Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

I am privileged to have this opportunity to talk to you today. 

 

Being at the launch of this year's eduCate Maths and Science at the Movies programme is a great pleasure for me.  It is exciting to see citizens of our country mobilise their own resources to improve the chances of selected Grade 12s to pass and excel in their exams.  

 

Whenever I see or think about young people in the school system, I get insight into the future of our country.  Truly speaking, the future is in their hands.  However, it is not as easy as walking into an empty room.  Young people can only become the sort of future that they and South Africa want if they are hardworking, creative and innovative – and well educated.

 

The eduCate revision initiative is one of those developmental endeavours that sets young people on a path that will allow them to unleash their creativity and innovativeness, and develop the skills that will be much needed as the 4th industrial revolution picks up speed.  Most learners have innate qualities that, because of the challenging learning environment still common in many parts of our country, could remain hidden.  This makes programmes like eduCate, which enhance school-leavers' chances to enter higher education institutions, so valuable.  The years spent in higher education are then a further phase in helping young people realise their full talent and potential.

 

Some people believe that too much emphasis is placed on Mathematics and Physical Science as subjects.  Other subjects are obviously important, but – apart from the way they stretch and train the mind to help students in whatever path they follow – Mathematics and Physical Science are gateway subjects to degrees that will greatly increase the chances of learners' employment.  A school-leaver with a good pass in these subjects can enter careers that are vital to economy and society. 

 

In implementing initiatives of this nature, factors that need to be taken into consideration include narrowing gender performance gaps.  In 2017 for instance, the achievement rate for male learners in the National Senior Certificate was four percent point higher than the achievement rate for female learners.  This tells us that in organising interventions meant to enhance learners' school performance, there is a need to increase the number of girls participating. 

 

It is against this background that the Talent Development Programme of the Department of Science and Innovation, which is implemented through Stellenbosch University, has adopted a 60:40 ratio of females to males.  The Talent Development Programme is an initiative in which selected Grade 11 and 12 learners participate in three vacation camps a year.  Through a week-long programme in each province, the Talent Development Programme seeks to enhance the chances of participants to improve their grades and academic performance, to produce cohorts of school leavers who are prepared for higher education and equipped with the skills and tools to be lifelong learners, and to encourage participants to pursue science-based careers. 

 

We have seen the real benefits of the Talent Development Programme.  In 2018, 90% of school leavers who had undergone the Talent Development Programme were selected for higher education studies, with 78% admitted to science-based studies and 12% accounting.  Of those who pursued science-based studies, 33% are studying engineering. 

 

You will therefore understand me when I say that the Department of Science and Innovation fully appreciates the value of the eduCate initiative.  

 

Generally speaking, we are worried about the small number of learners in the country doing Mathematics and Physical Science as school subjects.  Physical Science cannot be done without Mathematics, and Mathematics is needed for many other study streams that are needed for a well-functioning economy, such as statistics and accounting, so my basis for analysing the situation will be Mathematics. 

 

If we look at the difference in raw numbers between 2017 and 2018, there was a decline of 5 568 in learners enrolled to write Mathematics for their National Senior Certificate.  Even before we start making sense of the performance of the learners who wrote the National Senior Certificate Mathematics exam, the decline in enrolment already reminds us of the difficulty that lies ahead of us in our endeavours to transform the country's economy.  Transformation of the South African economy requires increased participation of South Africans from previously disadvantaged sections of society – people who not only provide professional skills across key sectors of the economy, but also people who are innovators, who produce new and improve existing technologies to satisfy local needs and help the country to achieve a competitive edge. 

 

I am convinced this is possible, given my experience at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists national finals in Boksburg last year.  There, I met learners from across the country displaying their science projects.  As I interacted with them, I learnt that their projects were based on research they conducted in response to real-life problems that they identified.  I was impressed by their ability to communicate about their projects, which made me leave the venue feeling confident that, if the proper support is provided to learners of such calibre, South Africa stands a better chance of transforming its economy through science and innovation.

 

I have learnt that some of you here today are former beneficiaries of the eduCate initiative, and are now studying at various universities or already employed.  I have no doubt that you have a good story to tell about eduCate.  However, I want to challenge you to think about how you could help other learners as a way of community service.

 

In conclusion, I would like to thank the founders, sponsors and organisers of the eduCate initiative.  You are men and women with a vision.  I also want to commend you for arranging the launch of the 2019 programme to coincide with the National Science Week led by the Department of Science and Innovation.  The National Science Week celebrations started on Monday, 29 July, and will last until 3 August, with activities in all nine provinces.

 

I wish you the best with this year's eduCate programme.

 

Thank you.