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The state-of-the-art Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu Science Centre was launched in Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape on October 6, and from its conceptualisation the faculty of science at Nelson Mandela University was deeply involved.

One of the inputs we made is that the centre should be built with state-of-the-art digitalisation in place.

Our rationale is to ensure pupils in the rural areas are given the opportunity to be leaders in science and technology instead of being left behind.

A strategic goal of the faculty of science is to develop science education, advancement and communication programmes for engagement with schools and wider society.

We’ve had numerous discussions with the department of science and innovation, and the department of basic education, about the kind of facilities we need with our township and rural areas.

Our youth are brought believing maths and science are the two most difficult subjects, and many perform poorly in them.

This severely affects career choices and higher education opportunities.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills are critical in today’s world.

The importance of this science centre, five years in the making, is that its interactive exhibits will encourage pupils and the people of Cofimvaba and surrounding villages to experiment with, engage with and enjoy science.

Its purpose is to bring science to the people and pilot innovations for critical needs such as water and sanitation, energy, nutrition and health.

The centre will serve 26 high schools in the Cofimvaba district, supporting the teaching of maths, science and technology, as well as a teacher development centre to better equip maths and science teachers.

Cofimvaba is one region where our faculty of science and university have been engaging with pupils to improve the shortcomings in basic education.

We see our role as training future NMU students of science, engineering, health sciences and other disciplines.

Cofimvaba today produces some of the best maths and science students from the rural Eastern Cape, and the science centre will enhance this.

Our Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre has done a lot of work in schools throughout the Eastern Cape and nationally.

Its techno-blended models and programmes have supported maths and science teaching and learning in many schools.

While an area like Cofimvaba

is far from NMU, the beauty of digitalisation is that this is no longer an inhibiting factor for education.

For the launch of the science centre we did live-streaming from our university to Cofimvaba, as well as to the Nelson Mandela Bay Science Centre, the Vuwani Science Centre in Limpopo and the Mpumalanga Educators Academy.

Several Bay pupils also came to our faculty auditorium to witness the launch.

With digitalisation we can share science education and events across multiple sites to pupils countrywide.

Our deputy vice-chancellor of engagement and transformation, Prof André Keet, is championing this drive.

We have elevated engagement and transformation to the same level of importance as research and innovation, and teaching and learning, and have been focusing on the development of a science communication curriculum and a Science Shop in the faculty.

The Science Shop carries out scientific research and assists our communities with any scientific help they need.

In my role on the international advisory group of the US particle physics community, we are looking at the strategy for the next 20 years, and participating in global discussions around structural changes needed for science engagement to flourish.

We are also engaging with the department of science and innovation to see how we can connect virtually with their envisaged Virtual Science Centre.

It’s an exciting time for science and we need to leverage every opportunity and partnership to offer pupils and students the future they deserve.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 10 December 2021, written by Professor Azwinndini Muronga, a theoretical physicist and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science at Mandela University.

Contact information
Prof Azwinndini Muronga
Executive Dean: Faculty of Science