Maths & science pilot pays off for Phelokazi

MAY 11, 2016

Phelokazi Nguqu, 18, is studying medicine at the University of Cape Town. It’s a dream come true for the rural Eastern Cape matriculant – and one she attributes to a unique learning opportunity she received last year.

The Dimbaza youngster’s maths marks climbed from 76% in Grade 11 to 86% in her matric finals, while her science marks shot up from 65% to 92% – a result of her being selected to attend a pioneering teen-orientated, technology-linked pilot programme, covering the entire maths and science syllabus from Grade 10 to 12. The programme is this year being rolled out in a number of districts of the Eastern Cape. 

Nguqu was one of 68 learners from Richard Varha High – and one of about 500 learners from 18 schools in the King William’s Town district – selected to participate in the pilot Tablet-assisted After-school Peer Support Programme (TAPS), run last year by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Unit, in partnership with Old Mutual.

The TAPS programme is the latest development to emerge out of GMMDU’s innovative and comprehensive technology-linked teaching and learning model – which has led to Saturday incubator schools and a school-based, desktop support model for learners, as well as laptop-based skills training for teachers. The tablet, desktop and laptop models are all pre-installed with an innovative digital support package. GMMDU has spent the past five years developing the different models.

“TAPS is the most sustainable programme we have yet developed – and one that could make a difference at disadvantaged schools throughout the Eastern Cape,” said GMMDU head Prof Werner Olivier.

So far this year, the TAPS programme has seen almost 1000 tablets distributed to Grade 10 to 12 learners with potential in over 60 schools in the King William’s Town, Somerset East, Queenstown and Port Elizabeth areas.

“You could say the TAPS programme helped me get into medicine,” said Nguqu, who attained six distinctions in matric, and was the top learner in the King William’s Town district. “If you look at my Grade 11 marks, I was nowhere close to what I got in Grade 12 … Everyone knows it’s not easy getting into medicine.”

Nguqu said the video lessons (which formed part of the mathematics support package on the tablet), in particular, clarified many areas she was struggling with in the classroom. “Some topics were difficult, and even though the teacher kept on explaining and explaining, I still didn’t get it. With the tablet, I could keep going back to the explanations, and it really helped.”

 “The model has been designed to assist learners at disadvantaged schools, where there are many challenges … Often, there are disruptions to teaching, a lack of capacity, or teachers themselves struggle with core areas of the curriculum,” said Olivier.

“TAPS can help, particularly in cases where there are no maths and science teachers at all.”

How TAPS works is that selected learners meet after school, in groups with their peers. A teacher from the school (or a retired teacher from the community) facilitates the programme.

Each learner on the programme receives a tablet, containing the technology-linked teaching and learning model, which has been put together in a user-friendly package called TouchTutorTM.

TouchTutorTM includes video lessons, animated PowerPoint presentations, digital interactive software (e.g. Geogebra), all fully aligned with the CAPS curriculum for Grade 10 to 12. It also includes self-assessment and feedback, interactive language support (in isiXhosa, English and Afrikaans), past matric papers for revision and even career guidance. The entire package is offline which ensures learner access anywhere and anytime.

Learners can work through the material on the tablets on their own, but at the TAPS session, they engage with their peers and receive topic-specific guidance via structured TAPS guides and from a knowledgeable person, in line with the school curriculum.

“This whole model seeks to empower the learners to engage in self-directed learning and provide a very strong support for not only conceptual content gaps learners may have, but also the gaps left in teaching in the classroom. We know not all topics are covered. Some teachers don’t finish the curriculum in time,” said Olivier.

GMMDU has been assisting Maths and Science pupils for the last eight years, in the hopes of boosting their matric marks to enable more learners to get into university.

One of Nguqu’s classmates, Simnikiwe Mbanga, 18, saw his marks improve from 92% to 95% for maths, and from 76% to 93% for science. He achieved four distinctions and is now studying towards a BSc degree (Applied Mathematics and Statistics) at the University of Cape Town, with a view to a career in Actuarial Science.

Olivier said the TAPS pilot project had made a “noticeable impact” in a very short time.

“Many learners who otherwise would not have qualified for access to Higher Education Institutions have also benefited from the model.”