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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

The UFS produces some of the finest teachers in the country
2015-03-02

 

The quest for producing well-grounded, excellent and prolific teachers at the UFS is bearing fruit. Numerous accolades have over the years been bestowed on some of the UFS Qwaqwa Campus's finest graduates.

"For us as the faculty, it is gratifying and rewarding to learn about the achievements of our students. These achievements do not only validate our efforts, but inspire us as well,” says Dr Dipane Hlalele, Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Education at the UFS.

Dr Hlalele also revealed that, in the recent past, the faculty at the Qwaqwa Campus has experienced an increase in the enrolment figures for teacher training.

"Numbers in our initial teacher education programmes grow in leaps and bounds and we produce some of the best teachers in the country. We are proud to say that on graduation day, our students receive at least two things, i.e., their qualifications as well as entry into the teaching profession," added Hlalele.

Some of the shining examples that Dr Hlalele referred to, are Tebello Tshabalala (English), Mthobisi Khumalo (Mathematics), Thabo Mohapi (Physical Sciences), Lehlohonolo Khanye (Accounting) and Yvonne Tsotetsi (Business Studies). All of these are educators at Lekgulo Senior Secondary School in Qwaqwa and have each produced a 100% pass rate in the 2014 examinations.

There is also Nape Motloung, whose excellent Mathematics results at Botshabelo's Lefikeng High School have placed him as the Top Mathematics Educator in the Free State. Motloung's consistent excellent results have also placed his school in the Top 10 of the Best Performing Schools in Mathematics. This has also won his school R100 000 from the Free State Department of Education.

At yet another Qwaqwa school, Sekgutlong Secondary, Malefetsane Mokomotoane's Mathematics results over the years have earned him a runner-up prize in the category Excellence in Teaching Mathematics at the 2014 National Teachers Awards hosted by Minister Angie Motshekga.

"I am proud to have had 98% of my learners pass Mathematics, with 10 distinctions," said an elated Mokomotoane, who has just been appointed Principal of Selelekela Secondary School in Qwaqwa.

"Having achieved an average of 59%, my highest ever, has taught me and my learners that through hard work, anything is possible," added Mokomotoane.

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