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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

Enhancement of social justice focus at research colloquium
2010-10-07

At the third Education for Social Justice Research Colloquium the publication Praxis towards sustainable empowering learning environments in South were handed to Prof. Ezekiel Moraka, Vice-Rector: External Relations at the UFS. At this occasion were, from the left: Prof. Dennis Francis, Dean of the UFS Faculty of Education; Prof. Sechaba Mahlomaholo, Research Professor in the Faculty of Education Sciences at the North-West University; Prof. Moraka; and Dr Milton Nkoane, Senior Lecturer in the UFS Faculty of Education.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

 

This year, the University of the Free State (UFS) was the host for the Research Colloquium: Education for Social Justice for the very first time. It is the third time that this colloquium has been presented.

Prof. Ezekiel Moraka, Vice-Rector: External Relations at the UFS, opened the colloquium, stating that academics, through their research, are ultimately in a good standing to advise government on important issues such as social justice for them to address these issues accordingly.

Prof. Sechaba Mahlomaholo, Research Professor in the Faculty of Education Sciences at the North-West University, delivered the opening address on the theme: Validating community cultural wealth towards sustainable empowering learning environments for social justice. He said that the legacy of our recent past as South Africa still continues to haunt us, especially as exemplified in the dysfunctionalities that are rife in our education.

“With the colloquium we manage to bring together the ideas, thoughts, resources and efforts of educators and/or educationists concerned with the creation of a more equitable, equal, free, hopeful, peaceful and socially just society. Through our teaching, our community engagement and research activities we strive towards a more humane, caring, respecting and respectful South Africa and the world,” he said.

According to Prof. Mahlomaholo, education and its research are some of the most potent mechanisms at the very centre of social transformation. The papers at the colloquium focused on investigating, understanding and responding to issues of amongst others:

  • The medium of teaching and learning which continues to be a barrier to many learners to perform to the best of their abilities in the majority of the education institutions in South Africa;
  • Health, sexuality, HIV/Aids, stigmatisation and other deseases plaguing our communities currently;
  • Self-fulfilling prophecies and stereotypes about some learners not being as intelligent as the rest and this finally being reflected and confirmed in their poor academic achievements;
  • Differentiated levels of parental involvement in the activities of their children’s learning due to long absences from their families as they have to work in far-off places of employment;

Papers delivered at the colloquium moved beyond merely identifying the problems; they also suggested possible and plausible research-based solutions to these, such as integrating HIV/Aids education in curricula, listening to the aspirations of significant stakeholders such as mothers and parents generally in teaching and facilitating more rigorous community engagement practices.

At the colloquium gala dinner the book Praxis towards sustainable empowering learning environments in South Africa by authors Dr Milton Nkoane, Senior Lecturer in the UFS Faculty of Education, Prof. Mahlomaholo and Prof. Dennis Francis, Dean of the Faculty of Education at the UFS, was launched. The publication consists of a collection of the best peer-reviewed papers from a conference with the theme Creating sustainable empowering learning environments through scholarship of engagement. The main criterion for inclusion was that the paper should contribute to the theme by means of an original, tight, theoretical and empirical study conducted with the aim of informing the practice of creating sustainable empowering learning environments. The concrete cases examined in many of the chapters are very useful to helping readers understand the specific, on-the-ground concerns related to higher education and schools.

Media Release
Issued by: Leonie Bolleurs
Strategic Communication
Tel: 051 401 2707
Sel: 0836455853
Email: bolleursl@ufs.ac.za  
30 September 2010
 

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