Making maths and science cool

A group of Grade 12 pupils at Kayamandi High School, who benefit from the science and mathematics e-lessons streamed live on Tuesdays and Thursdays, by Ligbron Academy of Technology in Ermelo, Mpumalanga. Pictured, from left, are Nande Mathu; Elethu Xonya; mathematics head of department, Lungile Jikeka; science head of department, Sherly Mammen; Phamella Tshefu; Phaphama Mguga; and Maxwell Tlou.

If it wasn’t for the disembodied voice emanating from the speakers at the front of the classroom, you could almost hear a pin drop.

The science pupils are absorbed, their collective attention focused on the active whiteboard on which the live-streamed lesson plays out.

Each pupil has before them a worksheet, and the teacher on the whiteboard takes them through the complexities of the physics of exothermic reactions. A note is scribbled here, a head nodded firmly there, indicating understanding, as the lesson unfolds.

Once the instructional phase is completed, there will be an opportunity for engagement and questions, to cement the mastery of concepts and principles the enthusiastic group of pupils is learning.

The class teacher, Sherly Mam-men, science head of department at the school, sits to one side, following the lesson, but also scanning the intent faces periodically, perhaps to discern if any of her pupils are struggling.

It is a Thursday afternoon, and Kayamandi High School’s Grade 12 science class is receiving its weekly live-streamed science lesson, courtesy of Ligbron Academy of Technology, an Ermelo-based NGO which is making great strides in improving the academic performance in Grade 10 to Grade 12 mathematics and science, in many schools around the country, through its revolutionary e-learning system.

Prior to the commencement of the e-lesson, Bolander spoke to a group of Grade 12 science pupils and members of the academic staff.

Papama Mguga said: “The Ligbron programme helped me catch up.”

“It filled in the gaps for me”, said Pamela Tshefu, and Elethu Xonga added: “It made me excited about science and Ligbron helped us broaden our horizons.”

Nandi Mathu said: “Teachers sometimes rush to finish the syllabus in time, and Ligbron helps us pick up on the details we’d not caught in class.”

Maxwell Tlou spoke of his love of technology: “If you don’t understand quickly, Ligbron helps you. The programme is fun, I love technology too, and this way of having a lesson has made me pay more attention.”

They agreed that they talk about the Ligbron programme among their peers, both at school and outside the school boundaries.

The “cool” factor, mentioned by more than one pupil, was underscored by Ligbron’s Western Cape liaison officer, Jo Mostert, who said: “There is intense competition between schools in this area, and Kayamandi High School’s Ligbron programme has given maths and science cool status both at the school, where more pupils are interested in matriculating with maths and science, as well as in the wider community. Good teachers and the Ligbron programme are a good combination and give Kayamandi the academic edge in the area.”

Deputy principal, academic, Victoria Hani told Bolander: “The programme means a great deal to the pupils. They attend diligently, and they feel more positive about the subject.”

Thsebetso Tlali, deputy principal, administration and pastoral, had this to say: “I Thsebetso Tlali, deputy principal, administration and pastoral, had this to say: “I can already see positive benefits (the programme only started late last year) and we are already seeing positive academic results.

“In Grade 11, numbers tend to drop, and two classes become one, but in 2019 we’ve had better retention. Although we don’t have qualitative results yet, the June/July exams will allow us to measure the success rate of the programme.”

Mathematics head of department, Lungile Jikeka, spoke about the adjustments required in the early stages of the programme. “Due to the large amount of content that must be delivered in each lesson, a few pupils initially had difficulty following the lessons, until they became accustomed to each e-teacher’s manner.”

He added that the programme is well known at the school and in the wider community. ‘We even have a pupil from a school in Blackheath, who attends e-lessons here,” Mrs Hani said.

The brainchild of Dup van
Rensburg, principal, and Frans Kalp, deputy principal IT, Ligbron Academy of Technology, the e-learning system was piloted in three schools near Ermelo in Mpumalanga in 2008. The objective, aside from promoting maths and science, was to improve pass rates for pupils who wanted to study at university, by streaming live lessons into Grade 12 classrooms in rural and township schools.

After making some adjustments to the model to improve its efficacy, Ligbron grew to the point where today, it is transmitting live maths and science lessons to thousands of Grade 10, 11 and 12 pupils in 84 secondary schools in six provinces, with Kayamandi High School being the first school in the Western Cape. Ligbron plans to expand into all nine provinces.

All of the e-teachers are experts in either maths, science or both, and teachers at the recipient schools receive comprehensive training from Ligbron in the use of the system, as well as trouble shooting skills, in the event there is a technical problem that interrupts a lesson. All lessons are recorded, and are available for viewing from the cloud storage facility for a week after the initial transmission.

Aside from the live lesson, Ligbron supplies a comprehensive body of resources which are fully compliant with the education department’s curriculum assessment policy statements in the taught subjects. Prior to attending an e-learning lesson, pupils must have completed the prescribed preparation exercises.

The technology is not cheap. Each classroom must be equipped with an active whiteboard, a data projector and speaker system, a management PC, and a reliable high speed internet connection. Kayamandi High School has one maths and one science classroom fully equipped, one of which already had the required active whiteboard.

The bill for the balance of the required equipment, a considerable sum, was sponsored by liquor wholesaler, Edward Snell & Company (Pty) Ltd. Ligbron does not sponsor the cost of the equipment, but it assists schools with the process of finding sponsors.

The e-lessons are streamed in high definition, and this requires a high speed broadband internet connection, with an adequate supply of data. “This is one of the bigger challenges for the school, once the programme is underway,” says Ms Mostert. “If the school has exceeded its data cap, the lesson cannot be live-streamed. We are in negotiation with a major data provider who will hopefully sponsor schools’ data needs in the future.”

Although the maths and science curricula are set nationally, the sequencing and pace of academic teaching differs from province to province, and because the pace setters are rigid for core subjects, like maths and science. “Because we do not yet have five schools on the programme in the Western Cape, Ligbron does not yet deliver a Western Cape specific programme. Instead, the lessons streamed are pace-set for a different province, which is out of sync with the Western Cape,” Ms Mostert said. “It’s vital that we get more schools in the Western Cape onto the programme, and that requires sponsors.”

Contact Jo Mostert on 079 693 7962 or