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GREATER diversity and more equality in science must urgently be addressed, while more needs to be done to make the field accessible for different groups of people.

These and other issues, including adding indigenous knowledge, the power of language, ancient African Mathematics, older and younger lecturers and gender equality were among the topics addressed by both experts and student presenters at a pre-launch symposium to the National Science Week (NSW), which kicks off this weekend.

The Diversity and Inclusion in Science symposium held at Nelson Mandela University’s South Campus, boasted Transformation, Monitoring and Evaluation Director Dr RubyAnn Levendal as keynote speaker who emphasized the lack of representation of female and historically marginalised individuals in the science workforce, which continues to be a challenge.

“There is a strong prevalence of gendered-science stereotypes, with Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] disciplines being associated with men more than women. This phenomenon is not specific to South Africa, but is prevalent globally and fueled by patriarchy and the sociocultural factors communicated via mass media and those who play a role in our socialisation – our families, teachers [and] peers,” she said.

Diversity enhanced academia where research was not conducted in isolation, but rather in a team, which allowed exposure to people with different views, in turn offering opportunities to develop scientific knowledge further, Dr Levendal said.

“The diversity of the team is an important element since each member brings with them their own identity, skills, insights and perspectives.”

Diversity of a team of scientists is “not distinct from enhancing the overall quality of the research generated by that team – it is integral to achieving it”, she said.

Equality and accessibility continued to be concerns, with a report by the Council for Higher Education showing that African students were still lagging when it came to finishing their degrees, Dr Levendal said.

Development Studies student Sandile Mjamba pleaded for the university to grow its own timber, to keep students in the city by employing African students in an African system.

Final year Geosciences student Lindelwa Badi shared student views about cherishing experience and wisdom in older lecturers, while appreciating more on-the-job input from younger lecturers, who are not well represented in the Science Faculty. 

International speaker Prof David Wolfe from the University of New Mexico used the example of women in science, and specifically Lise Meitner, who often had men taking credit for their discoveries over the years. 

Student Lizalise Mngoele pleaded for mother-tongue school education and the empowerment of the other African indigenous languages, citing the example of Afrikaans being developed as indigenous language as language of science and knowledge.

Other speakers included international student Sendibitiyosi Gandidzanwa on Closed and Open Systems and African Institute for Mathematical Science’s Mimi Kalinda who spoke on Science, Africa and changing the narrative.

Retired Chemistry lecturer Prof Peter Loyson shared the fact that the first mathematical object originates from Africa and entertained the audience with African mathematical examples. 

PICTURE:SPEAKERS; Development Studies student presenter Sandile Mjamba (left) and Transformation, Monitoring and Evaluation Director Dr RubyAnn Levendal were among the speakers at the Diversity and Inclusion in Science symposium

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