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Science camps - a strategy to enhance motivation among learners to study science

By Nozipiwo Hambaze, Education Officer, SAEON Elwandle Node
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The shortage of scientists in the country is often blamed on a large proportion of scientists reaching retirement age, or on the brain drain.

It begs the question whether our schools are not producing learners with potential to be trained as young scientists when they finish school?

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Dr Shirley Parker-Nance points out the transect lines to the fledgling scientists (Picture: N. Mzaza)

Reflecting on a job well done - Simamkele Kwenxe from Ntsika Secondary after finishing his transect sampling (Picture: N. Mzaza)

There is mounting evidence that when learners get to Grade 10, their levels of interest and motivation towards science decrease. As a result, not many learners opt for science as a subject.

There could be a number of factors contributing to this lack of interest and motivation. For me, one possible explanation could be that much of science education’s attention is focused on formal learning in the classroom, and seems to exclude learning in informal environments.

SAEON’s Elwandle Node aims to provide learning opportunities in outdoor or informal environments to learners from disadvantaged schools. The idea is to complement the school curriculum, which stipulates that learners must conduct practical and fieldwork to allow them to engage actively with science.

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Learners tour the SA Agulhas 1 docked at Port Elizabeth Harbour (Picture: N. Mzaza)

With the Elwandle Node’s rocky shore science camps we hope to attract young people to careers in science, specifically marine science, which is often a new concept to disadvantaged communities. In our recent science camp there were learners from Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage.

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Mr Mtengwana, the principal at Solomon Mahlangu Secondary, hands a certificate of participation to Siphesihle Mpotulo (Picture: N. Mzaza)

Dr Shirley Parker-Nance, a scientist at the node, facilitated scientific inquiry skills linked to ocean environmental awareness. In order to ensure that learners do not take any organisms from the rocky shores, they were encouraged to use cameras to take pictures of their study sites. These cameras were borrowed from the Sustainable Sea Trust to enable the learners to revisit their data collection using a photo quadrat sampling approach.

Learners were expected to develop or formulate their own research questions, collect and analyse scientific data and communicate their findings. Most of the learners were nervous as this was their first time to present to their peers and use PowerPoint.

In his daily science camp reflections, Simamkele Kwenxe, a learner from Ntsika Secondary School wrote: “I was not going to take part in the science expo, but now I will definitely participate. I will use what I learned here at the camp to do my own research.”

Learners were awarded an exciting opportunity to tour the SA Agulhas 1, which was docked in Port Elizabeth. What inspired some girl learners was that the tour guide was a young black woman.

The learners found the ship’s control system very complicated and exciting, but the idea of staying on the ship for months did not sit well with many of them.

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