Learner from no-fee school wins Natural Science Olympiad

Science teacher Zandiswa Matomane-Koko and Inganathi Kondile. Photo by Tandeka Bafo

A lack of resources for teaching and learning of physical science remains one of the biggest challenges facing poor schools.

A Grade 6 learner from a no-fee school in Paarl has won the top prize for Natural Science in the Western Cape at the Olympiads currently underway in Pretoria.

The national event started on Monday 23rd and will end on Friday the 27th September 2019. Inganathi Kondile (12), a Grade 6 pupil at Mbekweni Primary School is the top learner from the Western Cape. Her future looks bright in science as it is her ambition to become a doctor, despite her school not having a science laboratory like Huguenot Primary or La Rochelle Girls, the former model C primary schools in Paarl.

In 2017, she almost made it to the national competition but was one percent short of the Olympiad qualifying score of 80% on a test. “This year, I needed to work hard by taking extra classes on Wednesdays and on Fridays that were offered by the school,” she said.

Her class teacher Zandiswa Matomane-Koko, who majored in Science while studying towards her teaching degree, said the school does not have a science laboratory and this makes it hard to teach the subject. “I have to let them imagine in their minds how a science lab looks like; it’s hard but rewarding when pupils achieve such accolades,” she said.

Matomane-Koko usually does her experiments in class or outside the classroom but at times, she has to improvise with the little equipment at her disposal. 

Mbekweni Primary has only got this cabinet with chemicals for Science practicals. Photo by Tandeka Bafo

Principal Nceba Njenxa said that the school, which was established in 1972, does not have adequate resources for teaching and learning. “The school needs more than infrastructure – it needs resources to teach, from books to furniture,” said Njenxa.

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More classrooms are needed because each teacher is currently sitting with more than 45 pupils in a classroom, he explained. The ratio is supposed to be 1:36, one teacher to 36 learners.

The South African Schools Act was amended in 2005 to categorise schools into 5 quintiles based on the relative wealth of their surrounding communities. Schools falling in quintiles 1, 2, and 3 are classified as no-fee schools because they are in poor communities, while quintile 4 and 5 schools are in areas deemed wealthy enough to allow them to charge fees.

Mbekweni Primary School is in quintile 1 and is therefore a no-fee school. All the children at the school benefit from the school’s daily feeding programme. The school has managed to get accolades and an excellent pass rate in Science, Maths and Technology. Parents of learners are often only employed seasonally on farms and households remain largely dependent on social grants.

Inganathi Kondile is the top Natural Science learner in the Western Cape. Photo supplied.

The chairperson of the School Governing Body (SGB), Siyabulela Madyoli, echoed the sentiments of the principal and teacher on the need for new infrastructure and facilities for the next generation of scientists.

Despite the good record of the school, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has not supported it with resources. According to a statement by the department, in 2018/2019, twenty-four no-fee schools received furniture for science labs and in the current year, only six schools received the same. The WCED budget for the financial year 2019/2020 stands at R23.7-billion, of which ordinary public school education is allocated 75%.

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