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Change the world

02/02/2023

Vuyani Chipunza never expected to become a maths and science celebrity, but these days he is stopped in the streets by learners asking if he is “that Vuyani from Yebo Tutor”.

He most certainly is. He is one of several skilled tutors in the Centre for Broadband Communication (CBC) at Nelson Mandela University who livestream free extra lessons for Grade 11 and 12 maths, physical science and life science learners anywhere in South Africa.
 
Subscription is completely free on the Yebo Tutor livestream channel on YouTube:
 
“My wish is to help as many learners as possible to do well in science and maths so that they can gain access to university, which is why I joined Yebo Tutor,” says Vuyani who is a final year student doing his engineering degree in mechatronics at Nelson Mandela University.
 
 
For his schooling, Vuyani attended Little Flower Senior Secondary School in rural Qumbu in the Eastern Cape, where from Grade 10 he started tutoring the maths classes from Grade 8 onwards. After matriculating he needed to pursue his university education but with Yebo Tutor he can continue tutoring for Little Flower and so many other schools.
 
Yebo Tutor was conceived during the COVID-19 pandemic by the Director of the CBC, Professor Tim Gibbon. Last year, a group of physics and science tutors piloted it with Grade 11 and 12 learners. 
 
“We currently have one hour of livestream tutoring in maths, physics and chemistry three times a week and we want to exponentially grow the model to reach as many learners and teachers as possible throughout South Africa,” says Prof Gibbon. 
 
Learners anywhere can access the Yebo Tutor on any device or teachers can go online and their entire class can benefit from the tutorial, and teachers can enhance their skills too. 
 
While the tutors are livestreaming, learners can type their questions on YouTube or click on a link and call into the tutor and ask their question. There is also a WhatsApp group linked and they can submit questions this way too. To mitigate the load-shedding problem, the tutors will be recording short videos that don’t need to be watched in real time.
 
“We also make it fun,” says Prof Gibbon. “One of the 2022 tutors, Dr Nyasha Suliali, a PhD in Physics, is now a Research Associate at York University in the United Kingdom. He comes onto the YouTube channel and shows learners where his is living, what his apartment looks like and how he gets to work, so that they can see what they can achieve; it’s inspirational.” 
 
Yebo Tutor’s potential return on investment is phenomenal because one tutor can help hundreds of learners everywhere to succeed in maths and science in matric, and to gain access to South African universities. There are not nearly enough university enrolments in these subjects which are critical for research, innovation and the future of work. We all know there is a huge shortage of qualified science and maths teachers in South Africa and this is an economical, fast-track method to overcome the problem fast.
 
“It’s pretty amazing because all we need to reach the learners is a micro studio with high production quality and green screens,” says Prof Gibbon. “The whole studio, which can be set up in a small lab space or the tutor’s home, costs between R30 – R40 000. It’s the Uber of education. To help learners and students you don’t need to spend billions building schools and physical infrastructure.” Prof Gibbon has developed a similar model called Yebo Physics for Nelson Mandela University to offer additional tutoring to the 350 first-year engineering students he teaches.
 
Like Yebo Tutor the model is completely scalable and the CBC team has the expertise as one of their focus areas is developing the technology for optical fibre, which they have done for many years. The CBC specialises in innovations that help to change the world, such as transdisciplinary big science projects, including radio astronomy (the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), MeerKAT, HIRAX); 5G telecommunications and robots that explore the oceans. Yebo Tutor is simple for the CBC to effect.
 
“If we can get funding to sponsor air time and the operating side of Yebo Tutor, we can have 10 or 20 microstudios up and running, along with 24-hour live help for all learners across South Africa.” In exchange for tutoring, the tutors, who are all maths and science undergraduate and postgraduate students, could, for example, have a company sponsor a bursary for their studies,” Prof Gibbon explains.
 
With funding, Yebo Tutor could rapidly expand to not only the whole of South Africa but thereafter to the continent and internationally. “We could live stream 24 hours a day to reach learners anywhere in the world and we are now looking at paid advertising to enable us to reach more learners in South Africa first and then grow the model.”
 
The Executive Dean of Science at Nelson Mandela University, Professor Azwinndini Muronga, is highly supportive of Yebo Tutor: “As higher education institutions we have to partner with schools to encourage more girl and boy learners to study maths and science. 
 
“In my role as a physics researcher, maths and science educator and Executive Dean of Science at Nelson Mandela University, I am extremely concerned about the state of maths and physical science education in South Africa. I have repeated over the years that I am not interested in 30% or 40% pass thresholds; I am interested in quality passes and in increased numbers of female and male matriculants achieving well in physical science and maths. 
 
Prof Muronga emphasises the need to work towards science and maths enrolment increases in all our universities, with learners from all our provinces as well as from other African countries. “If we don’t do this, our continent won’t benefit from seeing our own young researchers contributing to major international research projects such as the SKA, CERN, and to new disciplines and growth areas,” he says. These include Computational and Data Sciences; Quantum Science and Technology, Multimessenger Astronomy and Space Sciences; Atmospheric and Oceanographic Sciences; Biomaths, Biostats, Biophysics, Bioinformatics and Genetics; Science and Technology in Society; and Science Communication.
 
“We need a seismic shift in the national and provincial educational policy; it calls for a policy that is enabling of new models for learning and teaching like Yebo Tutor,” says Prof Muronga. “This model recognises and nurtures every learner’s potential to achieve in subjects like maths and science, instead of continuously lowering the pass rates. 
 
“We have to do this. If you want to destroy a nation you should attack its education system and if you want to defend your nation you should invest in a strong culture of education, innovation and new knowledge generation.”
 
 
Tutors Dr James Jena left and Tebogo Sebake

Contact information
Prof Tim Gibbon
Director: Centre for Broadband Communication
tim.gibbon@mandela.ac.za