Speakers at the School of Education’s seminar on Growing our Community Engagements Internationally and Locally included Professor Maija Aksela (University of Helsinki), Dr Tanja Reinhardt (UKZN) and Mrs Nalini Dookie (KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Coordinator, Eskom Expo for Young Scientists). The session was facilitated by Academic Leader for Community Engagement in the School Professor Angela James.
Aksela discussed engaging makers of the future on math, science, and technology through the Finnish LUMA ecosystem. Reinhardt addressed STEC@UKZN while Dookie outlined opportunities and possibilities for learner engagement in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and innovation (STEMI) initiatives within communities.
Aksela who describes herself as a catalyst said that she strives to engender opportunities for future professionals to learn and to make the world a better place. She argued that science education advances critical thinking, problem-solving skills, inclusivity, and creativity. ‘It’s important to get learners to wonder, enquire and call things into question, just like natural scientists do. The questions “why” and “how” are central to scientific thought and to promoting understanding of all kinds.’
She noted that inclusivity, reliance on research, and multi-disciplinarity are key to science education. Research, practice, and education go hand in hand, and the new solutions and pedagogical innovations required for a sustainable future, such as online courses, can be identified by examining the practice and theory of science education. ‘Science education also works well as an element of Higher Education,’ she added.
In her presentation, Reinhardt outlined the history of STEC@UKZN and its outreach programmes since 2008, including science shows, career talks at high schools, Eskom expo online workshops, coding and robotics, and busking activities, often in deep rural areas. She also spoke briefly about STEC@UKZN’s basic computer literacy course for cleaning staff on the Westville and Howard College campuses, which will be rolled out to other support staff.
‘Collaboration with partners and University departments is important as it helps with resources, problem-solving, and brings people and organizations together to share responsibilities and learn from one another,’ said Reinhardt.
Dookie discussed Eskom Expo and STEMI initiatives for learners. She noted that ‘With the advent of robotics and artificial intelligence, there has been a huge interest in the field of coding and computer engineering at the expos, with many of the tech boffins using their expo projects to learn or enhance their coding skills. Participating in the annual regional expos is an ideal opportunity for learners to engage in scientific inquiry and technological research, extending their knowledge far beyond the scope of the classroom.’
She added, ‘When Science and Tech enthusiasts as young as those in Grade 4 get excited, not only about talking science (STEMI) but actively doing it, is the reason for other stakeholders to get involved and support these young boffins to achieve their project goals.’
The full seminar can be viewed on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5OPZjNVZ4c while the podcast can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rO3LI1PSvr4