In South Africa, many students only get the basics in mathematics, science and computers. They cannot always access enhanced instruction, and some tell stories of being turned away by teachers when they have asked for further help.
"I only learned to use a PC when I reached university," said Thandiwe Masuku, who is now a Technology Solutions Manager with IBM. "I struggled to complete my work since I didn't have basic computer skills. I jumped at the opportunity to help these kids because I understand the importance of having these skills before and after leaving high school."
Masuku, along with 13 IBM colleagues, has helped organize and stage Saturday School lessons for Grade 10 math and science students from Ivory Park Secondary School and Realogile High School in Alexandra. The Saturday School, held in the IBM Sandton office in Johannesburg, is an innovative program that offers weekend tutoring to underprivileged students to supplement their day-to-day studies. Working with the Department of Education in Gauteng, IBM provided facilities and employee volunteers to design, plan, and execute the tutoring program.
The program tries to keep students interested in math, sciences and IT at a time when the demand for these skills is growing and the country's educational institutions are being called on to produce job-ready graduates for its evolving economy. "This initiative assists these students to improve not only their metric results, but also their understanding of their options in the job market, particularly in the critical technical skills areas," said Babsy Matabane, GED Johannesburg East director of education.
Students recognized the opportunity and named the program "Ithuba Lethu" (Our Chance). "I couldn't believe I was selected to take part in this learning program," said Ivory Park student Xolani Dlamini, 15. "We are not fortunate enough to use a computer as part-and-parcel of our learning. But thanks to this program, I can now operate a computer. They've given us a better start to the future, a chance to achieve our goals."
Employee volunteers from IBM include Sape Pediwe, Andrew Dix, Haarsha Balraj, Satish Babu, Avanti Naidu, Gerd Diederichs, Jakes Vorster, Robert White, Lesley-Anne Wilkinson, Thandiwe Masuku, Suleiman Shaik, Clarissa Lindeque and Neo Legae.
The Saturday School has proved so successful that IBM was asked by Forest Hill, a school for children with cerebral palsy, to help their students develop basic computer skills. The volunteers noticed that most of the students did not know how to turn on the computers. Twenty students participate in activities, such as working together to save the futuristic planet Helios from out-of-control greenhouse gases in the game PowerUp, preparing their CV, and using art work software to create portraits. Nine volunteers work monthly at the school and the students' skills and literacy have noticeably improved.
"My initial reason for getting involved was my love for teaching mathematics," said Clarissa Lindeque, an IBM Finance Marketing Consultant and former math tutor. "My motivation quickly became the children who were so hungry for the knowledge that we could impart," she said.