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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

Social work students off to Sweden on exchange programme
2015-08-17


Excited about the prospects of studying in Sweden, Letttie and Moratoe already have their bags packed. Photo: Valentino Ndaba

In 2011 the university signed an exchange programme agreement with Jönköping University (JU), in Sweden. Since the inception of the contract the UFS Department of Social Work has been able to send two second year students to the guest university for a semester annually while also hosting students from JU.

 

The UFS is one of only 350 partner universities that JU co-operates with on an international level. The university that describes itself as “the most international university on Sweden” welcomes 714 exchanged students annually. This year, their School of Health and Welfare will host two of our Social work students, Moratoe Tshabalala and Lettie Mohoko; who are the fourth duo to take this unique opportunity.

These Kovsies will join the JU from 17 August-20 December 2015. By focusing on Swedish Social work and welfare policy, participation and inclusion, and Old-age care, they intend to use the learning experience to influence our country’s welfare system.

Growing up in Wesselsbron - a small town in the Free State, Lettie has always been passionate about working with people and having a positive impact on their lives. She sees the exchange programme as an opportunity to gain an international perspective which will provide more skills, hence improving her community engagement.

Moratoe, who is from the small town of Senekal, echoed similar sentiments, adding that she is interested in the distinctiveness of Sweden’s social welfare system, which offers free education, where old people get free care from the government, and children get incentives to attend school.

Lettie and Moratoe also volunteer as representatives of the UFS at ENGO Family Care, a non-profit organisation in Bloemfontein.

Dr Anneline Keet, Head of the UFS Social Work Department, believes that the exchange experience enhances the students’ critical thinking, and facilitates their ability to engage with different social welfare systems. While only two students are able to experience the full exchange annually, the rest of the students also benefit from the discussions taking place in class where students from the guest university (JU) join them for a semester.

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