Science and maths success in township schools

The learners say that the centre has instilled in them a passion for science. All photos by Mzi Velapi

Amidst the shambles of many public schools in South Africa today, a story of success in the teaching and learning of science and maths.

Kutlwanong Centre for Mathematics and Science in Philippi continues to improve the pass rate of township schools in Cape Town. With the aim of promoting the study of these subjects in township schools, the centre has managed over the past years to produce top learners who manage to get into universities.

Kutlwanong’s origins go back to 2005, to one centre in Soweto, Gauteng, with just 140 matric students. It has expanded over the years to several provinces in the country and assists with other grades as well. In 2013, Kutlwanong was introduced in the Western Cape and started out in Sinethemba High School in Philippi with 10 anchor schools in the surrounding area. It currently involves 30 educators from the anchor schools.

Nelson Poopedi, the centre manager and school principal at Sinethemba, said that initially the plan was to take 150 learners per class with 15 from each grade starting from grades 10, 11 and 12, but because of the increasing number of learners showing interest in the programme, they have had to decrease that number to make space and accommodate other schools.

“We have about 18 schools that have learners coming here on weekends but the anchor schools remain the ones surrounding Philippi.”

Learning in a time of Covid

During the pandemic, the programme had to adapt to online learning where the educators could support learners any time of the day with no restrictions.

“During the lockdown there were challenges but they later became an advantage as all educators throughout the provinces got to meet through the online platform when preparing for class and had discussions, and shockingly the pass rate increased regardless of the turmoil the country was in,” said Poopedi.

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Oyama, Emihle and Iviwe from schools in Phillipi are part of the Kutlwanong Centre.

Oyama Somntumani (18), a grade 12 learner from Ntsebenziswano High School said that during the hard lockdown they did not manage to complete the syllabus but with the online classes from Kutlwanong they managed to finish the syllabus on time.

All the learners who spoke to Elitsha lauded Kutlwanong for assisting them with their marks and instilling passion for the subjects. They expressed interest in pursuing science-related studies post matric. “The programme has helped a lot of students reach their potential; my marks improved from level 5s to 6 and I have applied for Medicine at Stellenbosch university,” said Emihle Mthotyelwa, (18) from Phandulwazi High School, one of the anchor schools of Kutlwanong.

Iviwe Ntlangwini said the centre gave him a boost in his academics and his aim now is getting 100% in his final maths exam.

Bhekisizwe Manzi, a maths teacher at Ntlanginiso High school in Khayelitsha, said that the quality of education in Western Cape townships over the past years has improved drastically as the programme is intensive and necessitates students dedicating their weekends to it and it pays off. “It is not only developmental to learners who are part of the programme but they do peer teaching in their schools. It is also developmental to us educators as we get to share information with each other nationally.”

Kutlwanong alumnus, Siyasanga Magamle (22) joined the programme in 2015 when she was doing grade 10 and stayed with it until the end of high school. She pursued a degree in agricultural science and graduated with honours at the University of Fort Hare.

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