#02 2023

Celebrating science engagement in SAEON

By Dr Mary-Jane Bopape, Managing Director, NRF-SAEON

School learners, especially in the rural schools, may not be aware of the wide range of opportunities available in the marine, terrestrial and atmospheric sciences.

It is the collective responsibility of universities, public and private sector organisations working in these areas, and other specialists to engage with educators and learners to impart knowledge on these specialised disciplines as well as on career opportunities available within these disciplines. If done early on and on a wide enough scale, learners can even start to think of possible career paths before choosing streams to follow in high school.

I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate the science engagement work within SAEON.

School learners, especially in the rural schools, should be made aware of the wide range of opportunities available in the marine, terrestrial and atmospheric sciences.

Under the leadership of Kogie Govender, SAEON has a very active team that engages with teachers and school learners, working closely with the nodes and research infrastructure managers. The team showed resilience during the Covid-19 lockdown, encouraging learners to explore their gardens at home, collect biodiversity data and engage with others globally through iNaturalist – a citizen science project that enables people from all over to map and share their biodiversity observations.

During the lockdown, the team transitioned to the eLearning space, creating resources on the SAEON education website that are now used locally and internationally. The team also ran online camps, seminars and workshops, even on Saturdays, that made it possible for inland schools to engage in marine programmes.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, the science engagement team ran online camps , seminars and workshops, even on Saturdays. The photo shows Nombulelo High School learners at St Andrews College during the grade 11 virtual Terrestrial Camp.

SAEON and the Sustainable Sea Trust co-hosted the Marine and Coastal Educators Network conference in January.

Snapshot of activities

I will list the engagements undertaken by the team in the last three months of the previous financial year to provide a snippet of the many activities they engage in. SAEON and the Sustainable Sea Trust co-hosted the Marine and Coastal Educators Network (MCEN) conference from 8 to 13 January. Thomas Mtontsi is the chair of MCEN, while Nozi Hambazi played an integral role coordinating the conference programme as the chair of the regional organising committee. The Elwandle team led by Prof Thomas Bornman, Caitlin Ransom based at the National Office, and Sikelelwa Mtyenene (SAASTA volunteer) presented on marine-related topics.

SAEON also participated in the Working World Extravagant Career Exhibition where the team showcased marine careers, engaging with 177 learners. Further, Thomas Mtontsi participated in a parents’ meeting at Luhlaza High School, sharing information about the development of the miniboats that collect sea surface temperature data generated by school learners.

In addition, a learner workshop on critical reading and the use of scientific resources was held at Bulumko High school. The team also participated in an event hosted by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) in Cofimvaba, where they interacted with volunteers at the science centre on marine science. A grade 9 science camp was held from 3 to 5 March at Pine Lodge Resort in Gheberha focusing on marine biodiversity.

A training workshop for educators, focusing on the use of weather stations and facilitated by Rudzani Baloyi, Caitlin Ransom and Joe Sibiya, was held in Phalaborwa. The training linked to the weather stations that SAEON had previously deployed at schools and focused on the importance of weather data, introduction to Excel and the use of Excel to analyse data. A learner workshop for grades 10 and 11 was held on 8 March, which focused on the use of mathematics and statistics to manipulate weather data.

On World Wetlands Day (2 February 2023), SAEON hosted an online event with 33 SAEON kids. The event was aimed at increasing their understanding and appreciation of wetlands, and to have the learners contribute as part of the solution to restore wetlands. The event was facilitated by Steven Ellery from Ground Truth, Faith Jumbi from SAEON’s Fynbos Node and Anesu Machite from Nelson Mandela University.  On 2 March, Dr Tony Swemmer of the Ndlovu Node conducted an activity focusing on alien plants, and taught learners about threats of alien plants in Hoedspruit.

The number of events that SAEON hosted, or participated in, to engage with school learners and educators is ten in just three months. All the nodes and research infrastructures of SAEON contribute to hosting and running these events. The events are hosted online and in different parts of the country, indicating the advantage of having seven offices in different parts of South Africa.

We hope that through these activities we will continue to reach more learners and educators and ensure that outreach regarding marine sciences is not limited to the coastal parts of the country.

To get an update of all our science engagement activities throughout the year, follow us on Twitter (@Saeonews) as well as SAASTA (@NRF_SAASTA) for the National Research Foundation (NRF) wide science engagement activities.

The science engagement team. Clockwise from top left: Caitlin Ransom, Kogie Govender (coordinator), Joe Sibiya, Thomas Mtontsi, Sikelelwa Mtyeneni and Nozi Hambaze