Sharanjeet Shan of Maths Centre, a South African NPO, has been named 2015 Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation.
Shan is one of 33 social entrepreneurs around the world who have been recognised by the foundation for designing and applying practical solutions to social challenges.
Maths Centre targets its programmes at teachers and students in some of the most poorly resourced primary and high schools in the country. The Schwab Foundation, an NPO, was founded in 1998 to foster social entrepreneurs who find innovative solutions that are able to help society progress.
Indian by birth, Shan was educated in India and England, although she has lived in South Africa for over 20 years and considers herself a citizen of the world.
An educationist at heart, she said: “Once you get to know who you really are and why you wake up every morning, then that’s the path you want to follow. For me that path was as a teacher and ultimately as a director at Maths Centre.”
Under Shan’s leadership, Maths Centre develops programmes to enhance teacher qualifications and professionalism in teaching mathematics, science, and technology subjects, while systematically monitoring learners’ progress.
As part of the award, Shan will represent Maths Centre at World Economic Forum (WEF) meetings in Shanghai, Cape Town and Davos.
“Social entrepreneurs are visionaries but are also realists, and are ultimately concerned with the practical implementation of scalable solutions,” explained Hilde Schwab, the co-founder and chairperson of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. “The 33 outstanding social entrepreneurs we have selected into the Schwab Foundation community this year are designing transformative models in collaboration with government and business partners to generate truly inclusive growth. As such, social entrepreneurs represent an integral and dynamic community of the WEF.”
David Aikman, the managing director of the WEF, said: “We are seeing greater appetite among other stakeholder groups of the Forum to learn from social innovation models and collaborate with social entrepreneurs in innovative ways.”
He was confident this trend would continue to grow in the future. The WEF was proud to be among the stakeholder groups for social and environmental change.
The 33 will join the broader Schwab Foundation community of social entrepreneurs, which includes more than 300 outstanding people from 60 countries. The foundation says they are fully integrated into the events and initiatives of the WEF. They contribute actively to and benefit from peer-to-peer exchanges with other social entrepreneurs, as well as interactions with top leaders in business, the government, civil society and the media.
Maths Centre’s 2014 projects supported 520 schools, reaching 174 695 learners and 4 268 teachers in maths and science. Children affected by Maths Centre programmes achieved pass rates of 81.3% in mathematics and 85.5% in physical science. In addition, 146 pupils got bursaries to further their studies in industries that are dependent on maths and science competency, such as engineering and financial services.
According to the centre, a recent project rolled out in Eastern Cape resulted in an increase of 86% in pupils’ average maths marks. A similar project in Limpopo led to an increase of 53% in average pupil maths marks. As a result of this strong track record, Maths Centre has received support from leading local and international funders including Shell, Absa and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. It has also partnered with provincial departments of basic education in all nine provinces.
The contribution from a variety of funders and volunteers is indicative of Maths Centre’s aim to include all role players in ensuring a successful education for South African children. Shan said: “For true transformation to occur, we need to tackle all facets that are hindering disadvantaged schools from catching up to higher standards of education.”
All doesn’t end in the classroom for the centre. Its programmes go beyond the school and include parents and communities in its solution to the education crisis. “Let every teacher champion their classroom, every parent their children, every grandparent their grandchildren with love, strong discipline and care, no matter what it takes,” she added.