Young South Africans are in poll position to take advantage of new opportunities in the country’s science and technology space but will lose out if they don’t excel in Mathematics and Science.

This according Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor. who addressed the Velabahleke High School, matric awards ceremony in Umlazi township on Saturday.

The school achieved a 98% matric pass rate with 70% Bachelors last year. It continues to produce excellent results, and has consistently maintained a pass rate of no less than 90 per cent since it first introduced Grade 12 classes in 1996.

Thandeka Sibiya and Sinothando Sikhosana who obtained distinctions in IsiZulu, physical sciences and life orientation each received a bursary worth R42 700 from the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Brilliants Programme. The pair will study computer science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Minister Pandor congratulated pupils, parents and the community for the outstanding achievement. 

The Minister said improving the teaching of mathematics and science are among the challenges faced by Government as it works to increase economic growth. “ All countries currently face the demand for more literate and numerate school leavers than ever before. All of us have been redesigning curricula to suit a world that is reinventing itself rapidly through new technologies.”

She said without mathematics, school leavers cannot go on to succeed in a variety of post-school institutions, in technical and related fields.

Higher education institutions in South Africa have varying performance-based entry requirements for different programmes, but good performances in mathematics is required for most science programmes.

Science has played a decisive part in addressing the unacceptable inequalities and divisions in our society. For example, South Africans now enjoy access to electricity, clean water and sanitation – boosted by the benefits of technology-transfer programmes. Affordable health services and education are now available to the majority of South Africans leveraging for example e-health and e-education platforms. Our investment in ICT infrastructure not only narrowed but in many instances effectively bridged the digital divide, ensuring that the information society is not an opportunity for a privileged few.

 Science also contributed decisively in less tangible but nevertheless equally important ways. Winning the bid to co-host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, for example, filled South Africans with pride and did as much to foster national unity as winning the rugby World Cup in 1995. Big science is beneficial to any society in transition such as ours. 

International partnerships have done much to bring South Africa back into the fold of the commonwealth of nations. The SKA is one of several global projects benefitting from strong international cooperation. Others include the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) working to strengthen international cooperation in harnessing Earth observation to inform policy- and decision-making for sustainable development. Another example is the European Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) where we collaborate to accelerate vaccine and drug development targeting the major poverty-related infectious diseases such as HIV-Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

Young South Africans, are in poll position to take advantage of these new opportunities. But they won't be able to take advantage if they don't excel at science and mathematics.

“The future for our country and the African continent depends on the development of talented scientists and entrepreneurs working in scarce skills fields who can take up the opportunity to develop new technologies and innovative solutions for our pressing problems,” said the Minister.

School principal, Bhekumuzi Mhlongo, expressed his gratitude to everyone who contributed to the success of the school’s matriculants.

“As we are celebrating excellence in education today, we are also instilling an attitude of working hard and celebrate later. We are living in times of microwave results, where young people expect instant results – no emphasis on patience, endurance, commitment and focus which are necessary attributes to sustained and better future. It has never been a case with us at this school”, he said.

Mr Mhlongo stated that education is placed at the apex of government’s 5 priorities and plays a pivotal role to eradicate poverty, unemployment in our nation. To achieve this, he said,It is our responsibility as educators that our core business, which is teaching and learning in never compromised”.