Education

Air force's matric rescue squad increased pass rate in two provinces

Engineers and technicians teach maths and science

12 January 2020 - 00:00 By PREGA GOVENDER
Members of the South African Air Force taught pupils maths and science for two weeks at a study camp in KwaZulu-Natal's Amajuba district.
Members of the South African Air Force taught pupils maths and science for two weeks at a study camp in KwaZulu-Natal's Amajuba district.
Image: Ntando Nsusha

Calling in the South African Air Force to teach, live-streaming lessons to pupils in rural schools and calling truant teachers to order, helped KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape recover from matric despair.

As a result of these and other interventions, the Eastern Cape — perennially the worst-performing province — increased its pass rate by 5.9 percentage points, from 70.6% in 2018 to 76.5%. KwaZulu-Natal’s pass rate improved from 76.2% to 81.3% — identical to the national average.

Limpopo was bottom of the 2019 pile, with a pass rate of 73.2%, while the Free State topped the list with 88.4%.

KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Kwazi Mshengu told the Sunday Times how members of the SAAF, including engineers, technicians and aviation experts, spent two weeks teaching maths and science to about 400 matrics from the Amajuba district.

“It was a wonderful programme, which was one of our game-changers,” he said.

In true military tradition, pupils were woken at 5am to start classes at 6am. Between lessons, they had to do physical exercise and participate in drills, and they were taught about patriotism.

“Strict discipline was enforced and the camp was run with military precision. Learners who went there will never be the same again,” said Mshengu.

“Strict discipline was enforced and the camp was run with military precision. Learners who went there will never be the same again,”
KwaZulu-Natal education MEC Kwazi Mshengu

Amajuba was placed second among the 12 districts in KwaZulu-Natal, with a pass rate of 85.2%, and Mshengu said thanks were due to the chief of the SAAF, Lt-Gen Fabian Msimang, who visited the study camp.

Other initiatives implemented in KwaZulu-Natal included:

  • Teacher-training workshops focusing on classroom techniques, lesson preparation and professional development.
  • Twinning 60 under-performing schools with 60 top performers so that best practices could be shared.
  • Live-streaming lessons conducted by a specialist teacher in a subject to about 15 rural schools.

This year, the department is teaming up with the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Durban University of Technology to stream lessons to rural schools.

Mshengu said district directors would conduct an audit to find out how many schools were not offering the so-called gateway subjects, which include maths, physical science, accounting and economics.

“A clear instruction was given to all schools to offer the gateway subjects, and those that took the decision not to offer some of them were instructed to reverse that decision from this year onwards,” he said.

“In a quest to chase a 100% pass rate, some of [KwaZulu-Natal’s 1,762 high schools] did away with the majority of the gateway subjects because they say that it’s difficult.”

The number of schools at which not a single pupil passed matric dropped from six in 2018 to three last year. “We are determined at the end of this year not to have any school sitting at 0%,” said Mshengu.

His counterpart in the Eastern Cape, Fundile Gade, said getting teacher unions to agree that departmental and union workshops should be conducted over weekends and holidays instead of during class time had helped to improve matric results.

A total number of 400 learners from several schools attended the programme which included physical exercise and drills.
A total number of 400 learners from several schools attended the programme which included physical exercise and drills.
Image: Ntando Nsusha

Gade said basic education minister Angie Motshekga had identified the Eastern Cape a year ago as having an average of 5,000 teachers absent from school daily. “We reduced that number last year and tried to ensure all teachers were at school and that school managers were managing schools. The outcome reflects the commitment of teachers.”

Asked if there were any plans to remove under-performing principals, Gade said a decision would be taken after a close assessment of exam results. “We surprised everybody this year by having no 0% schools.”

His department would accommodate all grade 12 progressed learners, about 5,000 of them, in under-used hostels in the Sarah Baartman district and East London this year.

“Even if it costs us millions of rands, we are prepared to bite the bullet,” he said. “We want to create a centre with specialised teachers to deal with progressed learners so that they are part of the glory of the matric class of 2020.”

From this year, Eastern Cape matrics will be able to use their smartphones to access the curriculum in all subjects, as well as past question papers.

The province will also write itself into the history books with 368 matrics from Cofimvaba set to write maths and physical science in Xhosa and Sotho.

Limpopo education department spokesperson Sam Makondo said the principals of 492 schools with a pass rate below 65% would be asked to submit turnaround plans. “This year we will be tracking learner performance … every quarter,” he said.


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