National Science Week targets scientists-in-the-making
National Science Week (NSW) is to take place from 31 July to 5 August. It is an initiative created in 2016 by the Department of Science and Innovation, aimed at celebrating science and its significant impact on society.
The National Research Foundation (NRF) launched the 2023 NSW at the University of Venda, Limpopo, over the weekend, under the theme: “Building a culture of evidence-based practice”.
The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), a business unit of the NRF, is the co-ordinator of this initiative, with the mandate to advance public awareness, appreciation and engagement of science, engineering, innovation and technology in South Africa.
During the launch of 2023 NSW, thousands of learners from various schools were exposed to activities aimed at exploring various career pathways and skills required in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI), with the hope of encouraging them to pursue careers in these areas.
In his address at the launch event, higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande said NSW is held as part of government’s effort to contribute to the development of a society that is knowledgeable about science and which engages critically on science, technology and innovation.
“This year, NRF-SAASTA, a unit of the National Research Foundation, will continue to award grants to various organisations – public, private and non-governmental – that will carry out activities to popularise science across South Africa, and promote science literacy.
“I, therefore, want to make a call to all our learners that no one should be left out of the solution-driven national discourse that speaks to the value of science in our lives and for our future,” said Nzimande.
The minister urged principals and teachers to ensure learners take part in the STEMI Olympiads and exhibitions that will be part of the NSW.
“Research indicates STEMI Olympiads and fairs are useful in developing problem-solving, creative, computational, communication and innovation skills, which are among those that are important for the future of work.
“It is also counter-productive to discourage learners from choosing mathematics, as some school principals are doing, thinking it is the best way for their schools to produce better results by avoiding the purported difficult mathematics altogether.
“Let National Science Week be a turning point. Make sure that on each day from 31 July to 5 August, there is at least one fun science experiment that every classroom in your school engages with,” added Nzimande.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) showcased a range of technologies at the launch, under the theme: “Transforming lives through evidence-based science”.
Its researchers demonstrated the role played by science and technology in the development of practical and breakthrough innovations in the fields of energy, agriculture, cyber security and health.
The Livestock Identification and Traceability System South Africa was one of the technologies exhibited by the CSIR. The web-based system is used to register the vaccinations of registered animals and manages the movement of livestock for disease control purposes.
The CSIR also exposed learners to energy storage technologies. The organisation houses an indoor energy storage testbed facility that provides expertise to strengthen SA’s ability to support local players in the battery value chain, boosting the country’s capabilities in renewable energy storage.
The facility equips the CSIR to test the performance and reliability of batteries, as expressed by their storage capacity, lifecycle and depth of discharge.
In an event to take place on the tail end of NSW 2023, Curro Durbanville High School will host the World Robot Olympiad (WRO) Western Cape regional competition on 5 August.
Teams of learners from schools across the province are set to take part in the regional competition.
“We strongly believe this competition is a fantastic platform to encourage even more South African learners to explore these fields, inspiring a passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education,” comments Dr Tony Williams, chairperson of the WRO Western Cape.
“The competition also fosters innovation, problem-solving and teamwork skills, all of which are essential in today's rapidly-evolving world.”
According to Curro, SA joined the WRO in 2010, with 40 teams participating nationally. The programme has since grown, with over 608 teams competing in 2022. The WRO Western Cape has witnessed significant expansion, going from two teams in 2011, to over 100 teams in 2022.
This year’s competition will feature five different categories, and participants will be evaluated based on their performance. The top teams from around the country will be invited to compete in the South African National competition in September in Gauteng.