At the opening of the mobile laboratory, at Waverley girls high school, in Johannesburg, keynote speaker Professor Fred Hugo said that there was a need in South Africa to improve the mathematics and science skills of learners through a partnership to empower people in mathematics and science. South Africa has had poor matric pass rates in the recent past, par- ticularly in physical science and mathematics.
Hugo noted that in a country such as China, there was greater emphasis on mathematics and science and, hence, many people pursued careers in engineering . He said that a greater understanding of mathematics and science would provide more options in the skills pipeline in the country.
Hugo noted that while students often had theoretical knowledge, they lacked practical understanding, with some only exposed to rural settings. He, therefore, emphasised the need to bridge the gap between the rural world and the technological world. He added that the mobile laboratory allowed for more scientific applications and access, and reduced travel.
Multidisciplined civil engineering and building company WHBO Construction is sponsoring the mobile laboratory. WHBO road and earthworks group MD Kobie Botha said that the skills shortage in South Africa was the major reason why WBHO became involved in the project.
“We are well aware of the skills shortage in our country and in our industry. Therefore, we have joined hands with Trac SA to ensure that a new breed of students is coming through the ranks into our field, which is dominated by a thorough knowledge of mathematics and science.
“We are especially proud that we are sponsoring a mobile laboratory that goes out to previously disadvantaged communities to teach and unearth great talent for the future,” he said.
Hugo also emphasised that a collective effort was vital in overcoming the skills shortage.
“The world has become a global village, and the village is finding that there is a shortage of skills. There is, therefore, an opportunity to take advantage of the scarcity in skills, and we will only solve this problem in South Africa through a collective effort,” he said.
The ultimate goal of the programme is to enable and encourage learners to enter careers in science, engineering and technology. In 2006, about 68 000 learners throughout South Africa were exposed to the programme. Last year, 124 000 learners and 2 831 teachers were trained by Trac SA. The programme relies on industrial and commercial partnerships for the funding of specific projects.
Trac SA supplies physical science intervention to secondary school learners in urban and rural schools. In February this year, Trac SA launched its first fixed Gauteng South regional laboratory at Observatory, in Johannesburg, where it provided practical training, using state-of-the art technology, to schools within reach. From this base, it sends these mobile labo- ratory units, manned by teachers, for practical learner education, teacher training, as well as vocational guidance, to schools where resources are limited or lacking.