National Science Week: Taking science to the people

Mr Mehlolo Maphanga, the SANBio Communication Officer talking to learners

Promotion of public understanding of Science and Technology (S&T) is one of the activities in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) protocol on Science, Technology and Innovation (2008). The National Science Week (NSW) is now celebrated in almost all SADC member states with the aim of popularizing Science and Technology especially among the youth. NEPAD - Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) supports this initiative by showcasing the demand-driven biosciences innovations for improved livelihoods coming from the whole region.

In South Africa, the National Science Week is an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST): a countrywide celebration of science involving various stakeholders and/or actors conducting science-based activities during the week. National Science Week is run in all nine provinces simultaneously at multiple sites per province. SAASTA is the implementing agency and has the role of national project manager for the National Science Week.

The 2015 NSW was launched at North West University, Mafikeng Campus, on the 1st of August 2015 and runs till 8 August. The theme of the 2015 NSW is “Light and light-based technologies” demonstrating achievements in light and light-based technologies including research in lasers.

“Tomorrow's scientific discoveries and innovations grow out of the research and education pursued in today's science councils, universities, and schools. The DST value science today so that we can look forward to young scientists fulfilling their potential in a science-based future,” said the Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor, addressing over 4 000 people including learners, teachers and parents.

“The Department of Science and Technology is involved in various public awareness initiatives during the calendar year, but National Science Week is by far the most significant. My department collaborates with science councils, universities, science centres and other government departments and agencies, with a view to exposing our learners to the world of science,” Minister Pandor continued.

Minister Pandor also noted that more can be achieved through partnerships than by working alone and thus felt it important that various stakeholders and role players in our innovation system take part in National Science Week. In a similar vein, she invited all citizens to participate in these week-long science activities throughout the country.

The National science week is a remarkable event presenting research institutions, universities, entrepreneurs, private companies and public-private organisations with an opportunity to share what they do with the communities, stimulating interest and encouraging children to study maths and science at school.

“I brought my learners to the event so that they can get the opportunity to engage and interact with scientists and to learn more about careers related to science, engineering and technology -- and also to witness the cutting-edge science that is happening out there,” said Mr Molekwa from Letsatsi Secondary School.

The learners and students participating in the event seemed to do so with gusto. “I found the event interesting and educational at the same time. I had the opportunity to learn more about fundamental, as you know at school we do basic science and I never thought science was so easy, but after engaging with scientists from big institutions like the CSIR, ARC etc. I found science actually interesting and simple,” replied a grade 11 from Batswana Secondary School, Lesego Sedikane, when asked what he thought about the event.

The SANBio Secretariat fully supports the initiative and urges all SANBio member countries to encourage their communities, public education and research institutions to take part in initiatives and activities such as this. Engaging and involving the younger generations in scientific pursuits is an important means in facilitating future innovations in support of the development of a knowledge economy and crafting a sustainable future for Southern Africa.