Prior to the 1994 election there were four Education Departments in South Africa (White, Bantu, Indian and Coloured). Although all government schools taught the same syllabus the learners wrote different examinations so a direct comparison of standards was impossible. Despite this, we all know that the Bantu Education system was inferior to the White system though the extent of this disparity was not clear due to the lack of contact between teachers in the various departments.
After the elections in 1994 exciting changes took place in government education leading to rapid and dramatic transformation.
All four Education Departments were amalgamated
All schools were fully integrated
Regular contact started between teachers from both sides of the system
All learners wrote the same Matriculation examination and for the first time a direct comparison of standards could be made. The greatest discrepancies seemed to be in the Sciences. In Biology for example the provincial pass rate in Matric dropped by more than 50%
None of the previously disadvantaged schools had laboratories or equipment to carry out practicals
The teachers had come from a system where they had never been exposed to practical work themselves
34-38% of the Matriculation paper was based on observations relating to practical work
Learners were memorizing practicals that they had never seen and the feedback from the matric markers each year was that all deductive questions based on practical work were very poorly answered.
A major problem arose when the government started to insist on CASS evaluation (Continuous Assessment). This system involved producing a class mark for each Grade 12 learner 40% of which had to be based on his/her practical work. This is an impossible demand on teachers without equipment or expertise.
Birth of an idea
In 1991 Rhona Duncan, a high school biology teacher, started planning some form of intervention that would be acceptable to both teachers and learners, in the disadvantaged schools, and would help to address this major problem that they all faced.
The first idea of a central laboratory to which the learners could come on a roster basis soon faded because of the logistic of getting learners to and from such a centre. Strongly believing that hands–on practical work is a basic educational requirement of any Science, it was of paramount importance to Rhona that whatever was offered it would have to reach every learner and not be just another enrichment programme to which a select few could gain access.
The idea of having a well equipped storeroom and a vehicle to transport the required equipment to each school on request is eventually what materialized.