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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

Government to benefit from training of interpreters
2009-03-31

 
Pictured, from the left, are: Prof Theo du Plessis (Director: Unit for Language Management, UFS), Ms Mokone Nthongoa (HOD: Sport, FS Department of Sport, Arts and Culture), Mr Khotso Sesele (MEC: FS Department of Sport, Arts and Culture) and Prof Engela Pretorius (Vice Dean: Faculty of the Humanities, UFS).
Photo: Mangaliso Radebe
Government to benefit from training of interpreters

The fourth phase of a project to train eight conference interpreters and 30 community interpreters to assist government departments at service delivery points in the Free State was launched this week.

The project is part of the Multilingualism Information Development Programme which brings together the Free State provincial government, the Province of Antwerp and the University of Antwerp in Belgium and the University of the Free State (UFS).

Speaking at the launch of the fourth phase of the project, the MEC for Sport, Arts and Culture in the Free State, Mr Khotso Sesele, said: “The fact that we have been through the first three stages of this project, and are now launching its fourth phase, is indicative of the magnificent progress that has been made. This is a sign that through partnerships we can achieve more.”

The MIDP IV consists of two pillars, namely a practical and a research component. Its aim is to generate interpreting capacity within the provincial Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. The focus is on training an interpreting team over three years which can be employed within a governmental context at various service points.

“As we approach the 2009 FIFA Confederation Cup and the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournaments, it will be important for our communities to be able to interact with millions of foreign nationals who will be in our country from different world destinations during and beyond these two important soccer events,” said the MEC.

“The focus on interpreter training by this fourth phase of MIDP is thus an important factor in ensuring better communication during and beyond these important soccer spectacles that will take place in our country.”
The focus of the first three phases of the MIDP was on the main official languages of the province. This fourth phase, which started in 2008, will run until 2010 and its focus is on the Xhariep District Municipality.

“The provision of interpreting services and its further extension to district municipalities will provide the necessary interpreting skills to our communities that will enhance better interaction amongst ourselves,” said Mr Sesele.

He said the fact that indigenous languages have been “elevated from their marginalised status to being languages of business and commerce” is an important milestone that must be cherished.

This fourth phase of MIDP will also incorporate sign language as part of its focus on interpreting services.

“In our quest to ensure a multilingual dispensation in our province, we need not neglect to remember people with disabilities,” he said. “This is a matter of principle that does not require debate.”

“We should thus ensure the realisation of the goal of MIDP IV which is to ensure smooth communication interaction within the wider public, including the deaf community.”

“This is a wonderful project,” said Ms Mathabo Monaheng, one of the students in the MIDP. “As a sign language interpreter trainee this project will empower me with the necessary skills to be able to make a meaningful contribution to the deaf community in terms of communication.”

The MIDP is funded by the Province of Antwerp and successfully implemented by the Unit for Language Management at the UFS.

Media Release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt.stg@ufs.ac.za  
31 March 2009

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