Read about the man, his dream and raison d’être…..
David Silman is a twenty year veteran science teacher. He has worked in urban and rural public schools, private schools as well as in state schools in England.
In an editorial (2 April 2011), The Star newspaper described Silman as ‘a very 21st century version of the old Mr Chips, immortalized in the 1939 film of the same name…’
In 2010, in response to the protracted and very destructive teacher strike of 2010, he instituted a programme to teach grade 12 pupils. The strike strategically took place a couple of months before the final matric examinations, and he was outraged that Grade 12 pupils in particular were being unfairly prejudiced by the absence of their teachers from their classrooms.
He made a call for assistance on David O’Sullivan’s drive-time show on 702. He needed to borrow a laptop and some digital projectors for use in a large (1000+ seater) accessible venue to deliver the lessons. The response was overwhelming, with the Harvest Time Dome Church’s Bishop Adams providing a venue in Claremont. Sony presented him with a Vaio laptop, Liberty provided their 911 series Mathematics textbooks, dozens of teachers volunteered their time, and by the time the exams started, lessons were being delivered all over the city and further afield.
It had been Silman’s intention to provide only Mathematic, Physical Sciences and Life Sciences lessons, his teaching subjects, but by the time exams started, pupils were receiving lessons in English, Accounting, and Business Studies as well.
His activities were noticed by Angie Motshekga, Basic Education Minister and when she came to see for herself what was happening at the Church venue, she asked Silman if he would consider leaving the classroom to manage special projects in the Basic Education Ministry.
As Director for Special Projects in the ministry, he was tasked with managing the Dinaledi programme aimed at improving pupil’s performance in Maths and Science, in 500 mostly rural high schools in the ‘big three’ provinces of Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal. The programme was funded by a conditional grant from National Treasury with an initial annual budget of R70 000 000 in 2011.
By 2014, these 500 schools were achieving results in Maths and Science at a level 10 percentage points higher than the remaining 5500 high schools in the country.
In 2015, the project was further expanded to provide support to 1000 schools, including 300 primary schools and 200 Technical schools, with a total annual budget of R 400 000 000. provided under the aegis of the Mathematics, Science and Technology Conditional Grant.
While Director of the Dinaledi Unit his work was described in a Wits School of Governance research report published in May 2014 thus; “The only intervention that seems to have had some effect on science passes is the government’s Dinaledi programme. This confirms the findings of the World Bank evaluation and warrants a re-visiting of the long-term impact of this initiative, considering the programmatic evolution and new delivery approaches…”
His current task, a top priority for Minister Motshekga, is to manage a project aimed at reintroducing Mathematics to schools that had stopped offering the subject in preference to Maths Literacy. These schools are supported to reintroduce the subject by providing teachers, teacher training and other essential resources
Both as a classroom teacher and whilst working at the Department of Basic Education, monitoring schools in the furthest reaches of the country, he recognised that no specific provision is being made to cater for hundreds of thousands of intellectually gifted children.
Silman believes that there must be schools for the intellectually gifted child and has registered a non-profit company called the Gifted and Advance Learning Academy of South Africa (GALASA).
The first school will open in January 2017 on the property of the Progressive Jewish community’s synagogue, Beit Emanuel in Parktown, 38 Oxford Road.
The school will open its doors at the beginning of the 2017 school year. GALASA will provide an enriched curriculum for learners with superior intellectual potential, including a specific focus on providing educational services to children from economically disadvantaged families.
In collaboration with parents, teachers and allied professionals such as educational psychologists, GALASA will identify intellectually advanced and gifted children.
Every year the Allen Gray Orbis Foundation identifies, selects and supports academic high achievers by placing them in excellent schools throughout the country. Their focus is not only on academic ability however, Children selected must show a significant entrepreneurial potential.
Although all the shortlisted candidates meet their very high academic requirements, about half are not selected, only because they don’t exhibit as much entrepreneurial potential as those who make the cut. It is from this group of children that GALASA will select some of its first cohort of grade 8 pupils.
Teachers in other schools will be encouraged to refer academically exceptional pupils to GALASA for assessment throughout the school year.
GALASA will immerse pupils in a differentiated, enriched instructional milieu based on the South African National Curriculum Statement as elaborated in the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS).
Since GALASA is a not for profit company and receives no Provincial subsidy, school fees must be levied to sustain it.
Funding for children from financially constrained families is being sought through direct and indirect sponsorship by philanthropic individual and corporate citizens.
Donors and sponsors will be issued a section 18A certificate which then qualifies the donor for a tax rebate for the entire sum, provided that the donation does not exceed 10% of the donor’s income.
In addition, ten percent of the annual school fee will be reserved for subsidising children whose parents encounter unexpected financial distress. In the event of non-payment of fees, the school will accommodate the affected child and will assist with finding an appropriate alternative schooling solution. As a matter of policy, such pupils will be permitted to complete the current academic year.
Silman expects that the ethical value of ‘paying forward’ will have been inculcated and entrenched to the extent that graduates of the school will naturally contribute to the financial support of future generations of needy GALASA scholars.
The socio-economic and ethnic profile of the school is intended to be highly selective and extremely diverse, but all pupils will, without exception have in common the characteristic of outstanding academic potential.
There are plans to establish and replicate the school model in each of the nine provinces. Initially, the school will only cater to scholars who live in Johannesburg, but will accommodate boarders as the need arises.
He is emphatic that specialised schools such as GALASA is the only realistic way of nurturing and developing gifted children who would otherwise remain in academically inappropriate environments, with little chance of fulfilling their potential.
Silman says, “even the best of private schools do not offer a curriculum that is specifically geared toward gifted pupils, so what chance does a gifted child living in the rural boondocks have?”