ISASA Mathematics & English Learner Placement Project

This project selects and places learners from poor-functioning public schools into high functioning independent schools. It is implemented in 22 Independent schools in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The project offers, inter alia, bursaries, extra academic support, mentoring and psycho-social support to the qualifying learners.

Name of organisation/service provider: The Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (ISASA) Mathematics and English Project                      

Duration of Project: 2014 - 2016

Programme: Schools Programme

Where is the Project based: National


The Zenex Foundation has been funding the ISASA M&E Project since 2007. The objectives of the project are to:

  • increase the number of learners who qualify to pursue Mathematics and Science related degrees and associated careers; and

The outcome is to achieve an increased number of Black (African, Indian and Coloured) school leavers qualifying for university entrance with a quality pass in Mathematics, Science and English in the National Senior Certificate (NSC) Examination.

The principle underlying the Project is that of access. The Project seeks to provide access to quality education and thereby make a contribution to building critical skills required for social and economic development in the country. The Project is intended to be an intervention rather than a solution to the educational crisis in the country.

Challenges addressed by the project

South Africa has a shortage of adequately qualified Mathematics and Science teachers. This results in the inability of most public schools to produce good results in Mathematics and Science. Research shows that 20% of schools in South Africa produce 80% of good Mathematics and Science results. Consequently, there is an insufficient number of learners passing these subjects in the National Senior Certificate and pursuing degrees in the Mathematics and Science fields.

The Project offers learners with potential an opportunity to be in well-managed schools that have the capacity to offer quality teaching and learning in Mathematics, Science and English.

Through the Project, learners are offered personal support through mentoring, academic support through camps[1] and individual tuition. The aim of the targeted academic support is to provide support to learners who lack adequate foundational knowledge and address their specific challenges in Mathematics and Science in order to achieve better results and meet the Zenex Foundation targets of 60% and above. In particular, the academic support component has been strengthened to provide more individualised targeted support to learners in the Project.

Learner selection

The Zenex Foundation undertook a recruitment process to ensure a large pool of learners with demonstrated potential are selected. In addition, ISASA Mathematics &English (M&E) selects learners with potential in Grade 9 from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

This is done through schools advertising locally to their feeder schools as well as ISASA M&E advertising nationally in the newspapers. Selected learners are placed in good independent schools in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape.

Details of the intervention

Targeted academic support to learners to impact on the areas of weak foundation skills

In response to concerns raised by the formative evaluation report in 2008 that pointed to a lack of specific, targeted academic support, especially in respect of basic foundational gaps in Mathematics and Science, a targeted academic intervention has been introduced for all learners. This is centrally coordinated and planned by the M&E team.

The objective is to provide academic support and remediation through undertaking diagnostic testing of learners and on this basis devise a support programme i.e. customised activities; computerised laboratory support; small group tutorials; reading activities from classroom and library books; comprehension tasks and discussion sessions.

Mentorship at the school

The importance of mentoring is a key element in the success of the Project, and involves one-on-one and group mentoring. The objective is to provide learners with pastoral care and support that will motivate them to perform better and remediate problems as they are encountered.

Learner camps

The learner camps are a vitally important value-add to the Project focusing on enrichment, academic support and socialising learners through life skills development. Two Grade 10 and 11 provincial camps and one combined inter-provincial Grade 12 revision camp are held per annum. Learners are provided with study materials/ examination question booklets and scientific calculators at the camps.

Special Needs

The evaluation indicated that depending on the learners’ socio-economic background, some learners in the Project require additional funding for tuition and boarding fees. These expenses include books, uniform, tuck money and sports equipment. The evaluation highlighted the vulnerability of the learners that need this financial support and argued that this is a matter of serious concern for some children.


The intervention is designed to provide adequate academic and socio-economic support to learners that would benefit optimally given their potential. The testing of the learners serves to identify the academic potential of learners when they enter the Project.

The ACER IBT tests and camps help identify learning gaps which informs the academic intervention that learners need to cope in their new and usually challenging academic environment. The mentoring programme helps deal with the vulnerability associated with being in a new school and higher levels of expectations with regard to academic performance.

The intervention is mindful of learners’ disadvantaged background and makes all efforts to ensure that learners settle in their new environment with ease and that they are exposed to a life experience that brings out the best in them academically and socially.

1. Learner Camps: The purpose of the camps is to provide additional academic support to allow for further remediation and for exam preparation and practice in Mathematics, Science and language. In addition, the camps bring all learners together for focused support on study and life skills, including additional feedback and motivation sessions on the tertiary access support.  They also allow learners to do physical activities that are fun and facilitate social interaction among learners from different schools. We have seen the benefits of learners building networking skills and gaining wider exposure through these camps.

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