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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

SA and Indonesia strengthen educational ties
2016-05-19

Description: Embassy of Indonesia  Tags: Embassy of Indonesia

From the left were Prof Hussein Solomon, Senior Professor at the Department of Political Studies and Governance; Professor Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, Research Professor of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences; Suprapto Martosetomo, ambassador of the Embassy of Indonesia to South Africa; and Prof Theodor Neethling, Head of the Department of Political Studies and Governance.
Photo: Johan Roux

“Indonesia and South Africa share one common trait which is diversity,” were the opening remarks of Suprapto Martosetomo, ambassador of the Embassy of Indonesia to South Africa. The ambassador drew parallels between the two republics at a public lecture hosted by the Department of Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State Bloemfontein Campus on 10 May 2016.

Professor Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, Research Professor in the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, presented the lecture on “Managing Political Diversities: The Indonesian Experience.” He outlined the history of Indonesia’s political and economic development, political system, and government’s policy in dealing with political and economic challenges, as well as the lessons learned from its experience.

Diversity and governance
As is South Africa, Indonesia is a ‘rainbow nation’. Being the largest country in the Southeast Asia, it boasts a population of approximately 250 million people, 300 ethnic groups, and 650 local languages. However, despite such diversity, the nation has been united behind the motto of “unity in diversity”, which was adopted when Indonesia proclaimed its independence in 1945.

Indonesia and SA also bear similarities in terms of a multiparty parliamentary system. Their current Joko Widodo and our Jacob Zuma administrations are governed by policies including anti-corruption, economic prosperity, equity and equality, quality education and healthcare, and maintenance of security.

International relations
The two countries have a long-standing relationship since 1955 when the Asia-Africa conference was held in Bandung, Indonesia. The conference represented solidarity against colonisation.

Prof Hussein Solomon, Senior Professor at the UFS Department of Political Studies and Governance, attributes Indonesia’s success as a product of education and leadership - something South Africa could learn from..“Indonesia like SA has been struggling with how to balance social diversity, democracy, and a political system. Despite this, they have managed to develop a functioning democracy and a vibrant economy. They are one of the top 20 economies in the world, and by the year 2035 will be in the top seven economies in the world, according to the Goldman Sachs, report,” he said.

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