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Evaluating the work of SA’s bright young scientists

By Leila Nefdt, DST-NRF Intern at SAEON Egagasini Node/ UWC student
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Leila interviews a primary school learner at the Eskom Cape Town Expo

The Eskom Expo for Young Scientists is an exhibition, or science fair, where learners showcase their own scientific investigations.

The young scientists are encouraged to identify a problem, analyse information, find solutions and communicate their findings effectively.

This type of event creates a platform for primary and high school learners to discuss their work with judges, teachers and learners from other schools and with parents and other interested people. Participating in the Expo affords most learners a once-in-a-lifetime experience, whereas others return year after year to increase their awareness of the wonders of science, add to their knowledge and broaden their scientific horizons.

Amongst several other staff representing SAEON, I participated as a judge in the 33rd Eskom Cape Town Expo. On the first night we were scheduled for the new-judges training where we met the Expo team including the conveners and the other judges.

At the training session, we were briefed on the details of the judging procedure. From the 14 different categories in the field of science, over 400 projects were entered into the 2016 Eskom Expo. Each judge was assigned to a particular category, for example I was assigned to the category “Plant, Animal and Agricultural Science”.

On the second day, we focused entirely on judging the learners’ projects. All of the judges and conveners arrived at the hall early that morning for registration and preparation for the pre-judging process. The judging day was split into three different time slots - pre-judging; interviews with the learners; and the final deliberation.

Following the morning briefing, we were given time to start the pre-judging of the assigned projects in order to formulate and prepare questions for the interviews. In the afternoon there was an interview session for the primary school learners, followed by a session for high school learners.

Judging some of the projects was not easy, especially when paying close attention to the finer details. However, through the guidance provided by SAEON’s Thomas Mtontsi and Sue Janse van Rensburg, and many of the other conveners, the judging went smoothly.

Criteria

The main criteria we looked at in each of the projects were originality, application of the scientific method and presentation skills. The interviews gave the judges an indication of whether the learners knew and understood their project.

After a long day of reading and listening to project presentations, the judging concluded with deliberation amongst the different categories. The marks were handed over to the committee to decide on the final grading of the projects. Those learners that excelled went through to the next stage - the International Science Fair (ISF) held in Johannesburg.

So many brilliant ideas

For me the highlight of this experience was to witness so many brilliant ideas arising from the young and innovative minds of South African learners. Although they may have received some assistance from experts or from their parents, the fact that they were bold enough to present their ideas, amazed me. It was a pleasure being a part of this memorable occasion.

I would like to encourage more people to get on board with judging at these events and for learners all over South Africa to take part. I wish the learners all the best for their future - may they run with their ideas and never let anyone get in the way of them doing so.

After all, they are South Africa’s future scientists!

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