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Taking mathematics to the townships: a tale of growing success!

Teaching provides students with an opportunity to give something back to society, to have an input into shaping the lives of young people and to give them the tools necessary for life. Individual Warwick students cannot change the world but they can make a positive contribution by sharing their passion for learning. 

Warwick students can take a short course in teaching, the Student Associate Scheme, during their second year which is organised by Warwick Institute of Education.  This programme is available in several subjects and is primarily aimed at encouraging students to consider teaching as a career.

Few places can have such urgent need of good teaching than the townships surrounding Johannesburg and Witswaterand.  In 2006, one of our mathematics alumni gave the initial funding for a pilot scheme which would enable 12 students to get involved and to lend a hand.  Staff at the Institute of Education at Witswaterand found school placements for the Warwick mathematicians, provided them with transportation and supplied accommodation on the education campus. 

Last summer, thanks to funding from Barclays Capital and continued support from alumni and friends, 26 students went to Johannesburg to teach in the township schools of Alexandra.  The majority of the students were studying mathematics but also physicists and economists with the ability to teach up to ‘A’ level maths.

For students arriving in the South African schools, there was a very different experience awaiting them.  Lessons in the township schools followed a very basic format and were based around repetition and rote learning.  Due to the lack of resources in the schools, there was little room for group learning or individual attention and the schools were not able to address the needs of many pupils.  For example, there was little help or support for pupils with dyslexia or learning and behavioural issues. 

Despite the obstacles the pupils have to overcome (or maybe because of them), the Warwick students were extremely impressed with the attitude shown by South African pupils towards their education and the teachers. They were full of respect and enthusiasm and were determined and conscientious in their work. Whilst on their placements in South Africa, the Warwick mathematicians witnessed some of the obstacles that their pupils had to overcome to obtain an education.  Arriving at school with polished shoes, a crisp white shirt and pressed trousers takes some effort when you live in a home that has no electricity, no running water and little income.

This opportunity would not have been possible without generous donations from alumni and friends of the University and Barclays Capital Group.  Donations have continued to flow in.  This summer, a pilot scheme will take place in Dar es Salaam thanks to the support of a family trust.  Barclays Capital have increased their support for the next two years

At the outset, we were set the challenge of finding a way to get Warwick students to help with education in Africa, Warwick students are doing just that.  With your help, we could do more.  For further information, please contact Mary McGrath.  Tel 024 652 2661 or email


Wed 13 Aug 2008, 15:04