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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

South Campus first in SA to introduce new online platform for educators
2016-05-25

Description: South Campus online platform for educators  Tags: South Campus online platform for educators

Dr Whitty Green (DHET), Phillip Dikgomo (NDBE), Ernst Stals (Free State Department of Education), Isaac Mogotsi (Nothern Cape Department of Education), Tsatsi Montso (Free State Department of Education), Prof Daniella Coetzee (Principal: South Campus), Steven Bailey (Academic Partnerships), and Prof Judy Zimny (Academic Partnerships)
Photo: Eugene Seegers

The South Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) has become the first in South Africa to introduce a completely online platform for educators to obtain the Advanced Certificate in Teaching (ACT) in either Foundation, Intermediate, or Senior Phase.

Beginning with the first start date of 4 July 2016, this platform will be offered in nine or ten 8-week sessions. It will provide educators the opportunity to complete these certificates in 18-20 months compared to the 24 months usually required by part-time university students.  Academic and technological support will also be provided.

Unique platform

Prof Daniella Coetzee, Principal of South Campus, said that she is thrilled, “as this opportunity for educators to earn a qualification 100% online - is a first for both the UFS and South Africa.”  This opportunity represents tremendous strides in providing options for South African educators.

According to Prof Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS, human connectivity is a key component of education: “We should never reduce education to a stranger at a distance without any human interaction. That is also why the UFS has been consistent in promoting not only its Academic Project, but the Human Project as well.” He said that it would not be possible to extend second-chance opportunities to students without partnerships with government, non-profit organisations, local and international academic partners, and other external stakeholders.

Specific challenges addressed

In her presentation, Prof Judy Zimny, who is affiliated with Academic Partnerships (a company that has supported more than 40 universities in providing high-quality online programmes for educators) aligned a number of the challenges described by South African leaders in supporting educators with opportunities now available through online education as a result of recent strides in learning technologies.

Various members of the national education sector were also present at the workshop to give their input: Isaac Mogotsi (Northern Cape Department of Education), Phillip Dikgomo (National Department of Basic Education - NDBE), Dr Whitty Green (Department of Higher Education and Training - DHET), Tsatsi Montso (Free State Department of Education), and Ernst Stals (Free State Department of Education).

For educators interested in pursuing an Advanced Teaching Certificate (ACT), the website will soon be populated with all admission and enrolment information for programmes starting on 4 July 2016, 29 August 2016, and 24 October 2016.

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