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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

A position statement by the School of Medicine, UFS, regarding the crisis in health care in the Free State
2009-05-27

The executive management of the School of Medicine (SOM) at the University of the Free State (UFS) and its senior members wish to express their grave concern at the way the financial crisis in the Free State has negatively impacted on the provision of health care to the population. The unavailability of goods and services at every level of care has become so severely compromised that the staff of the SOM can no longer remain silent on this issue. By remaining silent it may be construed that we are either indifferent to, or even accepting the situation. Neither is true. The SOM can in no way condone, sanction or accept the current situation of health care in the Free State.

Other concerns expressed by the SOM include:

  • Medical services have been severely compromised due to the disintegrating primary health care system in the FS. This has resulted in patients who were in need of more advanced levels of medical care not being referred appropriately or timeously to level two hospitals and from there for tertiary care. Inpatient as well as outpatient numbers are steadily declining and the tendency now is to fill fewer beds with critically ill or terminally ill patients. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable patients for training and examination purposes.
     
  • It becomes more difficult to attract and retain experienced and suitably qualified medical specialists interested in an academic career, due to the inability to provide prospective career opportunities. This is particularly the case in the surgical disciplines.
     
  • It is also becoming more difficult to attract and appoint highly qualified registrars (future specialists) since the reputation of this SOM has been compromised by the negative publicity created by the financial difficulties of the FSDoH. Registrars form the backbone of the clinical work force in all teaching hospitals. If vacant posts cannot be filled in time service provision, as well as undergraduate teaching are severely jeopardised.
     
  • As a direct consequence of the rationing of health care, fewer surgical procedures are being performed. The point may soon be reached where registrars in the surgical disciplines may not get sufficient hands-on experience to allow them to qualify within the required time frame.
     
  • Non-payment of accounts to service providers and suppliers including the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS), maintenance contracts and industry will severely compromises health care and future loyalty, goodwill and provision of critical services.
     
  • The dwindling number of qualified and experienced nurses in the public (and private) health care sector is an ongoing unresolved issue. Despite the fact that primary health care is mainly nurse-driven, nursing colleges were closed during the previous decade. These colleges must now be re-commissioned at high cost adding to the financial burden.
     
  • The morale of health care workers at all levels of health care has reached an all-time low
     
  • It is becoming increasingly difficult to conduct meaningful research in all disciplines due to staff shortages and lack of funding.

See attachment for the full statement on by the School of Medicine, regarding the crisis in health care in the Free State.

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
26 May 2009
 

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