Owing to a lack of welders, technicians and fitters, nonprofit organisation TEACH South Africa believes that nurturing pupils’ skills in mathematics, science and English in primary and secondary schools could significantly help to address the challenges in the engineering sector.
TEACH executive director and cofounder Richard Masemola points out that, in 2004, when South Africa celebrated ten years of democracy, the country’s accelerated skills growth initiative at the time was intended to deal with the lack of skills across industries and the mismatch of skills.
He also points out that, apart from fewer learners entering engineering-related fields, owing to their low marks, research conducted by the Centre for Development and Enterprise shows that a large number of teachers are older than 50 and are, therefore, approaching retirement age.With only a few young teachers replacing them, the attrition rate is high.
He emphasises that, if this is not addressed, proficiency in mathematics and science by the time learners reach matric will not improve and, if this anomaly continues, it will not be possible to channel more learners into university and colleges to enrol for mathematics- and science-related subjects.
“If we fast-track another ten years, we are still faced with the same challenges. Therefore, our organisation deems it very important to recruit engineers to infiltrate schools and become the young teachers who remain in education . . . and [ensure that] skills [are] transferred continuously.”
Masemola asserts that, as a result of the concerns regarding the lack of teachers, TEACH recruits, trains, places and supports top-performing university graduates in the engineering gateway subjects to teach and lead, as what is known as TEACH ambassadors, for a two-year period in underresourced schools across South Africa.
He notes that the graduates are encouraged to pursue a career in education and complete a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE), which is facilitated during their teaching engagement.
“Once the graduates have been placed in primary or secondary schools, they have to register with distance learning institutions like the University of South Africa. They are at the schools for two years as academic graduates, but, in the two years, we raise funding from the private sector to fund their bursaries to study towards a PGCE,” he notes.
He highlights that, at the end of the certificate course, some of the graduates remain, owing to the passion they have developed for teaching, while others return to the engineering industry to progress their initially chosen profession.
“Over 50% of our TEACH ambassadors remain in teaching after the two years. Some have become school leaders and principals,” he points out.
Through this process, the matric pupils benefit and the organisation addresses the challenge of a lack of teachers.
“TEACH is striving to provide a service that contributes to the growth of South Africa; therefore, we are not handing out a teaching qualification packed with short courses – we are equipping individuals to share their knowledge and make a difference in the education sector. We are currently visiting universities around the country and call on all young graduate leaders who are passionate about developing South Africa to apply to become a TEACH ambassador in 2017,” he concludes.