In a recent issue of AMESA NEWS there was a report on the submission made to the Council of Education Ministers by the Mathematics Education Community – a submission in which AMESA played a significant role. This submission, as well as many other factors contributed to the Minister of Education calling for the development of an intervention strategy to improve Mathematics, Science and Technology education. In July some 40 people (including AMESA representation) met in Pretoria to consider a first draft of such a strategy. After a weekend’s hard work and considered contributions by those involved the draft strategy was refined. From 11 to 13 September a larger consultative conference was hosted in Johannesburg to further develop and refine the strategy. All of the AMESA regional representatives were invited to attend the conference and five were able to do so. The Conference was characterized by hard work and much debate. The strategy will be published in the next issue of AMESA News after the Council of Education Ministers has approved it. In the mean time the press release issued by Prof Michael Kahn on the conclusion of the conference appears below.

Press release issued at the conclusion of the conference

The Consultative Conference that was called to consider interventions to improve science, mathematics and technology education yesterday concluded its business with the adoption of a Draft Strategy. The Conference brought together two hundred delegates from among the national Department of Education, provincial education departments, the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, schools, colleges, universities, teacher unions, organised labour, Science Councils, NGOs, associations and industry.

In his opening remarks the Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, emphasized the commitment of the Department of Education not only to achieving improved performance in science and mathematics, but also to ensuring that a relevant curriculum was in place. He reminded delegates of the need for effective use of existing resources and pointed out that ‘to win additional resources would require a carefully motivated case.’ Delegates would therefore have to apply their minds to finding creative and innovative solutions to the problems at hand, he concluded.

Conference noted that achieving desired change would require constructive partnerships among Departments across Government, with NGOs, higher education institutions, teacher unions and organisations, independent schools, and industry. Educators, support services and managers are central to the process, and themselves require the necessary tools of trade. Their commitment, training and continuous development remain key success factors. Appropriate infrastructure would need to be in place to meet new demand, and this would include stepwise rollout of information and communication technologies. Clear educational purpose and value should underpin such rollout.

The Draft Strategy runs along three parallel thrusts: attending to immediate improvement, working toward the intended examinations for both the General and Further Education and Training Certificates, and human resource development. A set of indicators and targets is being laid down against these major thrusts so that all stakeholders will be able to monitor progress. While being encouraged by the increasing numbers taking Senior Certificate Physical Science and Mathematics, it is clear that efforts coordinated at school level involving educators, learners and other education providers, will be needed to boost learning and performance. Various ways of effecting this for grades 10 to 12 are being considered, and could entail working together with NGOs, higher education institutions, and better resourced government and independent schools.

Targets to increase the number of students from previously disadvantaged communities that enroll for higher-grade subjects and perform well will be set. Such targeting would be part of school-focused support. Particular attention will be given to the matter of girls’ participation and performance, which is presently below that of the boys. The question of medium of instruction, numeracy, literacy and acquisition of science process skills will receive high priority. The development of the National Curriculum Statements presents an opportunity to highlight the drive toward non-racism, non-sexism and a curriculum that embraces indigenous knowledge systems.

Dr. Ben Ngubane, the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology addressed the Conference on its first working day and gave particular stress to matters concerning personal and environmental health. Science teachers were frequently called upon to provide health and sex education, and needed adequate preparation to fulfill this role, he noted.

The Conference was co-organised with the National Science and Technology Forum and the National Research Foundation.

In his closing remarks, Deputy Minister of Education Father Smangaliso Mkhatswa emphasized the importance of understanding the implications of the information and communication technologies. ‘We must not be marginalised’, he warned. The so-called ‘digital divide’ was not simply a question of possession or the new technologies, it turned upon how these were used and extended.

The Draft Strategy will now be finalised in the Department of Education, after which it will be submitted to the Council of Education Ministers for approval.

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