Irrespective of the considerable amount of money invested in the South African education system, engineering consultancy WSP Africa people, culture and engagement head Elaine Porter, states that the number of high school graduates with good results in higher-grade mathematics and science is not sufficient to meet the demand for university-level technical qualifications.
“Mathematics and science are not easy subjects, and are often not chosen as matric subjects because learners are not aware of where these subjects can be applied to open up a career after school,” she explains.
When reviewing the tertiary education statistics of the last 25 years, Porter notes that there has been a massive increase in university graduates, but not a substantial increase in students graduating in ‘professional’ degree areas, namely chartered accountants, engineers, lawyers and doctors.
Porter says these statistics can be improved through several measures.
“Mathematical and science abilities are not something that a student can suddenly learn from grade ten onwards without the necessary foundations in analytical skills. An intervention at foundation phase level is required, as the building blocks for a career in technical and scientific fields are put in place and built on from here,” she explains.
She suggests that parents and teachers support and teach children the importance of these subjects and help them to develop the analytical skills to be successful in these subjects.
Porter further stresses that teachers also require support to help students with these subjects, as over-full classrooms make it difficult for them to teach these subjects.
“The responsibility to improve overall education, however, does not lie only with the Department of Basic Education. There is a lot of room and available opportunities for corporate companies to get involved and help support the development of skills, especially in mathematics and science,” she points out.
This can be accomplished by providing tuition after school or providing homework support, something WSP has been doing in funding after-school programmes with the likes of childcare agency Jo’burg Child Welfare.
WSP has further grasped this opportunity for educational improvement by providing bursaries and learnerships, as well as vacation work, for up to 15 university students as well as about 30 internal bursaries for staff.
The bursaries and vacation work are mainly focused on qualifications that support WSP’s core business – engineering and science – and also from which it can potentially recruit permanently, says Porter.
“The learnerships are, however, across the board – they may be in human resources, marketing or even business administration,” she explains, adding that WSP tries to provide as many on-the-job opportunities as possible.