The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa is one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa. It undertakes directed research and development for socio-economic growth.

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December 2009

Space technology

Celebrating World Space Week throughout South Africa

Dan Matsapola and Johnny Rizos with eager learners during WSW09 in Limpopo
Innovation and loads of enthusiasm on the part of CSIR's World Space Week 2009 (WSW 2009) teams ensured that learners throughout South Africa were able to experience the excitement of discovering more about space science and technology.

WSW, arguably the largest public space event in the world, is an ideal platform for teachers and experts to bring space into the classroom to excite learners about learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Some 830 people were transported into the exciting realm of space science and technology when they joined the WSW celebrations in Limpopo. The event took place from 19-23 October 2009 and was organised and executed by staffers Daniel Matsapola and Johnny Rizos of the CSIR Satellite Applications Centre.

The CSIR Satellite Applications Centre secured funding from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and engaged with three science centres to celebrate WSW 2009. These were the University of Limpopo Science Centre, Bokamoso Science and Technology Education Centre (BOSTEC) and Vuwani Science Centre.

Over the course of five days, Matsapola and Rizos spoke to students at the University of Limpopo and learners from no less than 12 secondary schools: Hwiti High, Matome Modika High, Mphengwa High, Mabea High, Manoe High, Mammoka High, Ratshikwekwete High, Mbilwi High, Lwamondo High, Dimani Agricultural High, Edison High and Thengwe High. Learners in Grade 10 -12 studying mathematics, physical science and geography from schools located in the five districts of Limpopo were targeted for this week-long celebration. Presentations were also attended by accompanying teachers and students from the University of Limpopo, as well as support staff of the three science centres.

For hundreds of learners in Limpopo, WSW 2009 was an unforgettable experience. Feedback from attendees confirmed the interest in and value of the event. "I was very satisfied with the presentation. It provided more valuable information and knowledge. The science behind satellites is very important for acquiring geographical and technological information," said KA Mashamaite from the Economics and Management Faculty, University of Limpopo.

"I've enjoyed myself because I've always wanted to know about satellites. And now I'm even more interested in knowing about satellites. Daniel and Johnny were really good and they inspired me. Today, my dream came true, now I know how satellites work and what they can be used for. I understand every little thing. I am going to share the knowledge with my community and teach them about satellites. I want to thank everyone who made this possible, it was great. Hope to see you again," enthused Seleka Junior from Hwiti High School. Mulouhedzi Murendeni from Dimani Agricultural High School noted,"I have learnt more about space, especially satellites. I wish Daniel and Johnny were my teachers everyday. It was nice to be taught by them."

In a related outreach, CSIR optronics researchers, led by Dr Meena Lysko, used the opportunity to encourage learners to pursue studies in science, engineering and technology disciplines.

The group of young researchers targeted schools in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Researchers Gladys Sonko and Ore Mosikare visited Gatang Secondary School in Mamelodi and had an interactive meeting with about 250 grade nine learners.

In turn, Lysko visited three schools in Durban: Inanda Comprehensive, Northmead Secondary and Whetstone Primary. During her visit, she observed the challenges that learners come up against and has raised awareness of these challenges with the DST. "It is hoped that space week activities, such as our researchers conducted, will create a greater awareness of technology and space science," she says.

According to Sonko and Mosikare, the learners showed great enthusiasm for space science and a remarkable awareness of current trends in the discipline. The researchers say their visit was valuable in exposing the CSIR to the high school science learners. "We definitely need to expose learners more to science as it is used in industry and research," adding that the school headmaster appreciated the time taken by Lykso and her team and suggested continued interactions with the school.

Similarly, WSW 2009 was a valuable experience for Matsapola and Rizos, who are both old hands at events and exhibitions of this nature. Close cooperation with the science centres is deemed imperative as is a sustained and more extended outreach programme. "We realise that the greatest value to outreach initiatives of this nature can be added through a programme of space awareness throughout the year," comments Matsapola. Rizos agrees, pointing out that timing is all-important as October - the period when WSW is celebrated - is too close to the year-end examination period on the South African school calendar when preparations for examinations take priority over everything else.

WSW 2009 may have come and gone, but it will live forever in the minds of learners who had the pleasure of interacting with the CSIR in celebrating this event.

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