Like most Non-Government Organizations, the Cooperative Organization for the Upgrading of Numeracy Training, now simply known as COUNT, was established in 1989 in response to a crisis in mathematics education in primary schools in Uitenhage, Kwanobuhle, Eastern Cape. This establishment was supported financially by the Volkswagen Foundation. The founding members were Mr Gawe and Ms. Penny Smith.
For the first few years all work undertaken by the organisation was carried out in schools in this region and the Eastern Cape Province exclusively. In time, the organization grew and its outreach has included support for over 20 000 mathematics educators and more than 100 000 learners in previously disadvantage school communities in all 9 provinces.
In the process, the organization employed trainers who became some of the most prominent and respected educationist in maths education both nationally and internationally. These would include amongst others the current UCT Vice Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, the current Dean at the Central University of Technology Professor Nosisi Feza. Prof. Feza is also the Vice Chairperson of COUNT’s board. The current Chairperson of COUNT’s Board of Trustees also used to worked for the organization.
From 1995, COUNT ventured into work with parents and children through the Family Maths Programme (FMP) – a programme developed by the University of Berkeley in California. Several COUNT staff received hands-on training in the US and then revised and adapted the programme to suit local contexts. An extensive pilot project with ECD sites and Foundation Phase classes reached over 3 000 parents and children over a three-year period. The aim of the programme is to involve parents, caregivers and older siblings in the mathematical development of young children. The main thrust of these programmes is to improve the standard of numeracy and mathematics education in under-resourced schools and, to provide opportunities for the community of parents, youth and caregivers to be involved in young children’s mathematics education.
COUNT has been involved in projects that include provincially driven consortia-based projects and individually funded projects all over the country. These projects included local and global funding. Some of the international grants we got were from USAIDE, the Royal Netherlands Embassy, the Rockerfeller Foundation.
Locally the organization had been supported by a number of organizations and to name them may not be fair to those that we may forget to mention.
Like in all organization of business, COUNT had its fair share of challenges and triumphs. Our triumphs are where the organization had enough funding to support the school communities that had the most needs and where the organization saw a lot of improvement in parental involvement in the teaching and learning of their children, where more teachers improved their mathematics content knowledge, understanding of pedagogy and the mathematics curricular. With all of these positive gains from our secondary beneficiaries, our primary beneficiaries, the learners improved their performance in mathematics and incidentally other subjects.
However, the organization has also been affected negatively by lack of funding. As much as funding may be available for a certain period, there are times where funding dried up, due to the changing economy. There has been a lot of drop-off in donations from the general public, from corporates, trusts and foundations both locally and internationally. Some NGOs/NPOs have even shut down their operations due to this.
NGOs/NPOs like COUNT, play an important and relevant role in education as government is sometimes under severe pressure in terms of service delivery and development needs, but without sufficient skills and capacity to respond properly; NGOs often end up just filling the gap where government delivery and support is insufficient and/or non-existent.