Imagine studying science in school … without ever mixing chemicals to produce a tsunami of candyfloss-like foam; never having created electricity circuits using playdough; or constructing a clock out of a lemon.
Imagine trying to understand concepts such as circuits, electricity, magnetism and static, from photographs in textbooks and the descriptions from teachers who probably have also not had access to a school science lab or done experiments.
Is it any surprise then, that SA came 39th out of 39 countries in a 2016 assessment that focused on the science performance of Grade 9s?
South Africa’s ability to innovate its way out of problems and compete globally is negatively affected by its poor results in maths, science, engineering and technology.
But how can educators begin to teach these subjects using only blackboard and chalk?
Full Steam ahead
Steam Foundation NPC, a Durban-based non-profit, is addressing this: “Steam focuses on fostering 21st century skills. These include creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and the critical thinking skills needed to enable young South Africans to seize the opportunities offered by technological advances,” said CEO Kathryn Kure.
“Steam trains and empowers educators to deliver better science learning through practical experiments in the classroom, as only 18% of high schools have laboratories, which are unevenly spread across the nine provinces.
“The research clearly indicated the challenges of teaching science with no science kits. Not wanting to import kits created for an international market, we developed our own,” she said.
“We researched, experimented and consulted. Eventually, Steam piloted with an SA manufacturer of scientific educational equipment, Lasec Education, to create science kits.”
Empowering under-resourced schools
Now, for the first time, science teachers in under-resourced schools have the fizz, bang, and pop to demonstrate science.
They can discuss the transfer from chemical to electrical energy by showing their pupils how to make a “potato battery” with copper and zinc strips, some alligator clips and a LED light… Pupils can see science, not imagine it.
The next roll out was “teaching the teachers”.
Steam have partnered with the non-profit Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Education (Casme), who has been in business for four decades, providing training, development and support to teachers in under-resourced schools.
They have a team of science education specialists, to train the teachers especially in the more practical aspect of the process.
In keeping with current global trends, there is also blended, hybrid and online learning.
Participating teachers are literally having lightbulb moments: “I found it very difficult to explain certain concepts like electricity to my classes,” said Lihlikusasa Khuzwayo, a science teacher at Ukukhanyakwezwe Secondary School, Nhlanomfula, KwaZulu-Natal.
“Pupils could only imagine the concepts. That was the biggest challenge I faced.
“Since the training I have found it easier to communicate concepts to the them, and the subject has also become more interesting for me. I’m more excited to go into the classroom knowing everyone will be a part of the lesson.
“I also know that the learning outcomes will be easier to achieve. The practicals made concepts clearer.
“When I took the kit to school, my pupils were excited. Suddenly, they were proud to be a part of the lesson, and wanted to participate, even students who are shy or naughty,” said Khuzwayo.
“The children are working together and are more interested in science. They want to touch something and experience it. The challenge is that we only have one kit, and so our large classes have to share.” said Khuzwayo.
“Science is something that I love,” said Ntuthuko Buthelezi from Banguni Secondary School, Mdlebeni, KwaZulu-Natal.
“My background is chemistry, so I’m not an expert in concepts like electricity. The Steam Foundation’s training was fantastic. We were able to observe concepts with our eyes and see how things like circuits work.
“The training gave me confidence for teaching natural sciences to my pupils. We weren’t able to do demonstrations before, and the pupils were disadvantaged. Now they understand.
“I have seen an improvement in the class work I give my pupils, their ability to understand is totally different from what I’ve seen in other years. Even I have gained more knowledge and understanding of natural sciences.
“The kit has made it possible for me to inspire.”
Steam Foundation NPC is funded by Siemens Stiftung; Schmitz Stiftungen and the Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development, Germany.
Find out more at steamfoundation.org.za