Schoolchildren need to be introduced to subjects such as mathematics and science at an early age to spark interest in eventual careers in industries such as engineering. This will play a role in increasing the number of engineers and scientists that South Africa has, says educational nonprofit organisation (NPO) SciExplo chairperson and founder Ntombikayise Banda.
She believes this is best conveyed through one-week workshops where children are exposed to science and the practical application thereof. “We have several programmes we are planning for SciExplo, which is short for Science Exploration. One of the programmes we started in 2013 is called Holiday Clubs,” she notes. This year, the organisation will host a Cryptology and Robotics Holiday Club.
Robotics is a branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback and information processing. Cryptology is the study of writing codes, as well as solving the code that language has been written in.
“This programme will be held at Holy Trinity Catholic High School, in Pretoria, from July 7 to 11 – we prefer a venue that has computers because it makes it easy to present the training,” she notes.
Banda explains that the organisation reaches out to communities and invites children from different schools to participate in the science programmes. “We are hoping that the project will spark interest in the children to work harder at their mathematics and physical science studies. Last year, we held the event at Tshwane University of Technology, in Ga-Rankuwa, a township located north of Pretoria.”
The programme also involves field trips, where SciExplo introduces children to industry experts who provide them with career guidance; inform them about the subjects they would need to enrol for to follow careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM; and which companies they can work for after they obtain their qualifications,” she adds.
“We also give them mini projects to practically apply the knowledge they have gained. This year’s mini projects include obstacle avoidance vehicles, which the learners will build from scratch and program to navigate in between obstacles, and a talking chipmunk, where they learn how to sew a chipmunk ragdoll and program it to speak,” she explains.
Banda says SciExplo, which is currently based only in Pretoria, was launched in April 2013.
In January this year, a board comprising six engineers in different fields of the discipline was set up to help with running and managing the project.
SciExplo was formally registered as NPO in May with the Department of Social Development.
Banda says that, to date, SciExplo has been relying on private donors to keep it running. “However, this year, we will be working at involving a few corporate sponsors, in addition to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research [which has] been supporting us since we started. Currently we have only been able to get in-kind donations from companies such as developer of computer software Microsoft, where the employees of the company donated T-shirts to the project; engineering company Single Destination Engineering and fast-food companies Roman’s Pizza and McDonald’s South Africa. Some of the companies that we will be approaching for sponsorship include Microsoft and mobile solutions laboratory and start-up accelerator mLab Southern Africa,” she says.
In addition to the Holiday Clubs programme, the organisation is working towards introducing more projects to reach more schoolchildren. Therefore, Science Adventure Day will be launched next year – an event that will consist of a hands-on science fair where different types of experiments and demonstrations across the different fields of STEM will be displayed.
Banda adds that they will go into communities, set the fair up in a hall and invite children to participate.
“We hope the project will help children become more innovative in their thinking and actively look for ways in which they can use technology in their daily lives. We want to create programmes that are affordable for children in townships because, most of the time, they are from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she concludes.