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Science and technology are keys to SA’s future

Opinion

Science surrounds us every day. It is important to us. Its technology creates many things we might be hard pressed to live without. Every day we enjoy the many benefits of scientific discovery, technology and commerce. Science makes life easier for all of us.

The important role science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) education has in catalysing state economies and workforce readiness, is generally recognised and certainly well documented. Our challenge as parents, educators, employers, policymakers and individuals who can see our country as it is today, not as it was even a decade or two before, is to imagine what many across the world call Stem learning informed by our current economic and workforce realities.

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Panyaza Lesufi is the Gauteng MEC for Education. File picture: Supplied

Without Stem skills, Gauteng and South African learners are at risk of adding to the population of the jobless who may have degrees, but are unprepared to support a family and contribute to economic growth.

Turn around

That is why the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has a programme and strategy to reorganise schools and turn around what have been historically labour reservoirs into zones of hope, development and transformation. While others around the world call them Stem schools, we at GDE call them Schools of Specialisation because they focus on both the theory and practical learning required in various fields of science learning. As such, they are distinct from normal public schools, because they have a strong technical and vocational content. Learners are given work place exposure and career guidance in their chosen fields to prepare them for the transition to work or pursue higher training.

The first of 27 schools to be refurbished and opened during the next two years is The Curtis Nkondo School of Specialisation in Soweto. It will focus on engineering, mathematics and science, ICT (information communication technology), commerce, entrepreneurship, as well as performing and creative arts and sports.

Of the 27 schools, 11 will be for mathematics, science and ICT; seven for engineering; four for commerce and entrepreneurship; three for performing and creative arts; and two for sports.

The Schools of Specialisation form part of our programme of Reorganisation of Schools to change public education in order to build a single integrated schooling system that overcomes past inequalities. Our aim is to address the critical skills shortage in our country.

The school’s facilities will also be made available to nearby schools. In these schools, learners will be given workplace exposure and career guidance to prepare them for the workplace or institutes of higher learning such as technikons, further education and training institutions, and universities. These schools will increase skills development and help us deliver an empowered Gauteng through transformation, modernisation and re-industrialisation.

Growing importance

Science, technology, engineering, maths and commerce training is not only of growing importance to our technology-dependent society, these disciplines also represent aesthetically compelling advances in human knowledge that all learners should have the opportunity to appreciate. Our journey began in January 2015 when we launched what was dubbed “Classroom of the Future” and “The Paperless Classroom”.

Now we are launching Schools of Specialisation to focus on engineering, maths and science, ICT and commerce and entrepreneurship. Why are we embarking on a strategy to build Schools of Specialisation? In this era of innovation and technology landscape, a country’s strength in science and technology is a definite asset.

A strong command of Schools of Specialisation will put us in good stead when it comes to elevating our Rainbow Nation’s competitiveness. The schools of specialisation are, therefore, an important investment in nation building.

We are cognisant of the fact that the Schools of Specialisation are going to be a journey, a long and arduous one. We should not expect immediate results. We need to implement mechanisms that will eventually lead to the desired outcomes.

The field of Schools of Specialisation include anything related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The field is broad and encompasses many career options. Some are more common and popular, such as engineering, while others are still emerging and being defined. There are also many career paths that can be pursued in the Schools of Specialisation.

Many learners do not realise the potential for pursuing a career in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the future. That is why on the way to our Schools of Specialisation, the GDE is investing R21.2 million for maths, science, technology (MST) resources and R65.1m for learner achievements in support of the MST strategy, which is aimed at further improving the quality of MST teaching and learner performance in both primary and secondary schools in the province.

We know that sometimes learners are unaware of the countless possibilities available to them. The challenge we face then, is showing – not just telling – these students what they can accomplish in tangible terms they can understand.

Real-world applications

We want them to experience and to appreciate first-hand the real-world applications of Schools of Specialisation knowledge.

In educating our students at the elementary level, it is important for us to encourage them to begin thinking about their future. For this activity, students will learn and define the fields of science and technology and explore examples of careers in each of the areas. While we want our learners to achieve, we also want them to find success in fields that inspire them and lead to satisfying careers. This is especially true in science, technology, engineering and maths, commerce and ICT subjects.

As technology becomes an increasingly important part of daily life across all career fields, and the better our learners understand science and technology subjects, the better equipped they will be for any job. We live in a competitive, global economy in which businesses are reliant on an innovative and highly educated workforce.

The Schools of Specialisation, such as Curtis Nkondo, are vital in preparing learners and youth for 21st century jobs in an increasingly high-tech economy.

* Panyaza Lesufi is the Gauteng MEC for Education.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.

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