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17 April 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Science ambassadors
Friends Tekano Mbonani and Chaka Mofokeng are pursuing graduate degrees in respectively Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS) and Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape. The two got together and decided to reach out to the high school, Leseding Technical Secondary School, where they came from.

It was a full house as more than 120 learners packed the hall at the Leseding Technical Secondary School in the Free State, where two young Astronomy researchers had come home to tell their younger peers about their studies and career prospects across South Africa.

Chaka Mofokeng and Tekano Mbonani are both former learners at the high school. Currently pursuing graduate degrees – for Mbonani in Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS), and for Mofokeng in Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape – the two friends got together and decided to reach out to the high school where they came from.

The event took place in January before schoolwork, tests, and exam preparations are occupying learners’ minds, inviting them to think about the big picture – the future, and how to be part of it. This is timely, because in July last year, the MeerKAT radio telescope was inaugurated in the Karoo. The MeerKAT is the first step to the international SKA telescope project, but it is already one of the best radio telescopes in the world and has placed South Africa firmly on the world map of radio astronomy and engineering.

Building a bridge
“This project enables us to build a bridge between secondary and tertiary institutions. Currently focused on senior secondary students, we aim to promote science through outreach events and activities. Using science and technology-based activities and events, such as stargazing at an observatory or exploring the universe in a planetarium, we want to attract these future secondary graduates. We also provide mentorship, hoping to help them improve their academic performance in matric,” said Mbonani.

For a whole morning, they spoke about their journeys, about science, about the skills that scientists acquire during their studies and all the opportunities such studies open up in an era where the 4th Industrial Revolution is predicted to reduce the number of jobs in many traditional professions. They addressed their peers in both English and Sesotho.

Astronomy in South Africa contributes to critical-skills development. Investing in the MeerKAT, for example, meant that over a thousand bursaries were made available through the SKA South Africa Human Capacity Development programme. Young scientists like Mofokeng and Mbonani have the opportunity to be part of MeerKAT science projects through their studies, using machine learning and other skills that are high in demand in today’s world. This was one of the messages they brought home.

Gaining new skills

“As an Astronomy research student, I have gained skills such as data analysis, mathematical modelling, communication and writing, programming, and teamwork, among others. These are requirements for most companies and institutions. With the unfolding of the 4th Industrial Revolution, such skills sets make young and aspiring scientists the perfect candidates for making the most of future opportunities,” reflected Mofokeng.

Most of the learners said they have never attended a science-outreach event. They were inspired by the young scientists’ stories and nearly half of them said they could see themselves pursuing a career in science. The learners also expressed a strong interest in more events of this kind, as well as mentorship during Grades 11 and 12 from peers at university. They asked about the salaries earned by astronomers, how long the studies take, and where astronomers are working in South Africa.

This initiative, started by two bright young scientists, hopefully marks the beginning of many more events of this kind. Mofokeng and Mbonani are already planning what to do on their next trip home.

News Archive

Ethics at the heart of healthcare practice
2017-05-17

Description: Ethics at the heart of healthcare practice Tags: Ethics at the heart of healthcare practice

Prof Gert van Zyl during the launch of Health
Ethics for Healthcare Practitioners with
Prof Laetus Lategan at the Central
University of Technology.
Photo: Supplied

The Central University of Technology (CUT) in partnership with the University of the Free State (UFS) launched a newly published book: Health Ethics for Healthcare Practitioners that aims to raise awareness among healthcare practitioners and patients about various unethical challenges faced by healthcare services in both the private and public sectors.

Prof Laetus Lategan, Director of Research Development and Postgraduate Studies at CUT, and Prof Gert van Zyl, Dean of the UFS Faculty of Health Sciences, are the co-editors of the book intended to provide a moral guide to healthcare professionals when dealing with their patients. 

Holistic approach to healthcare practice

Their work places renewed emphasis on the importance of healthcare ethics. This is due to a diversifying range of healthcare services and the imminent collapse of the public healthcare service sector; most notably in developing countries. The authors particularly focus on how their findings can be integrated into real-life situations.  

The book looks at modern-day healthcare ethics and how they apply to both patients and healthcare practitioners including doctors, professional nurses and therapists. It is an elaborate reference book that will help healthcare practitioners to make informed decisions should they be faced with ethical dilemmas in their practices and assist them to gain a better understanding and devise solutions to problems faced by communities.

Academic journey and partnerships forged
Prof Van Zyl said the book had been a joyful journey of collaboration between the two universities, a journey of academic colleagues who become friends. He explained that they wanted to focus on creating new approaches to healthcare from an ethical perspective, to provide a guide and reference on ethics, not only to healthcare practitioners, but also to patients. “We hope this book will make a difference in healthcare delivery,” he concluded.

Prof Lategan said modern science needed to become more interdisciplinary, which would transcend the way science was conceived. “The essence of healthcare is to be of service to other people and have relationships with other people. I think it’s high time for us to start caring for one another, especially in the academic environment. If we are really looking after the health of other people, whether it is mental, spiritual or physical health, it starts with caring for other people.”

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