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ANXIETY, lack of motivation, curriculum coverage and a shortage of data for online lessons are only a few of the challenges learners have to face during the country’s national lockdown. Educators in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro are hopeful that Nelson Mandela University’s STEM In Action programme will help alleviate these challenges. The programme will be providing short lessons, recorded experiments, career exploration and wellness segments for the Getting Ahead in Technology and Engineering (GATE) and Selected Learner Programme (SLP) learners.

This will address the challenges of curriculum coverage and uncertainty about the future. Educator, Lee-Anne van Heerden, said that she was very excited about the “data bill reversal” the programme was busy exploring. “Users will be able to reverse the data bill from themselves to STEM In Action. This will enable learners to make use of all the online lessons,” Van Heerden added.

STEM In Action project manager at NMU, Isabel van Gend, said that their strategy was to support the educators and learners with interventions and by interacting with them. This includes hosting a community of practice sessions once a week for all interested physical science educators. During these sessions, ideas and tips are shared not only about the teaching and learning of physical science, but also how to best navigate and support learners during these challenging times. However, it all depends on what the Department of Basic Education’s curriculum plans are when the school year resumes. “There are talks of cutting certain content. We can only put definite plans in place when these parameters have been set. We are ready to assist online, but do not want to waste anyone’s time by assisting with content that is not relevant,” Van Gend explained.

The University’s School of Engineering, partnered with the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL), started the STEM In Action programme in 2010, aiming at equipping learners with the necessary skills to enter the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The programme was launched due to the decline in the number of students qualifying for courses enabling them to become professional engineers. According to Van Gend, many learners had not been able to achieve the entry requirements for diploma and degree programmes in science and engineering due to socio-economic factors, poor foundation in mathematics and a lack of stimulation and interest in science in primary school, among others. To date, more than 17 000 learners have participated in the programme. One of them is Arshad Chengadu, who obtained 96% for physical science last year, after matriculating from Morningside High School. “The programme taught me the importance of teamwork and assisted me in choosing the course I’m currently following,” said the firstyear mechatronics student at Nelson Mandela University. Another former STEM In Action participant is Nomalungisa Norawana who attended Khwezi Lomso Comprehensive School and was part of the programme from Grade 10 up until Grade 12. “The programme helped me to have a better understanding of science and in turn, I was able to assist other learners. My marks continued to improve each term. My final marks in Grade 12 were 82% for science and 87% for maths.” A link to access the online lessons will be provided to all educators at schools participating in the programme.