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From a Chance Encounter to a Promising Educational Initiative: The Genesis of the Strength in Numbers Programme

Professor Renuka Vithal (University of Fort Hare) and Dr Aaron Gibs (Rutgers University) with Craig Kensley (Founder of GrowZA) at the South African Embassy in Washington 0ctober 28, 2019.

In 2019, Craig Kensley, Executive Director of GrowZA, had a fortuitous meeting with Professor Renuka Vithal from the University of Fort Hare and Dr Aaron Gibs from Rutgers University at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. This encounter became the catalyst for a ambitious project aimed at transforming education in South Africa. During their discussion, Professor Vithal shared her profound insights from years of research on the importance of scientific calculators in the South African education system.

Professor Vithal's research, conducted over decades, revealed significant gaps in access to educational tools. Her studies found that nearly one-third of South African students lacked scientific calculators, and only a minority were proficient in their use. This deficiency had a direct impact on their performance in mathematics, a cornerstone subject for STEM education and future career opportunities. Her work emphasized that equipping students with these tools was not merely about improving test scores but about empowering a generation with the skills needed for the 21st century.

This conversation resonated deeply with the team, inspiring them to leverage GrowZA's resources and network to address this critical issue. Thus, the Strength in Numbers programme was conceived.

Partnering with AECI Mining, a company with a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility and sustainable development, the programme aims to provide scientific calculators and training to learners and educators across South Africa.

Though still in its infancy, the Strength in Numbers programme holds immense promise. Its foundation is built on Professor Vithal's robust research and her extensive experience in educational reform. Her partnerships with institutions like the University of Fort Hare and international collaborations underscore the global significance of her work and its local implications.

The journey to build this programme has been collaborative and strategic. AECI Mining's involvement has been crucial, providing not only financial support but also a commitment to the broader vision of educational equity. This partnership exemplifies how corporate entities can play a transformative role in social development by aligning their goals with impactful educational initiatives.

The initial phase of the programme focuses on distributing calculators to schools in underserved communities across 6 provinces and conducting training sessions with both learners and educators in the pragmatic use of the devices.

Strength in numbers pilots were launched in Gauteng in 2023

Early feedback has been positive, with educators and learners expressing renewed enthusiasm and confidence in their mathematical abilities. As the programme scales, it aims to reach even more schools, fostering a culture of excellence and inclusivity in STEM education.

Reflecting on the inception of Strength in Numbers, it is clear that this initiative is more than just a distribution of calculators. It represents a strategic effort to bridge educational gaps and create sustainable, long-term change. By addressing the immediate needs of learners and equipping them with essential tools, the programme is setting the stage for a more equitable and prosperous future for South African students.

The Strength in Numbers programme is a testament to the power of research-driven initiatives and strategic partnerships. The chance meeting between Kensley, Gibbs and Vithal has blossomed into a project that holds the potential to transform education in South Africa and inform education practice in both South Africa and the United States. As it continues to grow, the Strength in Numbers programme demonstrates how informed, collaborative efforts can accelerate social progress.

This is how we #GrowZA


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