Humankind uses science to investigate physical phenomena using specialized skills to better understand, benefit from and care for our physical environment, on earth and beyond. Scientific innovations have always been used to overcome immense problems facing human existence, and will continue to do so as long as mankind exists, whether it is fighting bacteria, HIV Aids or developing the latest and most powerful telescope. These tasks should not be left to a select few countries. As South Africans we have been involved in numerous scientific breakthroughs in such fields as heart surgery, mining, and space research, and we can only continue to do this if we start learning science from as young as possible, and continue with science education in greater numbers.
Science is also needed to help us solve the many problems we have at home, including the conserving of much needed resources such as electricity and water, as well as the numerous other challenges we face daily. For example, the leading cause of death in children under five years old is not a disease, but it is the inhaling of smoke from indoor cooking fires, often used to keep poor families warm on cold winter nights. This everyday occurrence causes two million deaths annually. The best scientists to solve this problem would be the people who understand (and possibly grew up in) the communities that resort to indoor cooking fires. These children, however, are also the least likely to pursue science, therefore must be encouraged to do so. South Africa needs more scientists to improve the quality of life of the poor, boosting our economy and increasing knowledge
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The establishment of a Think Tank to guide science education so that it is on par with and relevant to national and international science trends is a major priority. The Think Tank will consist of private organisations as well as government departments to ensure that science education is relevant and meets global and local needs. This will be the governing body for science in the country and ensure that South African scientists are fully equipped to be at the fore of science research globally. Increased funding is necessary to carry out this project. The Think Tank will provide the direction for learning and the funding will make the learning possible. Funding will also provide the opportunity to make learning memorable.
The complex subject of science is not being taught in the mother-tongue of our learners, making it extremely hard to cultivate an interest for science amongst all learners. Hence language should not be an impediment, with tertiary institutions doing its job to ensure that educators leaving their institutions are capable of teaching the sciences in their mother tongue.. This had happened in Nigeria where Science was taught in English. Consequently learners lacked interest and hunger to learn Science, and the subject became alienated and neglected. Science should be taught in the mother tongue to preserve linguistic and cultural diversity and expand access to scientific knowledge.
Currently there is a lull of learners who are well-educated in science, which leads to a generation of workers who are incapable of working with scientific matters. This could potentially cripple South Africa, so cultivating a culture of science is imperative to forestall this. South Africa needs more technologists, scientists, engineers and technicians to become competitive in international economy. Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor acknowledges that a 'science brain drain' exists, where too many excellent scientists have chosen to work overseas. She aims to reverse the 'science brain drain' by coaxing scientists back, but admits that retaining brilliance in South Africa will be challenging. Currently South Africa is ranked 44th globally for innovation and new discoveries. This can only be achieved by strengthened co-operation with her department.
In Primary, Secondary and Tertiary institutions the people administering the knowledge must be dedicated, passionate, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, caring people. They must be researchers themselves and keep up to date with current science affairs. The educators should understand that they cannot teach using the same methodology that their educators used. This is unfortunately happening and must be stopped. They must always be prepared to update their teaching styles to suit the learners' needs. Greater emphasis shall be placed on improvement of teachers' knowledge and ability to teach science as we presently have over 1700 unqualified science teachers teaching the subject. Teachers must be good leaders and be able to work well with learners to make progress.
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Another major problem is that teaching resources are not being updated. At tertiary level increasing the number of science teachers that are being trained will make science more accessible to learners. Funding will be used to provide learners in all education sectors with textbooks so they have access to resource material. Laboratory equipment and apparatus will be provided in all institutions by January 2012, these are the essential tools for science learning. Audio-visual equipment and material will be provided to all institutions to facilitate learning. There will be greater emphasis on providing more software to facilitate computer technology learning nation wide.
Science Centres will be established in rural areas around the country where qualified teachers will be employed to enhance the educational experience. These will cultivate an appreciation and enjoyment of science by learners. These centres will provide inspiration and cultivate a culture of science amongst learners who visit them by constantly refreshing their exhibits. Furthermore the Department of Science and Technology (DST) will hold competitions for all education sectors twice a year starting September 2011, encouraging learners to apply their scientific knowledge in order to innovate. The Department of Education will provide learners in high schools who achieve over 75% in the half-yearly examinations with awards that will feed their interest in the subject and aid them to excel in the end of year examinations. Prizes will include textbooks, laboratory equipment and telescopes and will commence as of this year. This will serve to motivate potential scientists among learners.
The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) will go national this year. The agency aims to promote public awareness, appreciation and engagement of science, engineering and technology by making it exciting and affordable. They will hold science festivals and exhibitions, mainly on science at the Science Centres. They will hold school quizzes, travelling exhibitions, workshops and outreach programmes nationwide. Organisations like this promote a culture of science in South Africa by inspiring learners and nurturing a wonder for their physical environment. They mean to get schools and public participating, to spread learning and enjoyment of S&T through their campaigns and most importantly to stimulate youth to innovate and become entrepreneurs. All of this with the expected end result of improving the lives of South Africans. The tertiary sector will be updated by improving Centres of Excellence nationwide. The latest technology will be installed to bring our standards on par with those of the global forerunners of science. The centres will stimulate quality research that is pertinent, whilst developing human resources to contribute to global education. These improvements have already begun and are scheduled to be completed by 2013.
From this year I am calling for standardisation of testing in all grades, in order to give all learners fair trial. Common testing structures and common assignments are imperative to make the standard of science in South Africa equal amongst learners of the same grade or degree. Learners can further themselves via the Science Centres and competitions.
It would be wise to take lessons from our comrades overseas as well. An interesting concept is exhibited in California, where the departments of science, technology, engineering and mathematics work in partnership to form the STEM Learning Network. It is a non-profit organization aiming at propagating innovation in STEM learning and teaching. It provides students with expert, evidence-based teaching. This organization works with the state, who relies on STEM to meet California's workforce needs and to prepare the students to contribute meaningfully to the economy. STEM emphasises the need for critical thinking, innovation and use of technology. These students are able to pursue a career and mature to build a network of scientists and other intellectuals who have developed the ability to innovate and sustain the successful STEM programme. We are initiating a similar programme in South Africa and expect it to be the cornerstone of promoting a culture of science. It will supply our demand for future workforce in STEM and other intellectual fields.
STEM held an event for students at Bakersfield College, where 2 actors from CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) visited them and used excerpts from the popular TV series to discuss the real science behind the case and the fake elements added in. They encouraged students to pursue science to matric and beyond, instead of dropping the subject prematurely. Web forums will be established with prominent, conversant figures overseas so they can impart their wealth of skills and knowledge to learners in South Africa. All institutions will be invited to participate in these forums. The DST used to offer interviews with knowledgeable, prominent South African figures, done under their S&T Awareness Radio (STAR) Program. However the most recent interviews were conducted in July 2010. To keep the public abreast with national issues, interviews should be conducted timeously, and to increase the number of listeners the site should be publicised, especially among students. This tired and uninspired approach that DST has sunk to is unacceptable. The site will be incorporated into the Department of Education's website so that it is closely monitored.
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Social networking media such as Facebook is now considered as a platform to get learners and all interested parties talking about science innovations. To this end a committee of learner representatives is currently being set up to drive this initiative.
Overall there are many methods that can be used to promote a culture of science in South Africa, all of which will be implemented as soon as possible. This is a great challenge which can be achieved by finding and implementing solutions to the problems which impede learning, teaching and research in the field of science. Educators, educating resources and incentives must be upgraded to keep up with modern science. When we bring the management of science under control we can standardise the level of science across primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education. Once this is achieved we can go on to raise these levels, consequently bettering life for all of South Africa. We look forward to a prosperous and successful scientific 2011 and beyond.