October 2013   

NEWSLETTER # 14 - Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Numbers, numbers, numbers. If those three words excite you, then this newsletter is for you! (If not, bear with me, I close with something from the human dimension).

Our team is peppered with ex-engineers, scientists and business people, so numbers are very much our holy grail. However, measuring progress in education in South Africa is not a straightforward task. There are few externally benchmarked assessments (apart from the Grade 12 exit exam, by which time it is essentially too late) that provide a verifiable measure of performance in a way that informs about both individual student progress and the success of interventions (such as our Khan or Ekukhuleni programmes). Even the recently introduced Annual National Assessments (ANAs) for younger grades are not at a stage where results can be reliably compared from school to school or year to year.

Science Competition prize winners

So we've been itching for some data to inform us about how our students (and by implication, we) are doing - and we're starting to get there. We've now had two years of the Bomvana Interschool Science Competition, involving the top five science students from five senior schools. Using multiple choice questions from previous Grade 12 physical science exams (and so with some degree of comparability), average results from year to year showed a 9 % improvement. The top marks also improved, as did the spread of prize winners across schools. The best thing about the competition is that it is organised by teachers from the science network, with healthy competition beginning to develop between the teachers and schools. So while science competition results are not the 'gold standard' of statistical reliability, it's encouraging to see at least some indication of progress - whether it be as a result of a motivated bunch of students, or real improvements in teaching, it's too early to say!

Progress on Khan

The second sets of numbers that are starting to get us excited relate to our Khan Academy programmes. The online platform provides plenty of metrics: for example, our grade 7, 8 and 9 students have completed nearly 2500 modules between them over the past year (one student has completed one hundred modules on her own!); they've earned 6.5 million Khan 'points' over this period… but most of these measures tell us about how much maths they've done rather than how well they're doing. Tests and exams give us a better idea of the latter. The above graphic illustrates how our grade 9s have progressed over the six month period from January to July, based on both our own pre- and mid-year test and their school maths exams. On both assessments, students on the Khan programme made gains roughly twice that of their peers who are not on the programme. Once again it is too early to say for sure how much of a difference Khan is making (The University of Cape Town and Numeric are doing an extensive evaluation of this, due January 2014), but the numbers look promising.

Khan students work on their English skills with Kristi at Chatterbox

And now to put a human face to those numbers… One of the science competition prize winners, Onke Nkqwili, deserves special mention. Onke wrote Grade 12 last year, but was determined to improve his results (he achieved a diploma pass) and decided to repeat the year. His school has not had a science and maths teacher for most of the last year, but despite this he has immersed himself in every study guide and textbook he has been able to get his hands on and is frequently knocking on our door with questions. He was the joint winner of the science competition and we're confident he will score 75% or more for physical science at the end of the year. It is this kind of determination in the face of adversity that inspires us to find ways to give more of the Onkes in our schools opportunities to succeed.

Onke at Sea View Senior Secondary Prize giving

Onke hopes to study a degree in Electrical Engineering next year. We're in the middle of a flurry of applications, interviews and test-writing for the rest of our Grade 12s as they look for funding and places of study next year. Our aim is to have all of our Ekukhuleni students in apprenticeship or tertiary study by January next year. Considering that only a small minority of the thousands of 2012 matriculants from schools in our area are currently in work or study, this is not an unambitious goal! Please consider supporting this process by sponsoring student application fees and do keep our students in your thoughts as they prepare to write their final exams this month.

Axium House

A quick wrap of highlights from the last few months…the Axium House is now complete! Thanks to Anglo Platinum's Lefa-la-Rona Trust and our friends at the Jabulani Rural health Foundation our staff now have a place to stay. Nonkanyiso Vokwana joined our staff team as this year's "Urban Scholar" (see below) to work on physical science with teachers and at study groups - very exciting to see her in action! We've had some fabulous volunteers and visitors, including a delegation from Westerford High School, that have helped to enrich both our work and our thinking, especially around technology, with a couple of new tech projects in the pipeline for next year. And the Zithulele Tigers Touch Rugby team recently returned from a successful tour to Cape Town and are now coaching sport at five of our local schools, as part of the Zithulele Schools League. Ekukhuleni alumni jetsetters: Elliot Nogo achieved 93 % for 1st year physics and Mzimasi Vayeke is on the plane to Cuba to study medicine. All in all, lots on the go!

Nonkanyiso in action with the Junior Science Network


Thanks to all our supporters, near and far!

Craig, Michelle and the Axium Team


Can you help? We're looking for:

'Urban Scholars' - isi-Xhosa speaking gap year students (post-school or varsity) from the city, who can add value to our maths and sports programmes for the 2014 school year. If you know of anyone or would like a copy of the job descriptions, let me know!
Dynamic, hardworking, 'adventurers in education' (volunteers!) - we're always looking for great people willing to volunteer their time - and have an infinite amount of things to do!
Stuff for kids: Reading books, Xhosa-English dictionaries, calculators, maths sets, solar lights… anything that will help rural kids learn!
University application fees for our 2013 matric class. It costs on average R350 per student - please include "application" as the reference.

Zithulele Tigers on Tour
©2013 Axium Education