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You can cheer for maths the way you do for sports

The school year has started and for a great many of us maths and science are subjects that even as adults fill us with terror. But, with the onset of the fourth industrial revolution, maths, science and computing skills are more essential than they have ever been.

But, the good news is that even if school maths did fill you with fear and dread, you can still support your child, or children for whom you care, with their maths.

“You can cheer for maths the way you cheer for sports,” says Jo Besford, a founder and director of Green Shoots speaking via Zoom from her Strand offices in the Western Cape, explaining that the Green Shoots maths programme does all the educating required. “What is needed is support and encouragement and here is where caregivers and even employers play an important role,” she says.  

“Our role is to add value to the school and their teaching staff,” Mark Swartz says. Swartz is the other co-founder and director of Green Shoots. While Besford came to South Africa 14 years ago after teaching and supporting science at inner-London schools, Swartz is an Overberg local who taught maths and technology. “Learners, educators and supporters can access progress and results almost instantly but, essentially, the platform also immediately highlights areas that learners struggle with and the teaching staff can then support. Because we align with what the schools are teaching,” Swartz explains, “we support the school and the teachers and the learners benefit.”

Swartz hails from Botrivier where he was at school with Two-a-Day’s doctor, Anthony Hess. “This was how I got to meet Two-a-Day’s Director of Human Resources, Dimitri Jacobs, who also drives the company’s many corporate social responsibility programmes. I had the opportunity of introducing Green Shoots and our maths-support programme to Two-a-Day.” Swartz says.

In 2019, Two-a-Day, one of the largest employers in the Grabouw region and a shareholder of Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, the largest exporter of South African apples and pears, supported Green Shoots to provide Maths training and real-time evaluation at no cost to the learner or institution. 

Today, Green Shoots is working with just over 600 schools. 

According to Besford, especially in our more isolated times as a result of Covid-19, support from those at home is more important than ever. “Support doesn’t have to mean helping with the maths problem – we and the teaching staff are here to do that. Support means encouraging leaners by being interested in where they are relative to their classmates. We must not underestimate the positive role that goal setting, encouragement and follow-up can have on a learner’s results,” she says.

Swartz adds that a learner profile is a new component of the software and they are also sharing images and information via “data-free” options such as Facebook and WhatsApp. “One of the things we are talking to Two-a-Day about is using their text-message based PICSA technology platform that delivers their pay slip, Covid information and other important communications to all mobile-phone handsets and not just costly smart phones,” he says.

Besford says that there are help sheets in both English and Afrikaans for supporters – be they parents or siblings or trusted friends,” while Swartz says as they are working with the Department of Education, all the results of tests etc can go towards annual school marks.

According to Besford, in mid 2020 Green Shoots was awarded a contract by Western Cape Government to supply this online tool to 600+ primary schools across the Western Cape. “All existing Two-a-Day partner schools will immediately benefit from this Western Cape Education Department initiative which is pegged over three years,” she says adding that Green Shoots and Two-a-Day are now in discussion to leverage this opportunity by getting parents/guardians more aware and to celebrate the learners that excel in primary maths.

Two-a-Day is well aware of the increasing need of maths skills and is already seeking out learners with matriculation certification and especially those with maths skills. Additionally, the company is making it possible for existing staff and unemployed people who don’t yet have matric. to achieve this. Two-a-Day currently invests about R360 000 annually on the matriculation programme that has about 30 participants. In addition, the company allows for these new matriculants to enter their learnership programme that prepares them for the workplace and spends about R1.5 million extra on the development of these matriculants. 

“The strategic decision taken by the Western Cape Government to insist on internet access and computers in schools has been the platform on which our success is built,” says Swartz.

Swartz comments that schools always had good data but now that is available in real-time. “Within five minutes of learners completing modules we can assess where the issues are and these are immediately available to the schools and teaching body via a dashboard that shows a range of useful analyses including a per question breakdown for every learner.

Besford says that learners who use Maths@Home, the after-school programme, improve in their on-line ranking scores and through competitions are able to pitch themselves against pupils at other schools. “This can be a very empowering. I believe this spills over into increasing confidence and potential.” she ends.

“Two-a-Day is very proud to be involved with Green Shoots and the schools in our community. We believe that the investment we made at a very early stage of the learners’ development will enhance their chances of pursuing careers that are needed for the future,”, says Dimitri Jacobs.

Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing’s managing director Roelf Pienaar says that education, in particular in the maths, science and computer-logic subjects, is one of the main keys to unlocking future success and sustainable employment. “Green Shoots and other programmes that support learners, need to be encouraged and companies should be inspired by Two-a-Day’s approach to also sponsor and support such programmes where possible.”

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