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Inspiring the next generation of environmental scientists

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Programme Director Dr Ken Ngcoza opens the proceedings. Dr Ngcoza, a science education lecturer at Rhodes University, travelled all the way from the Eastern Cape to attend the symposium (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

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Biodiversity Scientist Dr Dave Thompson tells the audience that SAEON’s education outreach programme transforms learners into confident scientists (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

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Luphelo Belu from Grahamstown gives the audience an insight into public perceptions about water scarcity. Luphelo won a bronze medal and a SAEON Special Award at the national finals of the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists. (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

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Local learner Vutivi Baloyi presents the findings from a biodiversity study conducted in the Haenertsburg Forest (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

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Tebogo Mathye tells the audience more about ‘Grazerous Deliciosus’ (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

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SAEON Intern Samukelisiwe Gumede urges learners in the audience to continue their studies after school (Picture: Joe Sibiya)

 

SAEON’s Ndlovu Node hosted this year’s science education outreach symposium at Phalaborwa on September 3.

Educators, learners and principals of various schools around Phalaborwa were invited to experience the excellent work of four learners in the SAEON outreach programme.

Dr Tony Swemmer, Manager of the SAEON Ndlovu Node, welcomed the guests and described briefly why South Africa needs more environmental scientists. “Science and maths education is not as it should be,” he said, “and it is our aim to help learners, educators and schools to succeed in the scientific field.”

Referring to the global change crisis that the world is facing now, especially in Africa, he stressed that SAEON wants to equip learners with the skills and knowledge to face any ecological crisis in the future.

Sibongile Mokoena, SAEON’s Science Education Outreach Coordinator, told the audience more about SAEON itself and the three pillars of its mandate - science observation, data management and education outreach.

SAEON creates confident scientists

The Ndlovu Node’s biodiversity scientist, Dr Dave Thompson, explained to the audience that SAEON focuses on natural and environmental science.

“We create confident scientists,” he said. “This education outreach programme not only develops scientific skills, but also adds to personal development.”

Dr Thompson saluted SANParks for their assistance in creating a better future for children from rural villages. “They do it because they want to,” he stated.

Samukelisiwe Gumede, currently an intern at SAEON, related her story about formal education and why the learners should be motivated to continue their studies after school. “The power of knowledge is given to you and because of that, you must grasp it,” stated Gumede.

Mind-blowing learner presentations

Four learners who took part in SAEON’s education outreach programme then presented their projects – and blew everyone away.

Courtnay Davids, a learner from Cape Town, explained the effects of low pH on zooplankton. Luphelo Belu from Grahamstown presented on public perceptions about water scarcity.

Local learner Vutivi Baloyi presented the findings from a biodiversity study conducted in the Haenertsburg Forest, while another local learner, Tebogo Mathye, gave a presentation with the intriguing title ‘Grazerous Deliciosus’ (The delicious grazers).

To conclude this eventful symposium, Tilly Baloyi from the Department of Basic Education’s Lulekani Circuit had a special message for SAEON: “As the Department of Education, we pledge to help institutions and schools to develop South Africa’s learners,” she stated. “Let us pull out all stops to get learners educated and to encourage them to be the very best that they can be.”

The SAEON Education Outreach Programme seeks to expose learners to environmental science and encourage them to pursue studies in this field at higher education institutions. By interacting with scientists and researchers, learners get hands-on experience of scientific research in environmental monitoring and observation.

The programme is coordinated by SAEON’s National Office and implemented by its nodes. The target groups are learners in grades 9, 10 and 11, educators and the community.

Adapted from an article published in the September 12 edition of Phalaborwa Herald.

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