Science festival: reaching future scientists

SANBio Hub (CSIR) scientist Dr Hazel Mufhandu, sharing her educational experience with learners

Growing up in a rural area has its disadvantages; 9 years ago I was studying for my matric at Seo Secondary School, in a rural area in Limpopo Provinces, South Africa. I was not sure which career path to follow because I never had the opportunity to attend any career guidance sessions. I was familiar only with few mainstream career opportunities but sadly I did not qualifying to study one of these like Pharmacy, or Medical Science. I was then presented with a challenge to start finding out what other alternatives existed for me.

Fortunately, not every student will have to experience what I went through thanks to efforts by the Department of Science and Technology through its agencies and partners who are addressing this challenge through hosting science festivals particularly in rural areas. These science festivals seek to tap the brilliant minds of young scientists hidden in rural areas and show them what opportunities exist for them once they complete their matric.

Over the last three months, I had the chance to attend and share information at two science festivals across South Africa. It was heart-breaking to interact with a Grade 12 learner who was clueless of which career path to pursue or which university they can enrol with. This opportunity made me realise the need to organise more science festivals and outreach programmes in even more remote areas so that as many learners as possible are given this important information.

South Africa’s National Science Festival 2015

Scifest Africa 2015 was held from 18-24 March 2015, in Eastern Cape. This is an annual Science Festival which aims to promote public awareness, understanding, and appreciation of science technology, engineering, mathematics, and innovation. The event brought together international scientists and research institutions, government departments, research institutions, private entities, and Non-Government Organisations. It was also categorised into workshops, presentations, science shows, and exhibitions.

It provides a platform for the world’s leading scientists to share their work, make science accessible to ordinary people, provide career guidance, act as role models for youth, and encourage the youth to embark on careers in Science and become leaders in these fields.

This year, South Africa’s Deputy Director General of the Department of Science and Technology, Mr Thomas Auf de Heyde officially opened the festival themed; “Science alight” which is in line with UNESCO’s International Year of Light.

Speaking during the opening ceremony, Mr Heyde, said “You the learners and youth of South Africa you are at an advantage to take on these (new) technologies but you won’t be able take advantage of them if you don’t excel at Maths and Science. The government is working hard to ensure that more young people study science and mathematics and is providing comprehensive financial support to schools to improve teaching and learning outcomes in Maths, Science, and Technology.”

Some thoughts from participants

Talking to one of the exhibitors, Katlego Leshabane, a third year Bachelor of Science student from University of South Africa (UNISA) I realized I was not the only one who faced the career guidance challenge. She said; “I never had the opportunity to attend career guidance events, we really need these kinds of initiatives, it really encourages learners to get even more interested in Maths, Science and Technology and that will result in good matric results. Attending Scifest Africa for the second time I can assure it has impact, I have met learners that I have interacted with in 2014 and they kin to pursue science related careers, they even mentioned that their marks in maths and science has improved!”

Nandakazi Shezi, a Grade 12 pupil at Hector Peterson High School also said, “I have been attending Scifest for the past three years and I find it fascinating because I have the opportunity to interact with young and world renowned scientists from great organisations like the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the information they disseminate to us learners is of paramount importance. I thank Scifest for organising this exceptional event and I hope they will take it to learners who cannot afford to come here through communities outreach programmes.”

After the Scifest, I began to appreciate that the DST, NGOs, and research institution cannot reach every community/school, on their own but communities and individuals also need to support this initiative. I made a commitment that I would relay back the information I received from Scifest to my community so that other young people do not face the challenges I faced.

 By Mehlolo Maphanga (Mehlolo Maphanga is a Communications Intern with the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences [SANBio]. He attended Scifest Africa 2015 to share information on opportunities which exist in Science in southern Africa on behalf of SANBio)