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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

An education system based on hope is what South Africa needs – Dr Beryl Botman
2016-05-26

Description: Hope revised Tags: Hope revised

Dr Beryl Botman, a postdoctoral research
fellow at the IRSJ, with Dr Willy Nel research associate
at the IRSJ and lecturer at the UFS
Faculty of Education.

HOPE is tangible and concrete construct that should be rooted in the learning and training of teachers,” said Dr Beryl Botman, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice (IRSJ).

She presented her research paper Educators, praxis, and hope: A philosophical analysis of post-apartheid teacher education policy, based on the theoretical ideologies of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. She explores ways in which oppression has been justified, and how it has been overcome through a mutual process between the oppressor and the oppressed, drawing on Paolo Freire’s theories and practices. The presentation was held at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Faculty of Education, on the Bloemfontein campus on 13 May 2016.

From oppression to hope

Hope should be an educational construct for teacher education in South Africa. Dr Botman asserts that epistemology and ontology should be inseparable, as they are pivotal to an education system that is transformational.

The recent country-wide student protests and demonstrations are an indicant that education institutions need to seek understanding of mechanisms that fuel social conflict. Dr Botman claims that vast social inequalities make the process of democratisation difficult thus hindering transformation. She states that a critical consciousness is important for all South Africans, but more so for educators; it can be used as a tool to understanding the mechanisms of social conflict.

“Self-reflection and self-critique is vital for educators, we need to understand that we do not have all the answers because we ever-evolving beings, working on understanding ourselves and the people around us,” said Dr Botman.

The notion of hope
“I am a farmer. I have no hope for a future that is different from today. This quotation comes from Paulo Freire’s work," said Dr Botman. She said that the South African context and environment is similar. She said that people cannot live for today; one should live for tomorrow if hope is to manifest itself.

South African education environment needs to adopt a progressive consciousness that is future orientated, “You need to be hopeful, if you are radical. You need to be able to envision a new society and a new world,” said Dr Botman.

“You cannot only denounce the present, you need to also announce your hopes for a new society. South Africa needs education systems built on understanding. Although change is difficult, it is necessary for transformation,” Dr Botman added.

What makes hope educational?
“Hope is a vision for a tomorrow that is different, and vital for a transformative education system. To get out of a state of despair, people need to educate their hope. Lately, the issue of white privilege has been brought to the fore. You need to educate your hope, so that you understand the reality of others but, more importantly, of yourself,” said Dr Botman.

Dr Botma added that teacher education needs to adopt a Freirean pedagogy with a strong philosophy based on hope. The agency of teachers can either be hopeful or without hope. It is vital that education promotes hope.

“Teachers need to rely on their existential experience, the experiences of others, and the experiences of the children or students they teach. An understanding of all these experience reinforces the idea that people are life-long learners, always learning and adapting to society’s needs,” said Dr Botman.

Teachers as agents of hope

Dr Botman stated that current South African education policy is directed towards transformation but it does not stipulate means to achieve this objective. Further, she argues that educators need to put greater emphasis on self-knowledge, self-reflection, and self-education. Connecting with teachers, parents, students and the community engages with their self-knowledge and reflection.

Reorientation of teacher education
Dr Botman concluded by mentioning that rethinking ontological and epistemological aspects of education is important, and should be a pivotal point of teacher education. A renewed vision of hope-orientated philosophy and pedagogy needs to be adopted by the education institutions. A praxis, which is an informed action, when a balance between theory and practice is achieved. There is a need for an inclusive exploration of education philosophies and education systems not only European and Western but also African and Eastern as well.

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