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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

UFS plans to improve undergraduate pass rate
2005-01-13

The University of the Free State (UFS) will introduce a new foundation programme this year 2005 in an effort to improve the academic performance of undergraduate students.

According to Mr Francois Marais, Head: Centre for Higher Education Studies and Development (CHESD) at the UFS, the programme will assist students by providing for the development of cognitive and critical thinking skills by means of the integration of appropriate thinking skills (such as creative thinking, decision-making, problem solving, reasoning, and how to learn), into the subject content of university courses.

“The foundation programme will benefit students from disadvantaged school backgrounds and, in future, those whose performance in proficiency tests points to the need for additional development in, for example, language proficiency, mathematical literacy, computer skills and life skills,” says Mr Marais.

Based on their level of achievement in the final Grade 12 examination (Senior Certificate), students will be referred to the foundation programme.

In order to improve students writing and reading abilities for higher education studies, foundation programme students will be offered academic language courses in English and Afrikaans.

Kovsie Counselling will render appropriate services, eg career guidance and support to these students.

The new foundation programme will be implemented in the faculties of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Economic and Management Science, the Humanities and Law.

The duration for this programme differs from faculty to faculty. In the Faculty of Law it will take five years, while in the faculties of the Humanities, Natural and Agricultural Sciences, and Economic and Management Sciences it will take four years.

The national Department of Education will fund the foundation programme for three years. Funding for such programmes was made available to all higher education institutions in South Africa.

The welcoming function for all new first-year students and their parents will take place on Saturday 15 January 2005 at 11:00 in the Callie Human Centre on the main campus in Bloemfontein.

The registration of first-time entering first-year students who applied before 30 November 2004 to study at the Bloemfontein campus will take place from Monday 17 January 2005 to 21 January 2005 at the Callie Human Centre.

Senior undergraduate students (that is, students entering their second or later year of study) may register from 22 to 29 January 2005.

Postgraduate students, first time entering first year students and other students who applied for admission to the main campus after 30 November 2004 must register at the Callie Human from 31 January 2005 to 4 February 2005.

Due to the limitations placed by government on student numbers, the applications of students who applied late will be regarded as pending and will be processed as places become available.

    Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
13 January 2005

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