SCIFEST Africa "is a celebration of science”‚ says Case Rijsdijk‚ a member of the science festival’s advisory committee. "It’s about trying to generate an interest in science for kids‚ and adults for that matter... It’s not just talks‚ it’s doing stuff.”
Attracting more young people to the SciFest is becoming more important given that South African pupils consistently get poor maths and science results.
Last year‚ the Department of Basic Education’s second national assessment revealed that grade 9 pupils across South Africa achieved a 12.7% average in mathematics. Pupils’ maths ability declined steadily as they progressed at school‚ with grade 1 pupils achieving 68% in the tests and grade 5 pupils 30%. Science saw equally poor results.
Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom‚ speaking ahead of the official opening last week‚ said: "The message to young kids is: ‘Come here and enjoy (science)‚ science opens up a world of opportunity.’”
Asked whether SciFest was trying to plug a leaky bucket in light of the dismal school results in maths and science‚ Mr Hanekom said: "If it were not a leaky bucket‚ why bother?
"These sorts of science festivals create a buzz. An ingredient to getting better results in schools is (learners) wanting to do science‚” he said‚ lamenting the lack of corporate involvement in the festival.
Energy company Sasol was the festival’s main sponsor for a decade but pulled out in 2011. Since then‚ SciFest has been funded by the Department of Science and Technology‚ which pledged R4m over three years towards the festival.
The SciFest is the largest science festival in Africa‚ attracting more than 72‚000 participants last year. It began last Thursday and ended yesterday.
Held in Grahamstown‚ the festival attracts pupils from sub-Saharan Africa‚ with busloads of young children arriving from as far as Botswana and Zimbabwe‚ though the majority are from the Eastern Cape.
"We’re (naturally) going to draw from local people‚” Mr Rijsdijk says. "There’s a distinct lack of science (outreach) ... and they definitely need it.”
But it is difficult to measure the extent of the impact that SciFest has. "It is very difficult to track learners‚” says SciFest director Anja Fourie. "Last year was the first time we registered learners.”
However‚ she notes that the success stories are the main way of gauging success.
A teacher from the Eastern Cape‚ who attended SciFest with her grade 9 pupils‚ says that SciFest does not necessarily have an immediate impact on students’ science ability.
But many teachers see SciFest as an entertainment substitute for school‚ and dozens of children can be seen outside the venues‚ or playing in the vlei that surrounds the 1820 Settlers Monument‚ the main venue.
So while some pupils benefit from the 14 lectures‚ numerous workshops and dozens of science stalls‚ some just see it as a holiday from school. © BDlive 2013