NMMU and Telkom Foundation launch R3m Bay maths project


The Telkom Foundation – Telkom’s Corporate Social Investment arm – is pouring R3 million into a three-year technology-linked maths project, to boost the results of learners in 10 under-resourced high schools in Nelson Mandela Bay.

The project, which was formally launched on 7 September, is run in partnership with Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Unit. It is already in full swing at the 10 high schools, which include Cillie, Douglas Mbopa, Gelvandale, Khwezi Lomso, Ndyebo, Ndzondelelo, St Thomas and Woolhope, in Port Elizabeth, and Uitenhage schools, Solomon Mahlangu and Uitenhage High.

Learners say the innovative maths programme is already making a difference. “Most of the chapters which I used to struggle doing have become more understandable,” said Woolhope Grade 12 pupil Madodandile Soyiki.

“It helped me a lot in studying and it inspired me to do my schoolwork because I have everything I need,” said Solomon Mahlangu Grade 11 pupil Muziwandile Thubane.

At the heart of the project is GMMDU’s pioneering technology-linked teaching and learning model, which, for learners at the project schools, has led to Saturday incubator schools, a Tablet-assisted After-school Peer Support (TAPS) programme and a school-based resource centre, with desktop computers. For teachers, there is laptop-based skills training and a professional learning community programme. The tablet, desktop and laptop models are all pre-installed with an offline curriculum-aligned maths and science support package called TouchTutorTM.

The Integrated TouchTutorTM Support Programme (ITSP), as it is known, is the brainchild of GMMDU head Prof Werner Olivier, who has deliberately adopted a high-tech approach that is “in harmony with the challenging educational environment in the majority of South African schools”, and aims to “get teachers and learners excited about maths and science”.

“The aim is to assist teachers to deliver the mathematics curriculum effectively and to nurture learners with potential for access and success at higher education level.”

Through the course of this year, GMMDU has successfully implemented similar ITSP programmes in more than 50 schools in several districts of the Eastern Cape.

TouchTutorTM is fully-aligned with the CAPS curriculum for maths and science, for Grades 10 to 12 – and includes video lessons, animated PowerPoint presentations, digital interactive mathematics software such as GeoGebra, self-assessment and feedback, interactive language support (in six indigenous languages), past matric papers with memorandums and more – to give academically-talented learners a chance to improve their results, in schools where there are many challenges, among them a lack of resources, large numbers of learners in the classroom, a lack of staff capacity or teachers themselves who struggle with core areas of the curriculum.

The Northern Area schools, in particular, are still playing catch-up after community protests – sparked by last year’s poor provincial and citywide matric results – led to their being closed for almost a month at the start of the school year.

In the Telkom Foundation programme, selected learners in Grades 11 and 12 participate in the incubator school programme, run at NMMU’s Missionvale Campus on Saturday mornings, and focusing on both maths and science. These learners each receive a tablet, which is for use out of school hours as a “personal tutor”.

Then, a different selection of learners participates in the school-based TAPS programme, run by teachers at the respective schools for one afternoon in the school week, and focusing only on maths. “We are looking to expand this to include science in the future,” said GMMDU Project Coordinator Natalie Wood, a former Woolhope teacher.

The participating teachers receive training on how to use TouchTutorTM as a teaching resource for the classroom, to complement what is already being taught. “Each teacher has received a laptop and TouchTutor package and each school has received a projector,” said Wood.

The desktop programme, which has seen each school receiving two desktop computers loaded with the TouchTutorTM package, is for use by any Grade 10 or 12 pupils. “The aim is to establish a TouchTutorTM maths and science resource centre at each of the schools, with a further two computers added each year.”

Nathi Kunene, Telkom Foundation’s Senior Manager: CSI, said the Foundation’s primary focus was education.

“When you look at how you can change society, education becomes the most important lever to drive socio-economic development.”

He said the Foundation’s involvement in the Bay maths project was a way of enabling more learners to be equipped with critical skills and to access ICT careers. “It’s very important for us to create an ICT industry skills pool as well as contribute to addressing critical skills in the country.”

The Telkom Foundation, as part of its integrated plan, will also be engaging with each of the 10 schools to pinpoint socio-economic challenges that may be affecting learners’ performance (e.g. child-headed households), and will then identify possible long- and short-term interventions and partnerships.