Out of 30 500 schools in South Africa, 25 741 are public schools with a yearly average enrollment of over 13 million learners (Depart of Basic Education, 2015). These learners represent the previously disadvantaged group and 85% (South African Human Rights Commission) of them do not have a science laboratory – the problem that needs The StarLab solution. Learners in these schools are subjected to learning science from a textbook. Due to lack of science labs, more learners are opting out of science.And that is dangerous for a country that is dependent on scientific skills for economic growth. Just over 171 000 out of 535 860 learners who wrote matric in 2014 registered for Physical Science (Department of Basic Education, 2017). Dr. Azar Jammine, of Naci, says of these learners only 5.5% achieved 60% or higher, yet he concludes that, in SA, there is a direct link between a person’s probability of being employed and their level of education.
This is a huge social problem in a country where more than 17 million people are dependent on social grant. In the report; “Poor maths, science education at heart of SA’s skills problem (Creamer Media’s Engineering News, 2017)”, Dr. Sam Ramaila, a lecturer at UJ’s Department of Applied Physics and Engineering Mathematics postulates that the acute skills shortage is as a result of low standard of maths and science education.The same report says, “inadequate and inequitable science education is a threat to democracy and that the state of high school physics affects the overall health of the physics profession”. “Further, a substantial number of schools are still under-resourced 20 years into democracy. Inadequate infrastructure to aid meaningful teaching and learning is also a hindrance…,” Ramaila states. He adds that economic growth in SA has been sluggish, owing to the lack of critical scientific skills.
The SA Institute of Physics (SAIP) president Dr. Igle Gledhill says, “In a review of undergraduate physics teaching and learning, SAIP found that university departments agree unanimously on the poor level of preparedness of students entering first-year physics. This is disastrous for a country where so much depends on geology, mineralogy, chemistry and technology. Health professionals, engineers and technologists require training in physics by virtue of its nature as a fundamental discipline (News24, 2015)”.
The need for the StarLab in South Africa’s public schools is ever increasing due to poor science performance by learners from one year to another. Broadband reported that, “The pass rate in Physical Sciences declined from 67.4% in 2013 to 61.5% in 2014. Only 36.9% of learners scored over 40%” (Broadband, 2015). And in 2015, this figure had declined to 58.5% (htxt.africa, 2016). According to the Department of Basic Education a learner must achieve a mark of 30% to pass a subject, while the minimum required for admission into a university is 60% and above for physical science (University of Cape Town, 2017). In 2017, only 14% of physical science learners achieved 60% and above (Skills Academy, 2018). This is a clear indication that much still needs to be done to improve the quality of science education.