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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

Publication on indigenous knowledge systems
2005-10-21

 

 

Dr Otsile Ntsoane (acting Director: IKS, Department of Science and Technology) and Prof Philip Nel (Director:  Africa Studies at the UFS and guest editor of the publication) at the launch of the publication

UFS launches most comprehensive publication on indigenous knowledge systems
A unique collection of essays on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) was launched yesterday (20 October 2005) by the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Programme of Africa Studies.

The essays are published as a special edition of INDILINGA, the African Journal for Indigenous Knowledge Systems and is an outcome of the colloquium on Indigenous Knowledge Systems that was presented last year by the UFS Director of Africa Studies in cooperation with the National Research Council.

“The amount and diversity of materials on IKS brought together under one cover is unique as there are no other South African publications of this magnitude on this issue.  It contains papers of international experts on IKS such as Prof Fritz Wallner from Austria and Prof Gayatri Spivak, foremost postcolonial theorist from India,” said Prof Philip Nel, Director of Africa Studies and guest editor of the publication.

“The publication is a rich source field for students and scholars to exploit because most of the sources quoted in the articles are recent, fresh and relevant.  The contributors are largely people responsible for managing, fostering and studying IKS in a responsible manner,” said Prof Nel.

“An added value of the publication is the inclusion of the policy document on IKS that was adopted by Cabinet in November 2004,” said Prof Nel.


“Millions of people in South Africa are faced with the painful choice of abandoning their heritage.  In this choice, the study and management of IKS has a major role to play; on the one hand, to encourage as much assimilation of traditional knowledge as possible into the modern systems, and on the other hand to provide a “language” and a “grammar” for indigenous people through which they can access modernity,” said Prof Nel.

The IKS debate involves questions of African identity, protection of indigenous communities and practices, political aspects as well as the scientific integrity of the enterprise. 

The publication displays the range of burning questions that have to be resolved in this field such as mainstreaming IKS in academic debate and practice, recognition and protection of the knowledge holders, bio-prospecting and bio-piracy, bio and ethnic healing, lack of textbooks and field manuals, etc and will prove worthwhile for future researchers.

 “One of the main reasons for publishing this volume is the fact that IKS should be studied not only to provide a sense of pride in the past, or  to engender respect for indigenous peoples, but also to enable people in indigenous mind sets to make a better transition into the world of science and technology,” said Prof Nel.

The guest speaker at the launch was Dr Otsile Ntsoane, acting Director of IKS at the Department of Science and Technology.  In his speech Dr Ntsoane stressed the symbolic and concrete value of the publication.  “The publication can have a great social impact and the research results can contribute to chancing the economic landscape of South Africa,” he said.

The publication can be purchased at R150 per copy.  For more information, Ms Steffi Cawood, Programme Coordinator for Africa Studies at the UFS can be contacted at (051) 401-2614.

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

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