Sixty final-year pre-service Science teachers got involved in agricultural-garden projects on UKZN’s Edgewood campus to help equip themselves with environment-friendly skills and knowledge to take to classrooms and communities.
Science education specialist and lecturer, Professor Nadaraj Govender, saw a need to transform aspects of the science education module to accommodate current changes in the global and local arena. This was done by creating projects that integrate theoretical and practical real-life problems, seeking ways to mitigate unemployment and poverty, and developing knowledge and skills.
Govender believes that final-year preservice teachers will face a very different environment in the real world of classroom-communities issues. ‘It is anticipated that these skills will require teachers to be holistic, seek new ways of thinking, acting and engaging with their communities,’ he said. ‘They need to empower their learners to solve problems of climatic change, water shortages, environmental sustainability, pollution and many other global issues. From a critical education perspective, students’ personal experiences and cultural background must be considered in designing and transforming the curricula and must include their voices, resistances and identities towards a learner-centred curriculum,’ said Govender.
The inclusion of an agricultural-garden project as part of the Inquiry-Based Learning Project over five months saw preservice teachers actively engage in digging into soil, growing plants from seeds and seedlings, to finally producing vegetables. They were supported with weekly collaborative consultations by postgraduate students and a visiting lecturer in science education, Dr Vongai Mpofu, of the Bindura University of Science Education in Zimbabwe.
As an experimental project, students found ways to integrate their scientific knowledge, including their knowledge of soil pH, nutrients, composition; chemistry of fertilisers; as well as designs to protect their crops for harvest. Students were supplied with basic gardening tools but independently sought ingenious and creative ways to protect their garden patches from the external environment such as using recycled materials to make scarecrows, and finding good use for discarded nets, orange bag sacks, old planks of wood and plastic piping.
Students found the project time consuming, but learned scientific experiment procedures, issues about global warming, climate change, pests and weeds and organic aspects of farming. They worked, solved problems collaboratively and observed and sought sustainable solutions. Moles and monkeys destroying crops were some of the real problems encountered.
‘The project was worthwhile as the students were enthusiastic and found ways to make it work; thinking through their challenges and offering solutions,’ said postgraduate student advisor, Ms Susan Olaniyan. ‘The plants were well taken care of and the best groups were awarded prizes at the end of the project,’ she added.
PhD Science Education student, Mr Daniel Allu, said the majority of students were committed to the project- watering and taking care of their gardens everyday till harvesting. ‘Gendered roles were not significant in this project as males and females cultivated the soil and did the mulching and planting/watering themselves. The students saw the need to cultivate a small garden at home to take care of the family needs for domestic consumption,’ he said.
Govender hopes that students will integrate some of their newly acquired skills at the schools and communities they will work in next year and begin to develop agricultural-garden projects using ecologically sustainable approaches. He plans to extend the project to more science modules and students.