Little African Scientist addressing learners’ urgent science needs

Belinda Bantham -- Mon, 10/30/2017 - 12:15

Little African Scientist addressing learners’ urgent science needs

Foundation-level learners in the country are not exposed nearly enough to science and this should urgently be addressed.

Research has found that, by the time children in rural South African schools reach Grade 3, they are already three years behind their peers in most other countries. This gap grows as they progress through school - to the extent that by Grade 9 they are four years behind their peers.

This low-quality education offered to the poor results in a poverty trap.

This is where the Little African Scientist Project of the Faculty of Education at the North-West University (NWU) comes to the fore. It is a three-year multi-million Rand project that looks to support foundation phase teachers in mathematics and science education.

“We want to create a community of educators, and they need to be able to communicate with each other on a continuous basis,” says Dr Retha van Niekerk from the faculty. “We also want to build a bridge between the university’s theoretical approach and the school’s, teachers’ and learners’ practical approach to teaching and learning to benefit all.” 

The Little African Scientist Project will make use of a systems approach instead of focusing solely on workshops.

“Although workshops will form part of the project, we prefer a multi-faceted approach as it is exceedingly better for the long term. Workshops, although useful, are not sustainable educational tools,” says Dr Van Niekerk.

“We found that when people leave the workshops and return to reality, they can find it difficult to extend the theoretical knowledge into practical focus. We are going to utilise two main platforms. The first will be a platform set up by the NWU through which educators can share problems that they have and that can give them access to necessary information such as articles, worksheets and relevant texts. The other is the utilisation of mobile technology where teachers can talk to one another via a shared-discourse platform. We want to open an in-time communication avenue.”

The NWU also supplied the schools participating in the project with a computer and airtime (data) to aid them in this regard.

In an advanced economy there is an ever growing need for scientists and engineers, and in this regard South Africa is failing.

According to Dr Van Niekerk, this problem can’t be addressed urgently enough.

“We need to guide students to careers in the sciences and the best way to do that is by fostering a love for and a curiosity about the sciences from an early age. There is more to teaching than what is in textbooks. We need to think outside the box.”

Therefore, the driving force behind the Little African Scientist Project is to make science as a domain more pertinent.

“We do this by first addressing mathematics, as mathematics is the language of science. A deficiency in mathematics skills and knowledge means that the domain of science can’t be opened, and we cannot allow that.”

 • Launch of the project

On Thursday 2 November, the Little African Scientist Project will be launched at Feather Hill Spa & Venue in Potchefstroom.

Time: 12:00 to 14:00

Where: Dagbreek Landgoed, Extension 1133, Potchefstroom, 2522

GPS: 26.6591° S, 27.1308° E

Contact Dr Retha van Niekerk at 079 493 0862 if you want to attend the event.