South Africa faces a significant skills gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields – a gap that cannot be ignored. The COVID-19 crisis exposed the shortcomings of our education system, revealing challenges such as limited access to equipment and internet needed for online education, inadequate and unsupportive learning environments, and a lack of resources. In April 2022, severe flooding in KZN further compounded the difficulties faced by learners, educators, and tutors, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

Amidst this crisis, PROTEC, a non-government organisation (NGO), has emerged as a vital force in addressing South Africa’s pressing need for skilled professionals. Since its establishment in 1982, PROTEC has been empowering previously disadvantaged learners nationwide to embark on successful STEM-based careers. This transformative impact can only be achieved through collaborations with national and provincial education departments, as well as the unwavering support of private sector funders, trusts, non-profit organisations, and passionate alumni who share PROTEC’s vision of nurturing technologically skilled young South Africans.

Established in 1991 in Tongaat, KZN, the PROTEC Tongaat branch stands as a shining example of the impact this programme can have when provided with robust support. Each year, PROTEC Tongaat lends a helping hand to approximately 120 Grade 10-12 learners from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds who demonstrate exceptional aptitude in math and science. These learners often face daunting challenges, with many coming from households affected by unemployment, and others heading their households.

A key driving force behind the success of PROTEC Tongaat is Tongaat Hulett, which has contributed substantial resources to the PROTEC Tongaat branch over the last 32 years. Through its dedicated corporate social investment initiative, #GrowingASweetFuture, Tongaat Hulett has played a pivotal role in the programme’s achievements. This initiative, bolstered by the generous support of donors like the North Coast Courier, the Victor Daitz Foundation, Allan Gray, the MGA Trust, Altron, FFS Refiners, and the Fulton Trust, exemplifies Tongaat Hulett’s unwavering commitment to creating a brighter future.

#GrowingASweetFuture is more than just financial support – it is about creating opportunities too, and Tongaat Hulett has employed 33 engineering students who have successfully completed the PROTEC programme. This serves as a sweet reward for their unwavering dedication to education, as the PROTEC programme demands long-term commitment and hard work from its recipients.

The impact of Tongaat Hulett’s investment in #GrowingASweetFuture is evident. PROTEC Tongaat actively recruits up to 40 learners per grade, from Grades 10 to 12, ensuring a significant impact on a broad range of students. Additionally, a Grade 9 Intervention programme, held during the July holidays and Term 3, solidifies foundational skills in subjects such as Math and English, equipping Grade 9 learners with the tools to excel in Grade 10.

PROTEC Tongaat offers a comprehensive suite of support to its learners, including:

  • Saturday School – where they receive tuition in Math, Physics, English, and the World of Work. 
  • Vacation School Workshops – providing academic enrichment and engaging technological activities to help students test their aptitude and interest in technical and engineering careers. 
  • Career Exposure – learners have the opportunity to embark on site visits, receive career counselling, participate in career days, engage in job shadowing, and even visit Tongaat Hulett mills and refineries to make informed career choices.
  • ICT support – including computer training and access to computers with internet connectivity for study and application purposes.

The Results

The investment made through #GrowingASweetFuture has yielded remarkable results. In 2021, three learners from PROTEC Tongaat received national awards, with Phindile Xaba being recognised as the top PROTEC learner nationwide. Alongside Phindile, Simile Ngwazi also achieved seven distinctions in matric. Both young ladies received bursaries from the eThekwini Municipality for their tertiary studies, embarking on exciting paths in computer sciences and pharmacy. Another notable accomplishment by a 2021 PROTEC Tongaat learner was that of Ntuthuko Ngcobo, achieving 99% in his final matric examinations. 

PROTEC Tongaat also takes immense pride in its previous graduates, two of whom obtained PhDs. Rachel Magwaza achieved a Doctorate in Philosophy: Pharmaceutical Science and is currently a Teaching Fellow in Biomedical Science at Manchester University, UK. Siphamandla Ngcobo obtained a PhD Medical Science at UKZN. 

PROTEC Tongaat Hulett partnership board member Mark Tucker says, “It is these types of stories that provide hope for STEM skills development in South Africa, particularly as Tongaat is still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating floods in April 2022 where countless houses still lack running water.”

Join The PROTEC Programme

PROTEC Tongaat is currently identifying promising Grade 9 learners to join their programme. Learners who attain a minimum score of 55% in Math and English are invited to take part in the selection test. Those who pass the test undergo interviews together with their parents or guardians, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the dedication and effort needed as a PROTEC learner before extending an invitation to participate.

Learners are invited from the following local schools (will be placed in a table):

  • Fairbreeze Secondary
  • Mountview Secondary
  • Nkosibomvu High School
  • Nondenisa High School
  • Sacred Heart Secondary School
  • Nombika High School
  • Mashiyamahle Secondary School
  • Sikhulile High School
  • Tongaat Secondary 
  • Verulam High School
  • Temple Valley High School
  • Hloniphani Secondary School
  • Trenance Park
  • Belverton Secondary and
  • Seatides Secondary

Through the invaluable support of Tongaat Hulett and the #GrowingASweetFuture initiative, PROTEC Tongaat is cultivating a brighter future for South Africa. By nurturing STEM skills among disadvantaged learners and empowering them to pursue successful careers; PROTEC and its partners are creating a positive impact that extends far beyond the borders of Tongaat, ultimately contributing to the nation’s growth and development.