Changes coming for science, engineering and technology subjects in South Africa

 ·25 Jan 2023
Blade Nzimande South African Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation

Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande says that South Africa’s universities and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges are ready for the wave of new students entering the system in 2023.

Universities are currently in the process of registering new students, with the overall total enrolments within the public university sector for the 2023 academic year projected to provide over 1.1 million placements.

Notably, Nzimande commended the number of enrolments in critical skill qualifications this year.

In the 2023 academic year, first-time entering enrolments have been projected at 208,299 nationally. Of these, 69,000 enrolments will be within scarce skills areas and have been projected as follows:

  • Engineering: 17,085
  • Life and Physical Science: 17,584
  • Animal Sciences: 985
  • Veterinary Sciences: 209
  • Human Health: 10,418
  • Teacher Education: 22,788

Nzimande said that this was a great achievement from the class of 2022, as a considerable portion of the spaces within scarce skills areas requires a National Senior Certificate (NSC) Mathematics mark of at least 60%.

The national maths mark has become a sore sticking point in the education sector. Nzimande said that in a bid to get even more enrolments in the mathematics, science and technology education (MSTE) sector, his department, along with the Department of Science and Innovation, has developed collaborations with Provincial Departments of Education to support subjects in this field.

This echoes plans laid out by the Department of Basic Education in 2022, where the department outlined strategies to improve participation and performance in MST subjects.

Based on the 2021 matric results, the department noted that only 13.3% of matriculants passed mathematics with the requisite 60% to enter many of these fields. Similar patterns were seen across science, engineering and technology-focused subjects.

It said that the fields are rife with low participation from learners and teachers alike, with low-quality passes and underperformance in maths and science subjects on all levels.

The department is looking to implement what it calls “high impact interventions” to remedy the situation, the least of which is pushing and boosting 4IR-focused subjects like robotics and coding into the curriculum.

Notably, some key strategies the department is looking at is setting up MST directorates and institutes on both a national and provincial level. It is also continuously reviewing the MST curriculum, it said, and “responding to the skills required for 4IR”.

“In this respect, significant developments have been made in the development of a Mathematics Framework which is directed at introducing a balanced and a multi-dimensional approach for the teaching of mathematics in South Africa and which paves the way for creativity, innovation, problem-solving and conceptual understanding in a dynamic classroom setting,” the department said.

This also feeds into new subjects being explored and introduced to the curriculum related to STEM fields.

Some of these include Ocean and Marine Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Coding and Robotics, Biomedical Engineering, Earth and Space Sciences, Earth and Human Sciences and Entrepreneurship.

The department said it will continue to use the National Senior Certificate, Annual National Assessments (grade 3, 6 and 9 For MST Subjects) and International Assessments and Monitoring Tools, including TIMSS and SACMEQ, to monitor the quality of MST subjects in the country.

For teachers, new support programmes are being developed, along with training manuals, to better equip teachers to take charge and teach MST subjects with confidence.

Coordination programmes and partnership programmes with China and Kenya are also on the agenda for early 2023 to support MST training and educaiton.

Read: What it costs to send a child to private vs public school in South Africa

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