UJ initiative to help school pupils excel in STEM

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 16 Feb 2024
The University of Johannesburg will enable hands-on practical experience for pupils taking up the STEM curricula.
The University of Johannesburg will enable hands-on practical experience for pupils taking up the STEM curricula.

The University of Johannesburg’s (UJ's) Faculty of Science, in partnership with the National Department of Basic Education (DBE), has launched an initiative to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education for high school pupils and teachers.

According to a statement, it aims to bridge the gap within STEM education by encouraging high school pupils to enter STEM fields of study. It will also provide support and hands-on practical experience to those already taking up the STEM curricula, with a focus on previously disadvantaged students.

The initiative, launched this week, at the university’s Bunting Road Campus in Johannesburg, will help educators to integrate new digital skills successfully and sustainably in their daily classroom practice.

They will employ a multi-faceted strategy that includes teacher development workshops, on-site school visits nationwide, one-on-one coaching sessions and interactive webinars.

It will initially start across Gauteng-based high schools and later extend to other provinces.

SA’s education sector often draws criticism for not doing enough to advance subjects that will enable learners to participate in the ICT sector. In addition, the declining pass rate, in subjects such as mathematics and science, exacerbates the issue.

Recognising the pressing need to improve tech skills among educators and empower high school learners, UJ says it is dedicated to transform STEM education.

Professor Annah Moteetee, executive dean of UJ's Faculty of Science, emphasises the initiative's key role in equipping learners from historically-disadvantaged backgrounds with essential practical experience, which is crucial for higher education success.

"Prioritising mentorship and curriculum support across all levels is crucial," comments Moteetee.

"Our initiative focuses on laying the foundational skills necessary for pursuing STEM fields, fostering inclusivity and unlocking untapped potential. This commitment extends beyond academic excellence, to address systemic challenges hindering students' university transition.

“Acknowledging resource disparities, UJ aims to bridge the gap by providing access to essential laboratory facilities and tailored support mechanisms.”

According to UJ, the initiative amplifies and extends the reach of its Soweto Science Centre, and also caters to students and teachers in the wider Gauteng province.

Dr Mathapelo Seopela, project manager and lecturer in UJ’s Department of Chemical Sciences, explains that plans are in place to ensure the project's sustainability and long-term impact. "Our strategy involves expanding the project to guarantee its sustainability and enduring effects.

“In provinces where schools are identified, we will establish training centres tailored for teachers and subject specialists. Furthermore, we will enlist unemployed postgraduate education graduates to augment school staff, ensuring continuity as learners advance, while teachers and subject specialists remain.

“Additionally, we aim to diversify the project's focus beyond chemistry to embrace all facets of STEM education, facilitating its expansion to more schools and provinces."