As a South African youth, we are raised from an early age to fear God, supernatural beings such as the tokoloshe, and, oddly – mathematics and science. The number of children that turn out proficient in these subjects is alarming, to say the least. The number of people who become professionals in careers based in these subjects is very low, and leaves our education system and society wanting.

Does the error lie with the parents, whose task it is from infancy to play entertaining language and numeracy games with their children? Or does it lie with the schools they consequently attend well into their adolescence? Or is the calamity the sum total of the aforementioned, in collaboration with the individual – whose chief task it is to remain curious and undeterred from their goals?

We can wring our hands in despair at the misfortune, but it doesn’t change the devastating fact that most of our youth is unemployed, and yet there is a lack of skills which industries highly require. Sadly, some young people with potential – talented enough to become pioneers, disruptors, and academics – never attain funding or sponsorship. And another sad fact is that many qualified maths and science professionals emigrate for better opportunities elsewhere, due to being underpaid.

I believe that the lack of insightful South African based science and technology television shows is also a driving force in the lack of interest in the youth towards these subjects. We don’t have the Carl Sagans and Neil Tyson Degrasses sparking the interest of the general public into science. The lack of laboratories, textbooks and proper equipment due to misplaced funds and corruption is also key in the lack of interest – Teachers cannot carry out experiments, and thus fail to ignite a burning desire in disadvantaged pupils. This means too that many teachers become uncommitted, demotivated.

So most young people grow up fearful of maths and science. Statistically, our performances in both subjects are appalling. And so, in effect, we are failing to participate in the fourth industrial revolution- as we have failed to do so in the past. This is a cry for help, given that our economy is fairly active in contrast to most countries. We should be pioneers in the tech industry, and disrupting others, not lagging behind.
From an early age, we shine with ambition, embracing our future prospects as doctors and scientists- saving and improving lives at the tips of our imagination. But as we get older we all want to go into entertainment. Our interest in science and maths falls by the wayside.

Maybe if we begin hiring dedicated teachers we could improve. Maybe if parents stopped shunning and turning away their kids during dinner when they are asking to be helped with their homework, and instead started making an effort in finding out what could help their children – maybe this would boost the coming crop to cultivate their skills. Maybe if we start science and technology workshops – funded by the government and private entities that focus on developing these subjects – and mentoring interested youngsters, then we would have a better future. Maybe if we start broadcasting television shows that celebrate scientific and technological endeavors of the day on SABC more of the youth would take an interest in these otherwise ‘boring’ subjects. Maybe, just maybe, if we invest more in our youth, we won’t be so behind in the upcoming tech revolutions. Then we could learn to be a global player and satisfy our own economy, instead of being spectators, watching by the sidelines while the world happens to us.


Tell us: what can be done to improve South African learners maths and science results?