Alexandria farmer brothers, Paul and Stephen Fick, who are also both consulting engineers and in their sixties, are helping solve a mathematics teaching crisis in a local township school — and they are involving their church in the lives of the learners.
Today the Fick brothers are partnering with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in delivering an innovative, high-tech mathematics teaching programme to the learners, and members of the Life Christian Church in Alexandria are building relationships with the learners and helping them to deal with some of the tough personal problems they face.
It was not an easy road to where they are today, Paul Fick told Dr Johann Mc Farlane, coordinator of the educational task team of Transformation Christian Network (TCN) in Port Elizabeth. He said that three years ago he became aware that the learners in the local township school were not receiving adequate mathematics teaching, and that very few of them passed the mathematics examinations in their final matric year. He decided that he, with his background in engineering, might be able to make a difference, so he offered to help the learners in the afternoons. There were many administrative problems and frustrations along the way. On some afternoons he would arrive at the school and find it locked, the staff having forgotten that he was due there.
Noting how Paul was helping so many needy learners on his own, somebody suggested that he contact the Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Unit (GMMGDU) at NMMU which specialises in using technology to teach mathematics and science. He called the unit and got into touch with its head, Professor Werner Olivier. This led to the launch, last year, of a pilot programme run by him and his brother Stephen, with the guidance and support of Prof Olivier and his staff.
Recently the 2013 programme was launched. It goes much further than the pilot, with 10 of the stronger learners each receiving a tablet loaded with all of the mathematics and science curricula being taught by experts, as well as worked-out matric papers of the last four years. Each of these learners has to form a group with two other learners, and has to assist them when they use the tablets to review work done in the weekly extra maths classes run by the Fick brothers.
Every learner also received a workbook in which problems tackled in class have to be reviewed. During weekly extra maths classes one of the Fick brothers explains the work which is presented via a data projector. The wonder of this model is that the lesson is captured on the tablets which are taken home by some of the learners, affording them an opportunity to review the explanations at home and to meet in their study groups at times convenient for them all.
The brothers are also there on another weekday afternoon to assist with the work in the workbooks, and to help the groups of three with any problems. The local mathematics teacher is also involved.
The Life Christian Church pastor often accompanies the Ficks to the school to build relationships with the learners. Some of the learners now attend the church, and on occasion the church invites all the learners at the school to its services.
Paul says: “You’ll be amazed at the problems these kids have to contend with. Some have even considered suicide. We work with them, because we believe that we have to deal with the whole person, not only with his or her mathematics problems!”
Mc Farlane comments: “Now if that isn’t missionary work at its best, what is? We see this as an excellent example of what John Stott [Late Evangelical movement leader and author] calls ‘social missionary work’, in which one first addresses the obvious physical needs of people, and allows them to then seek more from you on a deeper level. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?”