Encouraging Science Education

The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is Southern Africa’s largest science centre, with over two million visitors since 2004

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Sci-Bono is a flagship science centre with excellent science laboratories and science centre activities, which exposes learners to science in an informal and exciting manner. The centre is affiliated to the Gauteng Department of Education to support maths, science and technology education and to help build South Africa’s science, engineering and technology capacity. Sci-Bono is responsible for implementing the Gauteng Mathematics, Science and Technology Education Strategy.

“The centre has approximately 380 physical exhibitions inside the building that cut across the various topics of science—from physics into chemistry, technology into biology—all these areas. The majority of our exhibitions are really interactive and requires active engagement. Sci-Bono provides the community with exciting ways to teach and learn the concepts of science,” explains Dr More Chakane, CEO. “I believe that it is absolutely critical for children to learn about science as soon as possible and to present it in a way that encourages them to continue learning as they get older. In many instances, scientific fields are presented in a cold, hard, abstract way that makes little to no sense and it discourages learners. At Sci-Bono, students are learning important concepts in a fun manner that maintains their long-term interest in the subjects,” he adds.

Passionate about science, Dr Chakane holds a Master’s Degree in Science, a Doctorate in Science Education, and is highly invested in educating the youth and increasing skills development.

“I come from a family of teachers, a family of people who inspire you to do things for your community. It’s in my veins, it’s in my blood. I’ve taught learners in the schools and I have worked as a Science Lecturer in the universities. I love the vision of this organisation—Sci-Bono Discovery Centre envisions a society with the capacity to compete in the global world of science and technology, and that is equipped with the skills, attitudes and values needed to improve the quality of life of all South Africans,” he says.

The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is at the forefront of innovation and new technologies education and recently won a special Premier’s Award in recognition of the work it is doing with the youth for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The centre is at the cutting edge of the technological advances.

“At Sci-Bono, as part of our ICT skills initiative, we have an ICT clubhouse, which we take unemployed youth to—and youth brought to the centre—and we expose them to computer programming, providing them with skills in coding and programming for free. We provide training in robotics and that is what excited the Premier of Gauteng, David Majura, and the then Minister of Science, Naledi Pandor. We are just about to establish a complete virtual reality centre in Sci-Bono where the youth can come in and experience the 3D dimension, and we are also incorporating drone training and education on drones,” says Dr Chakane.

“One of the things I’m introducing is moving towards the 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations. What we have realised is that, currently, in South Africa, in all the small centres and probably in the whole of Africa, not much attention is given to all 17 SDGs. So, what we are doing right now is, we are trying to come up with exhibitions that will teach people about things like climate change, water shortages and environmental sustainability. The role of science centres is to really help people to understand this is now not a dream, these things are real and Planet Earth is under threat. These are just a couple of examples of things already in the pipeline at Sci-Bono,” he explains.

Sci-Bono runs the Secondary School Improvement Programme (SSIP), implementing it on behalf of the Gauteng Department of Education, which assists schools that have underperformed in Gauteng.

Dr Chakane explains that there are about 400 schools that have underperformed in Gauteng, based on the 2017 results—they have already identified those schools and are implementing a programme, which includes extra tuition in all subjects after school and a more intensive all-week learning camp, from morning to evening, which gives intensive training and takes place during the school holidays.

To encourage more female learners to enter into the industry, Sci-Bono has some specific programmes for women in science.

“We make a large effort to invite and get model women scientists. Last year, the daughter of Stephen Hawking—may he rest in peace—delivered a fantastic presentation to the public. She was here to promote one of her books that she wrote about science language. We have the Women in Science Symposium, where we only invite women and we invite learners from the schools, especially girls, to attend, listen to their presentations and ask questions. We have a free career centre at Sci-Bono, which we offer for free to the community. One of the programmes we run through the career centre is targeted at women only. We want all to feel included and we understand that different people have different needs,” he says.

The Sci-Bono Career Centre, supported by South32, is a full-service facility that offers career information, guidance and counselling to learners in Gauteng, including out-of-school youth.

The centre also supports parents with career information and skills resources to enable them to facilitate their children’s career development and planning. It also supports life orientation educators through learner workshops and other related activities in order to enhance curriculum delivery. The centre offers two main programmes: Career Information and Advisory Services, and Career Development Support and Counselling Services.

In addition to student skills-development, as per the Gauteng Department of Education’s mandate, Sci-Bono provides mathematics, science, technology and computer training for all teachers from Grade R to 12. The training focuses on content mastery and assessment and lesson plan delivery. In collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Education, the teacher training unit has developed a series of downloadable lesson plans to support teachers in the effective delivery of the curriculum.

Dr Chakane explains that the greatest difficulty of the centre is funding. As a non-profit organisation, financial assistance plays an important role in the continuation and progression of the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre.

“Revenue remains a major challenge for us as a non-profit company. Our major contributor is the Gauteng Department of Education, for which we are very grateful; notwithstanding other funders, to whom we are also grateful for their continued support. All the support makes it possible for us to carry out our mandate. To assist with funding, we rent space in our building and avail our facilities for venue hires, such as science-themed corporate events and birthdays, and we do charge a small entry fee,” he says.

“We depend on soft money and on the heart and willingness of people to open their wallets and assist us in continuing to be a non-profit organisation and to benefit the public. To sustain all the initiatives and continue expanding in innovation, we require partnerships and people to put money in our coffers, so, if people are out there who are willing to come and partner with us so that we can continue this work, we will really appreciate it,” Dr Chakane adds.

This year, there is an international exhibition from Lascaux, France, which has been to Northern America, Europe and, currently, Shanghai, China. It has never been to the African continent and Sci-Bono has won the right to rent this exhibition from May up until August.

“It’s a fantastic cutting-edge 3D printing technology—the best you could ever think of—and it will be right here. We hope there will be a fantastic audience for this opportunity, as it is a way to generate revenue. I’m looking for potential funders who can assist us with contributions for the rental of the exhibition, which is about R2.7-million,” says Dr Chakane.

“The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is so much more than just a science centre, it really is an all-inclusive establishment that promotes and improves the public’s awareness of and engagement with science, engineering and technology. Our visitors range from all ages, as young as three years old all the way to pensioners, who, by the way, are some of our greatest visitors. Since 2004, we have been welcoming millions of visitors and we hope to continue to grow in numbers and locations in the future,” concludes Dr Chakane.

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