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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

DF Malherbe Memorial Lecture
2005-05-19

DF Malherbe Memorial Lecture: Language and language activism in a time of transformation (summary)
Proff Hennie van Coller and Jaap Steyn

Language activism necessary for multilingualism
The awareness is growing that language activism will be needed to bring about a truly democratic multi-lingual society. What is quite clear is that a firm resolve must continuously resist the concentrated pressure on Afrikaans-medium schools (and universities) to allow themselves to be anglicised through becoming first parallel medium, then dual medium, and finally English medium institutions.

Proff Hennie van Coller and Jaap Steyn said this last night (Wednesday night) in the 24th DF Malherbe Memorial Lecture at the University of the Free State. Prof van Coller is head of the Department Afrikaans, Dutch, German and French at the UFS. Both are widely honoured for their contributions to Afrikaans and the promotion of Afrikaans.

They discussed three periods of transformation since 1902, and said about the current phase, which started in 1994:  “Besides all institutions and councils having to be representative of South Africa’s racial composition, places of education were required to open their doors. Quite rapidly this policy has had the result that schools and universities may be solely English medium, but not solely Afrikaans medium. Afrikaans medium institutions — if they claim the right to remain Afrikaans — are quickly branded racist, even though their student body may include all races.

“Education departments are presently exerting great pressure on Afrikaans medium schools to become double or parallel medium schools.  Parallel medium education is an equitable solution provided it can be sustained. Established parallel medium schools, such as Grey College in Bloemfontein, have catered even-handedly for English and Afrikaans speakers for decades. But the situation is different in the parallel medium (and still worse in the double medium) schools that spring up usually at the behest of a department of education.

“Afrikaans schools are converted almost over-night into parallel or dual medium schools without any additional personnel being provided. Depending on the social environment, a parallel medium school becomes reconstituted as a dual medium school on average in five to eight years, and dual medium school becomes an English-only school in two to three years. Some Afrikaans medium schools have become English medium in just three years.

“Though the Constitution recognises mono-lingual schools, officials in the provinces insist that Afrikaans schools become dual or parallel medium; English medium schools are left undisturbed. One must conclude that the tacit aim of the state is English as the sole official language, despite the lip-service paid to multi-lingualism, and the optimistic references to post-apartheid South Africa as a ‘rainbow’ nation.”

They said a recent study has shown that the 1 396 Afrikaans schools in the six provinces in 1993 have dwindled to 844. The fall off in the Free State is from 153 to 97; in the Western Cape from 759 to 564; in Gauteng from 274 to 155; in Mapumalanga from 90 to 3; in the North West from 82 to 13; and in Limpopo Province from 38 to 12.

They said the changes at universities, too, have been severe, as university staffs well know. Ten years ago there were five Afrikaans universities. Today there are none. The government demanded that all universities be open to all, which has meant that all universities have had to become English medium. And no additional funding was forthcoming for the changes. The government policy amounts to a language “tax” imposed on the Afrikaans community for using Afrikaans.

“Only when all schools (and universities) are English will the clamor cease. Academics and educationists are beginning to speak openly of forming pressure groups to save Afrikaans schools, and of using litigation as one of their methods. 59% of Afrikaans parents have said they would support strong action if Afrikaans were no longer a medium of instruction at schools.”

 

 


 

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