Eastern Cape learners turned up in their thousands to attend the launch of the 2017 National Science Week (NSW) at the newly renamed Nelson Mandela University. Hosted at the institution’s Missionvale campus, about 3500 learners from schools in and around Port Elizabeth attended the annual event.
Addressing learners, the minister of science and technology, Naledi Pandor, urged them to change South Africa’s future by pursuing mathematics and science. The minister reminded learners that under apartheid black people were discouraged from doing mathematics and science, and this had put them at a disadvantage. She said that now was the time for learners to be bold, and make use of the opportunities that were available, and urged them to go beyond required pass rates of 40%.
Minister Pandor told the thousands of schoolchildren that it was through their involvement in science education that South Africa could achieve goals such as a greener and more sustainable economy. “Through you studying science, engineering and technology at places like Nelson Mandela University, we can develop a greener economy for South Africa, greener economy for Africa and greener economy for the world,” she stated.
The minister said South Africa was working towards the sustainable development goals of the United Nations in step with many other countries. “The National Sustainable Development Strategy, which was adopted in November 2011, calls for a green economy that is resource-efficient, low-carbon and pro-employment. The promotion and growth of green technologies is very important as they have the potential to create jobs and grow the economy, improve rural livelihoods, conserve natural resources and reduce pollution,” said the minister.
This year NSW ran from 5 to 12 August, under the theme ‘Advancing Science Tourism’. The minister said this gave an opportunity for government to highlight its investment in the development of research infrastructure such as the Square Kilometre Array, science centres, laboratories and pilot plants that enable the translation of research into solid scientific outputs such as intellectual property, among others.
“Science education research shows that learners’ interest in science is boosted by excursions to scientific sites like botanical gardens, zoos, museums and science centres. Visits to such places provide learners with alternatives and practical explanations of some curriculum concepts, improving learners’ understanding in that regard. It is in this context that the DST supports 34 science centres in the country,” the minister said.
Nelson Mandela University’s vice-chancellor, Prof Derrick Swartz, said the country’s poverty and inequality challenges were persistent but that this could change through learning of science and mathematics. He said the fault lines of apartheid remain but these constructs could be broken down with science, technology and innovation. He challenged the high school learners to strive to use their scientific knowledge to uplift society, such as improving the quality of health services and use technology to improve schools in their areas without harming the environment.
“You must want to develop technology solutions that would help provide better services in hospitals, schools and society in general through innovation. You should work to provide alternative solutions to problems like access to energy using biomass for example; which would allow people across the city to have access to energy,” said Prof Swartz.
The province’s Premier Phumolo Masualle also attended the event and concurred with minister Pandor and Prof Swartz that investing in science education was important. He says many of the country’s problems could be resolved with a bigger push for young people to pursue mathematics and science education. He said while the Eastern Cape was home to many legends, he was looking forward to the province also becoming home to legends of science.
The NSW event was also a showcase for emerging young science talent. Among the rising science stars was Abongile Ngcosholo. Describing himself as a young scientist, the Ndzondelelo High School grade 12 pupil encouraged his peers to pursue science studies and careers at all costs. “You don’t need to be great to start; you need to start to be great. We can all participate in science. Science is for all of us,” said the 2016 Eskom Expo for Young Scientists finalist to rapturous applause.
Fellow Eskom Expo enthusiast Carol Boshoff told learners that her living with dyslexia had not deterred her from achieving silver and gold medals in her projects, but instead drove her to develop assistive devices for children living with other disabilities. “I know I struggle as a result of my disability sometimes, so that is why I want to assist other children with special needs to make their lives somewhat easier,” she said.
For more information visit www.dst.gov.za