Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

Midlands Community College

Midlands Community College

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Facilitate access to educational opportunities | 30 October, 2012 - 10:30

The Midlands Community College MST (Maths, Science, Technology) 'recovery' programme
Midlands Community College was established in 1981 to provide equal educational and training opportunities to enrich learning for very young children, youth and adults in our surrounding communities in an unequal society. Its mission was to offer affordable and accessible courses to mainly rural people in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. The late ‘nineties saw the initiation of support in Maths and Science education in under-resourced schools,  and support for school-leavers  as being critical for young people. The result was the introduction of the MST `Recovery’ project in 1999, and the establishment of a Mobile Science Laboratory in 2002.
In the beginning the main challenge was that many school leavers from poor communities and under-resourced schools who had matriculated, had no means to further their studies or find gainful employment. Maths and science marks and pass rates were often low due to poor resources in schools, the lack of adequately qualified teachers and many districts without subject advisors in these crucial subjects. Today the challenges are just as great, with pass rates in KZN schools continuing to be of great concern. In the province, 60,5% of candidates who took maths in 2011 failed,  52,4% failed in 2010 and 55.4% in 2009.
The numbers of learners taking maths and science is dropping. 300 000 took maths in 2008  and only 225 000 in 2011.  Nearly 40 000 fewer matriculants wrote physical science last year than in 2009. The challenge is that despite numerous interventions by the Department of Education and NGOs, the average national matric results in the key subjects of Maths and Science over the last three years have been just on, or lower than, 30%. (Umalusi Report 2011). The number able to access tertiary studies in these fields is of critical concern for the country as a whole.
Within our Mobile Science Laboratory currently reaching over 6000 learners taking physical science in grades 10, 11 and 12 in 45 (mostly rural) project schools, it is hoped to inspire interest and perseverance in the subject, while improving results by assisting with the practical component of the curriculum which otherwise would not be adequately covered. Our six trained technicians visit the schools, demonstrate and offer hands-on experience with the experiments, collect questionnaires for evaluation purposes and provide information on career opportunities to these grade10-12 learners. 
Brochures on the Midlands Community College’s Maths, Science, Technology `up-grade year’ are also distributed, the technicians acting as role models for the younger learners, having attended MCC themselves. Each year we receive around 350 applications for the `recovery’ project’. Our boarding facilities can only accommodate 60 learners, so a selection process based on various criteria for success and evidence in potential to do well in Maths, Science and English as shown in the matric results, means that sixty learners have the opportunity to improve sufficiently to gain access to tertiary studies the following year.  We have results recorded since 2003, and our aim is to see 80% of these 60 young men and women enrol for degrees and diplomas each year. Our matric pass rate has been 100% since the programme started in 1999.
Programme strategy and Implementation
The objectives and expected outcomes of the Maths, Science and Technology programme are as follows:
  • To provide an opportunity for 60 learners from mainly poor, rural backgrounds and under-resourced schools to upgrade their Grade 12 results in Mathematics and Physical Science, as well as in one of either English or Life Sciences. 
  • To enable learners to improve performance in these subjects to the extent that their upgraded NCS `statement of results’ reflect sufficient points to register for Maths and Science related degrees or diplomas at tertiary institutions of their choice.
  • To offer all 60 learners the ICDL (International Computer Drivers License) classes so that they have the computer skills needed for studying at tertiary level.
  • To produce students who have learnt how to learn, have self-confidence, determination and the discipline to succeed at tertiary level.
  • Assist learners with on-line applications to tertiary institutions and applications for bursaries through our improved networking and relationships with organisations such as REAP and the Youth Tertiary Education Access programme.
  • To see at least 80% of the group enrol for appropriate courses / diplomas / degrees   taking into account both interest and competency levels based on the Career guidance counsellor’s work and mentorship over the year.
Informed by these objectives the strategy is as follows. 
Midlands Community College accommodates 60 learners for a full academic year, giving them the opportunity to experience learning away from home and to prepare them for further studies after rewriting /upgrading three matric subjects and completing the ICDL computer course. The College is built on a campus of six acres of land in a rural, peaceful and secure setting. It has dormitories that, though `spartan’ in winter, are able to accommodate the sixty students, a big dining hall to supply 3 meals a day and classrooms able to seat 30 learners comfortably. Expert tuition in Maths and Science is a priority, while they have the choice of taking Life Science or English in order to improve their points for acceptance into tertiary studies. Individual mentoring career guidance are given in a media centre equipped with 10 computers for on-line research into careers and bursary applications. Thus the root causes of poor performance are obviated i.e. lack of adequate subject knowledge due to poor teaching, disabling environments in which to learn, and lack of support when it comes to opportunities to explore and access further studies leading to careers of their choice and ultimately taking their places in the labour market.                     
Applications are accepted from over 350 learners who apply each year to register for the programme in January..  The top 60 learners are selected, based on the results achieved in all subjects the previous year. In most cases, our learners came from peri-urban or rural areas where unemployment is very high and families cannot afford fees for further studies. They are expected to contribute R5000 for the year.  This included a full year of expert tuition, all text books and learner materials, as well as board and lodging for four terms. 
We employ highly competent and well-qualified educators and term dates are in line with national requirements in terms of constituting a full academic year. Students board in simply furnished dormitories and apart from holidays, stay on campus till the end of exams in November. Learners are divided into two groups of 30 learners for Maths and Science. They attended classes from 8h30 each morning until 16h00 in the afternoon. The following arrangements are put in place each year:
  • All 60 students received:10 hours of Mathematics and 10 hours of Physical Science tuition each week
  • There is an optional choice of Life Sciences or English (First Additional Language )for which 6 hours a week  are allocated 
  • Eight hours per week are allocated for  the ICDL Computer course which consisted of 4 modules. On successful completion of an examination for each module, learners receive an ICDL Start Certificate.
  • A week’s course in creative and critical thinking and effective study methods, with workshops in leadership skills, ethics, personality and inventories and other interesting topics, is held at the end of the second term each year.
Learners are individually mentored throughout the year and given career advice relevant to their interests and aspirations. Topics covered include career options and choices, fields of study and the requirements of different tertiary institutions. Students are informed about alternative access programmes offered, how to apply for financial aid and bursaries, and how to write application letters with the necessary supporting documents. 
Monitoring of the project  
Educators submitted learner test results to the Director on a regular basis and questionnaires were completed by the learners at the end of each term.  June exam results were analysed and learners who were not performing well received counselling and advice. All marks were captured on a spreadsheet, recording each term’s progress.
A Student Representative Committee met twice a month and any problems being experienced by the student body were discussed, allowing all issues to be addressed and dealt with speedily and in a supportive manner. Applications to tertiary studies were submitted, with most filling in the Central Applications Office ( CAO) forms as well as applications to institutions further afield. Many filled in a `pre-application’ form sent by Tankiso Parkies of YTEA ( Youth Tertiary Education Access) which process assists in sourcing out financial assistance for qualifying learners, from numerous potential funders – in particular from the various Government ministries. Bursary applications were filled in and submitted to REAP –as most of our learners qualify as being from deep rural areas.
Our MST Recovery project learners wrote their Grade 12 Mathematics, Physical Science, Life Sciences and English (FAL) examinations between mid-October and 21nd November 2011. Evaluation of the success of the project is based on the final results obtained in the NSC examinations (reported below) and the number of learners who gain places at tertiary institutions for the degrees/diplomas for which they apply. 
The final Grade 12 National Senior Certificate results were released by the Department of Education on the 5th January 2011. All 60 students wrote the final exams in Maths and Science, 14 wrote English and 26 wrote Life Sciences.  The results were most gratifying showed improvements across all the subject and and more students are gaining access directly into first year ( see the number accepted for the Augmented Science programme ).
Implications for possible replication of the programme in similar contexts
In reflecting on the programme, and in the interests of continual improvement, the following issues have been discussed and, are either being implemented, or will be implemented in the future:
The importance of proficiency in English as a success indicator for entry into the job market 
A research paper presented at `Towards Carnegie 3’ Conference  in September 2012 (Casale D and Posel D – UKZN ) re-inforced what we have been feeling about our programme for some time.   Learners come in with relatively high marks for English ( FAL) but are not confident in speaking English, and despite the marks achieved are not proficient in the written form. Our science educator also sites poor understanding of English as detracting from their achievement in physical science.  Those who currently opt to `upgrade’ their English will continue to take the subject as First Additional Language (FAL) as per the Grade 12 curriculum for the time being. However, oral and written communication skills will be enhanced by giving more time to discussion, debates and individual class presentations. 
But we, or other implementors, may do better by not having the option to re-write English (FAL)as a matric subject at all. This time could be replaced with a much more flexible communicative –style course, which includes `business writing’ as the written language component. It may even be best for the students, to make  the latter (adapted course)  compulsory in the interests of studying in English at tertiary level.
Enrichment modules to encourage self-confidence, creative and critical thinking, problem-solving and effective study methods, have been seen to have a positive influence on the students.  (The TASC : Thinking Actively in a Social Context model for problem-solving and autonomous thinking and learning  has been included in the curriculum over the last two years). An extra `Leadership week’ with a variety of workshops during the July holidays, we feel, has also strengthened the programme. 
The ICDL Computer course made compulsory.  This has now been implemented, because no student can be expected to cope at tertiary level without having been exposed to computers at school. It is expensive,  but we have managed to get it  fully sponsored in a 30 computer-strong lab,  as it is  imperative that no one is disadvantaged in this area when starting their tertiary studies. Internet access for the down-loading of career–related information, tertiary opportunities  and bursary application forms is also essential . Ten computers have been installed in our library for specific use by the MST students under the guidance of the Career Counsellor, for on-line applications and researching of various institutions and career options.
The MST Recovery project now seems almost to market itself. Word of mouth is powerful, and news has spread that the project is one of the most successful and affordable upgrading programmes in the country. It is advertised most directly to the Grade 12 learners at our 45 Mobile Laboratory project schools in the rural areas where there is the greatest need for access to affordable further education. Learners at these schools have come to know and value the College in terms of its intervention promoting and strengthening the learning of maths and science as critical subjects that open up better career opportunities if taken at tertiary level. In addition, past students when assessing the project in feed-back questionnaires, most often make reference to the College as the `place of second chances’ because of the safe learning environment, the structured time -table and the disciplined work ethic that enables them to grow in self-confidence and teaches them how to study and how to prepare themselves effectively for the future.                          


Midlands Community College

Nottingham Road, KwaZulu-Natal  

 (033) 266-6588


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