack of Commitment from Some Educators

11. (SBU) University of Pretoria (UP) MST lecturer Ubbo Smith told
EST FSN that UP conducts MST teachers' training programs for
Mpumalanga provincial teachers, but not all teachers were equally
committed to the programs. Smith commented that the teachers
traveled far, using public transport to arrive on time at UP, but
they tended to give up halfway through the courses. He noted that
the number of participants decreased each week as the course
progresses. Smith lamented that the "pass one, pass all" approach
also undermined the level commitment since all enrolled teachers
receive a "pass," despite minimal attendance or performance. He
opined that most black teachers' training colleges and universities
were institutions of political activity during the apartheid era,
and many teachers still regard themselves as victims of apartheid,
and do not accept responsibility for the current lack of MST skills
in the country. Smith emphasized that DOE must enact stricter
policies if it wanted teachers to attain the wanted skills. He also
noted that scarce resources are spread so thinly, that there were no
funds to support teacher training programs, and that there were few
people to teach those programs. (Comment. The Public Affairs
Section at the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg notes that at many
schools in disadvantaged areas, teacher absenteeism outpaces student
absenteeism. End Comment.)

Language Remains a Barrier

12. (SBU) Marang Center for Math and Science Education (WITS
University) Professor Mamokgethi Setati emphasized that teaching
math was a specialized skill requiring specialized training. She
said, "There is a distinction between teaching math to students, and
teaching math-teaching skills to teachers". Setati explained that
teacher training must focus on pre-service or in-service training.
She emphasized that language is a major barrier, noting that for
most learners and teachers in the previously disadvantaged areas,
English is a second or third language. Setati noted that some
teachers cannot teach math in English because they cannot speak it.
She added that some teachers viewed MST as a major challenge for
students, and that those teachers focus on less complex math to make
math "bearable" for the students. She concluded that DOE
intervention programs were inadequate in both quantity and quality
and that change had to be brought about at the policy level.

13. (U) An Mpumalanga teacher told EST FSN that all subjects from
grades one to three were taught in Ndebele. Instruction is
conducted in English beginning grade four. The teacher said the
curriculum then had to be adjusted to accommodate students with
learning difficulties with English, a process made more difficult by
Qlearning difficulties with English, a process made more difficult by
the large class sizes. The teacher noted that the brighter grade
four children forge ahead while the weaker ones struggle to keep up
or fall behind entirely.

UNISA and Carnegie Step In

14. (U) The University of South Africa (UNISA) established the
Institute for Science and Technology Education (ISTE) with the
financial assistance of the Carnegie Foundation in 2007. ISTE's
main objective is to develop and improve MST teaching capacity,
using qualified scientists to train teachers in MST teaching
techniques. ISTE head Prof. Harrison Atagana told EST FSN that ISTE
currently has 30 students training in ISTE's Masters of Science and
PhD programs. ISTE also conducts short courses for MST teachers
from outside UNISA.

USAID Intervention

15. (U) USAID in Pretoria and Prince George Community College in
Maryland sponsored groups of MST teachers, school administrators,
and subject advisors that traveled to Maryland between 2003 and

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2005. The program trained 134 South African teachers in MST.
Training focused on improving teaching strategies and methodologies,
sharing advanced curriculum development methods, educational
management and administration expertise, and sharing knowledge in
developing and using outcomes-based-education teacher and learner
support materials. A group of South African teachers and education
officials traveled to the U.S. to receive training at high schools,
community colleges and state education departments. This group
gained experience from job-shadowing, on-the-job training,
student-teaching type experiences, and attending MST institutes and
planned workshops and educational seminars. This program was
discontinued due to limited USAID education funding levels.
USAID/South Africa is working with AID/Washington to determine other
options for supporting teacher training in MST through the Africa
Education Initiative.

USAID Registers Progress

16. (SBU) USAID worked with the DOE and the provinces and provided
$22.7 million through the Integrated Education Program (IEP) to
implement a basic education training program in MST, targeting 30
high schools and 82 primary schools in the Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal,
Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape provinces, beginning in 2004 and
ending in 2008. IEP provided short and long-term teacher training
support to improve student MST achievement in primary schools, and
prepared curriculum to close the MST transition gap between primary
and secondary school. Some 24 Limpopo Provincial Education
Department and IEP-funded teachers graduated from the University of
Limpopo with Bachelor of Education degrees in September 2008. The
teachers are qualified to teach high school mathematics, science and
technology at an advanced level.

Successful Private Sector Intervention

17. (SBU) Edumap College CEO Neville Melville told EST FSN that he
decided to conduct his own research after observing the high black
student failure rate in university level engineering studies.
Melville said his survey showed that students from previously
disadvantaged schools had poor communications skills and lacked
training in innovative and practical thinking, problem solving and
conceptualization. With the financial assistance of private company
sponsors, Melville formed Edumap in 1997 to help close these gaps.
Edumap is a one-year teaching and training program to upgrade grade
twelve scores for students who did not pass their matric. The
program provides additional academic tutoring, especially in
accounting, math and science to students from financially and
socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

18. (U) Edumap is also designed to help students gain entry to and
succeed at the university. Students are exposed to high levels of
MST teaching methods from qualified teachers and instructors.
Melville said his students are taught how to handle large amounts of
information and to meet time deadlines. They learn business-life
and computer skills, time management and a work ethic. Melville
said that to date, over 1,200 students have participated in the
Edumap College, and that almost all improved their grade twelve
scores. He added that former students returned to be sponsors for
the new students. According to Melville, his students are better
Qthe new students. According to Melville, his students are better
positioned to compete for financial support because of their
excellent academic scores.

Three-Band Educational System

19. (U) South Africa has three bands of education: General Education
and Training (GET) grades zero to nine (pre-primary); Further
Education and Training (FET) grades ten to twelve (secondary); and
Higher Education and Training (HED) (tertiary). The SAG is focused
on improving MST at the FET level, arguing that this is the point
where students decide whether or not to attend university. MST pass
rate results hovered at 40 percent in the late 1990s, and have
gradually increased to over 68 percent in 2005.

--------------------------------------------- -----
Comment: an Uncertain Future - But All Is Not Lost
--------------------------------------------- -----

20. (U) The SAG has good intentions in attempting to address the
complex MST educational problem. However, the SAG needs to
coordinate with existing private sector programs since many of them

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are more effective than the SAG's and have been operational for much
longer. Private sector program administrators would be willing to
coordinate with the SAG but only if the SAG would be flexible enough
to create a central coordinating body where this can happen, rather
than for the SAG to try and impose its program on the existing
private sector programs. School principals and teachers could also
adopt more proactive attitudes, such as establishing laboratories,
collecting books for libraries and seeking extra MST lessons from
universities. Finally, the DOE can prevent the loss of good
teachers to overseas employment and other domestic professions by
improving remuneration packages, working conditions, and training
resources for teachers.

© Scoop Media

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