By Busisiwe Maqubela
More girls are in school today than ever before, but they are particularly under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and related careers.
Over the last 20 years, the Association for Educational Transformation (ASSET) has developed proven models in education that have delivered long-lasting results for learners from previously disadvantaged communities in the Western Cape, ensuring they can enjoy equal access to higher education and the world of work.
ASSET has contributed to the development of thousands of learners in four partner schools in Kraaifontein, in the Wallacedene area situated in the Metro East Educational District (MEED) and Milnerton, in the Joe Slovo area located in the Metro North Education District (MNED) of the Western Cape.
I have been the Executive Director at ASSET for the past 5 years and am supported by an excellent team who has made outstanding progress in some instances and modest in others, working in an economically depressed area on the fringes of informal settlements.
The learners who attend the ASSET programmes are top achievers at their schools, boasting an 8% above the provincial and national averages. In addition, ASSET’s partnership with the robotics team at Sinenjongo High School contributed to their winning the National Lego Championships.
Since 1994, South Africa has made great strides in realizing the right to education. Still, despite some progress in this area, poverty and inequality remain harsh determinants, preventing many children, especially girls, from accessing the quality basic education they need.
ASSET remains at the forefront in addressing some of these challenges and recognizes the pressing need to develop the digital skills of female learners at less advantaged schools.
We aim to make mathematics and science exciting and encourage learners to follow mathematics and science-based careers. ASSET programmes are designed to provide a basic foundation for active participation in building a future world.
We run two programmes, the Grade 8-11 Mathematics and Science Programme encompassing extensive enrichment activity in mathematics and science. The programme caters for 600 learners selected from our partner schools.
The second programme, the Grade 12 Learner Development Programme (LDP), is an initiative very close to our hearts to prepare learners for the final Mathematics, Physical Science, Life Science, Geography, Accounting, Economics and Mathematics Literacy examinations to facilitate acceptance into tertiary education institutions. The programme caters for 600+ learners from partner schools and focuses on closing the gap between traditional classroom lessons and the learning needs of students from under-resourced backgrounds. Our LDP offers students opportunities to explore new subjects, engage in hands-on learning experiences, and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
For both programmes, suitably qualified ASSET tutors run sessions on identified Saturdays, and we equip learners with stationery, subject-supporting learning materials and a full hot meal every Saturday.
There is a massive focus on mental preparedness, primarily for grade 11 and 12 learners through career awareness – mentorship and role modelling sessions. An additional enhancement to learning is done through our holiday camps, revision workshops, winter and spring schools programme.
Despite the gender disparities between men and women in STEM fields, we realise that the scope is enormous. Still, we remain committed alongside the inspirational teachers, tutors and principals who do their best with the limited resources they have to continue empowering young women through education and STEM careers and unleash the vast potential we see in the youth of the country.