SA came 39th out of 39 countries in a 2016 assessment that focused on the science performance of Grade 9s.

This sent shockwaves across the country‚ prompting the question: where are we going wrong?

Now, a report from the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) has revealed a major part of the problem: only 18% of high schools have a laboratory‚ and they are unevenly spread across provinces. In Gauteng‚ the Western Cape and the Free State‚ only about one third of high schools have labs — but they are the best off.

Worst off are the Eastern Cape and Limpopo‚ where only about 6% of high schools have labs. Mpumalanga‚ North West‚ KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape all have labs in 10% to 20% of high schools.

In response to the report, education specialist Judy Andrew said: "I believe equipped science labs are essential in high schools. Many schools have the laboratory, but it is not equipped. An innovative educator can use a classroom to teach science in the early years, but once experimental work at high schools needs to be done‚ without an equipped laboratory the teaching and learning of science becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible."

This comes in the wake of new ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa’s hearty words on the value of science at the Science Forum in Pretoria earlier this month‚ when he spoke of how important it is as a subject.

"We have a responsibility to develop a community of young people that believe there is a future for science in SA and on the continent‚" he said. "They must see themselves as agents of development‚ working to redesign the urban environment‚ expanding transport networks and building new‚ more sustainable human settlements."

But how can this become a reality without science laboratories, asks Andrew. For Thuthukani Ndebele‚ editor of the IRR’s profiling the provinces‚ the data sets — which look at a variety of categories across education‚ health‚ living conditions‚ crime and security — highlight provincial inequalities which drive internal migration.

"An unabated trend continues to be that of migration from worse-off areas into better-performing provinces. Unless the prospects of some regions improve‚ this will continue into the foreseeable future‚" he said.

The Department of Basic Education was not available for comment.

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