Johannesburg - Selfless teacher Mavo Solomon is still worried about the state of education in the Eastern Cape, despite leading his Grade 12 classes to 100 percent passes in both maths and science.
The Star reported last year on Solomon’s laudable act of resigning after almost 20 years from a financially rewarding engineering career to teach rural learners maths and science in his home province, the Eastern Cape.
Last year, Solomon taught the problematic subjects at five rural schools in three districts.
Anathi Mazamisa of Nkwanca High School in Queenstown is one of the pupils who was tutored by Solomon.
Anathi attained seven distinctions last year, including full marks for maths and physical science, and is studying mechatronic engineering at UCT this year.
Solomon said the star learner achieved the level of success because he constantly applied himself, even after lessons had ended at school.
Solomon said the toughest part of his job was to remove the obstacle in the minds of pupils that maths and science were difficult subjects to learn.
“It’s hard to tell the learners: ‘You know, I’m just like you; I’m no genius and I didn’t do exceptionally well at school'."
He said he'll teach the pupils something today, and test the same thing tomorrow to see how many get it right.
"None will get 100 percent, maybe the highest will be 50 percent. And the only reason they didn’t get it right is because they didn’t go home and look through it and master it,” he pointed out.
What makes Solomon’s selfless sacrifice more astonishing is that he has a BSc degree in maths and science; a BSc in mechanical engineering; and a master’s in engineering from the University of Cape Town.
The Eastern Cape fared poorly compared to the other provinces again last year, attaining a 65 percent matric pass rate - 10 percentage points below the national average.
Only 42 percent of the province’s pupils who wrote pure maths passed the subject, whereas 57.3 percent of learners passed physical science, according to the Eastern Cape's Education MEC Mandla Makupula.
In total, 43 981 out of 67 648 pupils who wrote matric in 2017 passed, the MEC said.
This is what pains Solomon, who provided a breakdown of the schools he taught and how they performed last year.
Altogether, Solomon taught 220 learners maths, and only 80 passed - representing a pass rate of just over 36 percent.
This was according to a spreadsheet he compiled from information he received from the province’s education department.
Solomon believed that the rural schools where he taught were “a good representative sample of the state of schooling in the Eastern Cape, especially in the villages”.
“Maybe the former Model C schools have done better; in fact they certainly have done better, they always do better,” he pointed out.
Explaining how he split his time between schools in far-flung regions of the vast province, Solomon said he “ideally” wanted to spend about two weeks at a time at a school in order to help the learners finish the year’s syllabus.
“The idea is to spend two weeks at a school, where I teach the entire syllabus. This is the entire maths syllabus, including the science syllabus if I have to, in two weeks.
“It’s only 10 topics in maths, which is not a lot. I know we have been made to think that it's a lot of information, but it’s not because the concepts are interlinked,” Solomon contended.
“The learners have been learning this information since Grade 9, so in Grade 12 it’s about adding new pieces of information in algebra, which they have learnt before. So it’s not too much information, which is why I can teach it in two weeks.”
On funding, he said he only required R360 for every child he taught per term, adding that he earned no money from giving up his time to rural children.
Solomon said people on social media platforms were kind in their donations to him, which helped him travel to these remote areas in his car.
Following The Star’s article last year, Solomon said communications firm Neotel Liquid Telecom, through its representative Thapelo Makotanyane, gave him a donation of about R250 000, which helped him to provide the valuable service, which includes feeding his learners.
“I buy stuff for the kids; I buy them calculators, rulers and so on. These are the things that one would expect kids to have. But when I get there, in a class of 20 pupils, there are no calculators that work.
“I also feed the learners when we have classes during the school holidays, because most of the schools have feeding schemes, but they're mostly closed then.”
Solomon said he would continue teaching pupils this year and take on more schools, emphasising that the children needed him there.