The lack of capable, equipped and skilled maths and science teachers in South African schools is a huge concern, and one that the Vula Programme has once again addressed this year by providing schools with focused in-service training using up-to-date-technologies, innovative teaching methods and experienced facilitators. The Vula Mathematics Academy (VuMA) has had 132 teachers attend since 2014, and together these teachers have gone on to teach their new learnings to more than 25 000 pupils in the province. In 2017 the average pass rate for VuMa schools was 46%, compared with 41% for non-VuMa schools, and the percentage of quality passes was 10% for VuMA schools, compared with 7% for non-VuMA schools according to an independent study done by Dr Sharon Grussendorff.
The Vula Programme, based in KwaZulu-Natal, is a beneficiary project of the Datatec Education and Technology Foundation, which was established in 2001 to fund non-profit organisations providing professional development to teachers as well as organisations at secondary-school level, focused on improving results in mathematics, science and English. The Programme interacts with teachers from eight of the thirteen educational districts in KwaZulu-Natal, helping to improve the teaching of mathematics and physical science.
South Africa has a significant skills shortage in engineering and information technology (IT), which consistently show up as the most in-demand skills on the country’s jobs portals. The two key subjects for any engineering- or IT-related degree are mathematics and physical science, with maths being compulsory in both fields. Datatec, a Johannesburg-based multinational information and communications technology (ICT) solutions and services group, recognises that education is the basis on which a successful economy is built, which is why it funds educational organisations serving underprivileged communities across the country through its Datatec Educational and Technology Foundation. “In this way, Datatec gives back to the country and the economy that fostered its initial growth,” notes Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu, chairperson of the Datatec Foundation.
The Vula Programme was started in 2001 by the Hiltonian Society, which owns prestigious independent boys’ school Hilton College in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal, and has gained a reputation for providing relevant, meaningful and cost-effective educational interventions and development opportunities for its beneficiaries. “Through the wonderfully generous support of Datatec in 1999/2000, a far-reaching decision was taken to establish a mathematics/science/technology outreach programme based in the then still to be constructed Centre for Innovation at Hilton College,” explains Lloyd Smuts, the Programme’s director of outreach. “The Vula Programme was established to become a service provider to underresourced schools and disadvantaged communities in the region, and we’re continually grateful for the financial support we’ve received from Datatec over the last two decades.”
VuMA was created to communicate new and exciting ways to teach maths for teachers from rural and township communities. “It has been truly inspiring to see the enthusiasm and dedication by all the teachers that participate in the programme, notes Smuts. This year, VuMA ran two successful programmes that reached 28 teachers in total.
The Vula Science Project (the second major component of the Vula Programme) mentors, trains and supports a group of more than 60 Science teachers in the greater Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. This intervention is aimed at increasing the skills and confidence of the teachers, particularly with regard to the teaching of the practical work (experiments) required by the syllabus. In support of this, the project also provided Grade 12 study guides to 500 learners and teachers, and loaned science equipment to twenty schools. “Physical science is a subject that needs teaching equipment and resources, which in most rural schools do not exist,” explains Nkuhlu. “The Vula Programme gives these teachers the support they need to provide the best teaching to their pupils.”
“Teachers face many challenges, from lack of support from their schools and basic equipment to teach what they’ve learnt in the Vula Programme, to vandalism,” says Smuts. This is why the Vula Programme’s dedicated facilitators continually visit teachers in rural areas who have gone through its programmes to provide them with additional support and resources, from laptops to educational posters.