Bringing science to life

Grace Makgale and intrigued pupils at Melotong Primary School. © UNknown.
Grace Makgale and intrigued pupils at Melotong Primary School. © UNknown.

Tshego Monaisa

Tshego Monaisa

Children are curious about everything and are limited by nothing. But for many primary school pupils in rural South Africa, a career in science is beyond their imagination. So what will it take to turn their natural curiosity into a life driven by curiosity and experiment?

For hundreds of schools that previously had no educational support, the Sasol Blue Box Science Development Programme has provided the answers. The programme targets underdeveloped communities where schools have poor resources.

Pamilla Mudhray, head of corporate social investment at Sasol, says: "Rural schools are performing really badly. We choose schools that have no science teachers or science equipment so that we can add capacity and provide skills and training in that environment."

The programme is training 946 teachers in 135 rural schools in eight provinces.

Mudhray says: "Through this programme, we want to improve the standard of education, concentrating particularly on science in rural primary schools."

A blue box filled with science equipment might seem to be simplistic. But when you have limited literacy and are forced to read what you should be experiencing, this idea can change your life.

Without this equipment, science is just another boring subject and it's not just the pupils who struggle to understand its relevance.

Grace Makgale, science teacher at Melotong Primary School in North West, says: "I love being with kids and helping them. They look up to teachers with such a hunger for learning.

"I used to hate teaching science before. When I started teaching, I was told to teach the subject but was given no apparatus so it was very difficult, especially because I was fresh out of college."

Makgale has been teaching natural science, technology and English for the past seven years. She is living the dream that she had in primary school of becoming a teacher. With the dire shortage of qualified teachers in the country, Makgale's passion for teaching is certainly a rare find.

"I enjoy being with these little minds, especially in science because they are curious to know what is going to happen," says Makgale.

With the help of the Read Educational Trust, training workshops are held every day after school. Here, the teachers become students - listening, watching and experimenting with the wonders of science.

Makgale says: "In the past, we didn't have equipment and you had to do your own references and find your own information.

"But there were some things that we just could not improvise with. Now, because of the workshops and teacher's guides, we perform experiments before going to class. These resources are precious to us and we make sure that we take good care of them," Makgale says.

The scientific formula is simple: Training + equipment + support > budding scientists. With a world of possibilities suddenly opening up to them, pupils are already thinking out of the box.

Mudhray says: "In the past four years we've seen great growth in these schools. Now young children who previously had no access to science equipment can do experiments and explain how science and technology are used in our environment."

The difference it has made to just one teacher, who has a love for learning, is indisputable.

Makgale says: "The programme has really helped our pupils so when they go to high school they won't be embarrassed because they won't understand science.

"Since receiving the Blue Box, my children love science. They enjoy experiments and are more actively involved in group work. When you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, many say they want to be a science teacher - just like me," says Makgale.