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Scifest Africa 2017: Bridging the science and technology divide

By Leila Nefdt and Raymond Khoza, DST-NRF Interns at SAEON
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Scifest Africa, South Africa's largest science festival, this year treated visitors to a guided journey through the mysteries of science. The theme for 2017, "Tour de Science", is linked to the United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Celebrating its 21st anniversary, Scifest focused on "edutourism" - travel for the purpose of learning - in scientific facilities across Africa. Visitors were taken on an expedition exploring the milestones, discoveries and excitement of various fields of science, including space science.

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Fisokuhle Mbatha, a SAEON oceanography intern, demonstrates ocean physical dynamics (air-sea interaction) to a group of learners

The festival was held at the Settlers Monument and Rhodes University Campus in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape. Following last year's success, "Science in the Township" was again held at Jozana indoor sports centre near Grahamstown, giving local learners easier access to the festival experience.

Scifest featured over 600 events including lectures, interactive exhibitions, workshops, educational theatre, field trips, a soap box derby, laser shows, quizzes, science olympiads, a film fest, science shows and tours. Key events included aquatic science activities at "Water World" and the chance to "speed-date a scientist". Learners, educators, students and adults alike enjoyed the wide variety of stands representing national and international science-based organisations in the exhibition hall.

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Marine biodiversity intern Leila Nefdt uses SAEON’s Invertebrate Identification Guides to explain what kind of life can be found in the benthic regions around the South African coastline

Gateway to science and technology innovations

Scifest Africa 2017 was officially opened by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, on 10 March 2017. In her presentation she encouraged young women to become more involved in science and technology, and told the science facilities to keep communicating science to learners and the general public as a whole. The Minister also urged the learners to overcome their fear of mathematics and science.

“We must never tire of repeating to all the scholars of South Africa that science, mathematics and technology are really important areas for our young people to take up as a subject of interest, because these are what we call gateway subjects. They open up the world for young people and I think Scifest is doing a very important task for us of ensuring that we reach thousands of young people, that we introduce them to science and technology innovations, that we recognise young people who are doing well in science and technology, and that we engage the public so that they have a great knowledge of science."

The SAEON science expedition

Representing SAEON's Egagasini Node, Thomas Mtontsi, Fisokuhle Mbatha and Leila Nefdt participated in the SAEON exhibition. They were joined by Raymond Khoza from SAEON’s National Office and Athi Mfikili from the Elwandle Node, who was stationed at Water World for the week.

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Madikane Bulela, a grade 11 learner from King Williams’ Town, thanked SAEON for opening his eyes to different career options in science and technology (Picture: Raymond Khoza)

Thomas Mtontsi, science engagement officer at the SAEON Egagasini Node, tells learners more about fascinating career options available in marine science (Picture: Raymond Khoza)

"We used a range of tools such as the Magic Planet at the SAEON stand to explain environmental topics such as weather and climate patterns, natural disasters and ocean currents," says Leila. "We used dried specimens of invertebrates in conjunction with the Invertebrate Identification Guides that SAEON’s Dr Lara Atkinson has been compiling over the years to explain what kind of life, more specifically benthic organisms, can be found in our oceans." Raymond kept the learners busy with an interactive bird game which teaches them about different kinds of birdlife found in southern Africa.

"Having the opportunity to share the knowledge that we have gained through our studies and SAEON internship was an amazing way of giving back to the community, as we had many learners interested in the science that SAEON focuses on," Leila explains. "Seeing a child’s face light up after finding out what kind of animals I work with as a marine biologist was an immensely rewarding feeling."

"I would like to thank SAEON for allowing us the opportunity of sharing our science at Scifest Africa."

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