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Given the importance on community engagement in higher education, academic departments like the Chemistry Department at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) have become more involved in communities in and around KwaZulu-Natal.

The Chemistry department launched DUT’s Bergville Science Programme at the Bergville Sports Complex last Friday, 1 October 2021.

DUT’s Chemistry Department, Student Recruitment and DVC RIE Community Engagement office in partnership with the UKhahlamba Municipality and the Bergville CMC launched the DUT Bergville Science Engagement Programme with the aim to offer Chemistry and Physics practical lessons to Bergville high schools, after they had recognised that there is a knowledge gap in these subjects for learners in high schools prior to their enrolment in higher education.

The Programme Directors at the event were Dr Myalo Sabela, Senior Lecturer at DUT and Mr Muvo Nkosi, Deputy Chief Education Specialist, Bergville CMC.

Chief Education Specialist, Bergville CMC, Mr LF Mbongwe addressed the guests at the launch. He told learners that this was an opportunity of a lifetime for them to take advantage of such a Science Programme and to learn as much as they can to secure a good future.

Offering her message of support was Professor Nirmala Deenadayalu, HOD: Department of Chemistry. Prof Deenadayalu relayed that what she is most happy about is that the staff from the DUT Chemistry Department are actively involved in community engagement programmes and have been doing it since 2017. She said that their efforts have been recognised by the DUT Vice-chancellor and principal in 2018 when they had received the DUT Chancellor’s award for Community Engagement.

“We understand that many schools do not have the resources and facilities to do these Chemistry and Physics practicals and our staff are engaging with learners, helping them to understand Chemistry and Physics and they are getting the skills they need to get into University,” she said.

In addition, she urged learners to appreciate the opportunity. “Learners, you must be appreciative of this opportunity you have been given to engage with the DUT Chemistry Department lecturers for showing you the skills that you need to do these practicals,” she said.

Mrs Thembela Mazibuko, Chief Education Specialist at the Uthukela District welcomed the launch of the partnership and sincerely thanked DUT, the Bergville Municipality and its partners for bringing the programme to the community and stressed that it could not have happened at a better time.

Deputy mayor of the uKhahlamba Municipality, councillor Thabile Mgozo thanked DUT and its partners for launching such an initiative and indicated that having access to such a programme will immensely benefit the learners in improving their science marks to gain entry at tertiary institutions like DUT.

Sharing her excitement on the launch, the DVC for Research Innovation and Engagement, Professor Sibusiso Moyo, firstly acknowledged the guest speakers, Principals, Teachers, Learners, DUT Team and DUT Partners who were present on the day.

“For me it gives me great pleasure to be part of the launch of the DUT Bergville Science Programme which I think is critical for us, and I want to say just a few words to our learners because it is mainly about the learners themselves as well as access to education and skills training,” she conveyed.

Prof Moyo elaborated on some key points saying that leaners need to know where they are today, where they want to go, how they are going to get there, what is it that they would want to leave as a legacy behind, and what they want to be known for?

She further explained on entrepreneurship and innovation and why learners should choose DUT. Prof Moyo indicated that in terms of maths and science, South Africa’s numbers are not so great, and in terms of rankings in maths and science, out of the global countries, South Africa ranked still a little at the bottom.

“This programme is meant to help each and every one of you to make sure that you can reach the best potential that you can be, the best version of yourself that you can be. I would like to encourage the students to really invest in this programme. It is so hard to learn science without the experimental part and what the experiments do is help us to understand the theory,” she explained.

She said that where South Africa is and it was not just because of COVID-19 but for various reasons, the employment rate is very high as a country, around 64.4%, according

Prof Moyo stressed that from a skills training side, it is very important that learners think about what is it that they want to do, what skills do they want to learn and she was happy that DUT’s Student recruitment is part of the programme in order to share career options and what is it that learners want to pursue after matric as they choose more skills.

“We want our students and graduates to be able to adapt to the changes that they come across and to be able to contribute to the development of our country. As a University we will make sure this is one of the platforms, we call it the engagement platform and what we are doing here is around community engagement. As a school engagement programme, which is one of our flagship programmes at the University, through this programme, that is the system we are putting in place for us to achieve our aspirations and making sure we are training people, training students and to reach your ambitions and goals by going through DUT,” she said.

One of the Project Pillars of the programme, DUT’s Community Engagement Practitioner, Phumzile Xulu defined the vital need for such a science programme, outlining that one of the greatest challenges South Africa faces is rural poverty and education. She indicated that after 18 years of democracy, rural schooling has shown little improvement.

“Rural areas are characterised by various factors that negatively influence the delivery of quality education. Typically, rural areas are remote and relatively underdeveloped. As a result, many rural communities and their schools are poor and disadvantaged, lacking basic infrastructure for sanitation, water, roads, and other transport, electricity, and information and communication technology. The socio-economic realities of rural areas put learners in rural schools at a disadvantage,” she stressed.

Xulu further relayed that the Constitution (South Africa, 1996), and the South African Schools Act (South Africa, 1996) and various policy documents say that all South African learners should have access to the same quality of learning and teaching, similar facilities, and equal educational opportunities.

“However, this is not yet the case. Many of these problems are linked to socio-economic factors such as poverty and unemployment, and also have a direct influence on the quality of education that is available to learners.

While the South African Schools Act of 1996 requires that schools and learners should be developed on an equal basis, these are massive historical inequalities in the rural communities that require different strategies and initiatives to address them,” she added.

Xulu further highlighted DUT’s ENVSION 2030 strategic map as well as the programme offering to rural schools.

DUT’s Chemistry Senior lecturer Thabang Mokhothu, gave insight into the science programme offering, project members and partners, beneficiaries and support, the science programme impact, long terms goals and the 2022-year planner.

He conveyed that globally, countries and economic regions, including South Africa, are facing a swift transition in technologies causing radical change worldwide. He expressed the dire need to contribute in building society to have a country that understands and would adapt to the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

“Subjects such as Physical Science, Life Sciences, and Technology have become even more critical in keeping up with the rest of the world. However, there are serious challenges with such subjects and therefore there is room for new ideas. We have realised the need for us to try and do things differently or possibly even better and improve the performance of our learners,” he explained.

Dr Mokhothu highlighted that the main drive is to bring the University to schools in communities through the Community Engagement Programme, for growth, mentorship, and partnership, in line with DUT’s ENVISION2030 goals, such as society and sustainability as one of the institution’s cornerstones.

“Community Engagement Programme with schools started back in 2017, as science awareness during the National Science Week. As a result of numerous requests from schools to assist with practical lessons that are part of the school-based assessment, we had to change our objectives and align the programme with the syllabus,” he stressed.

Delving more into the long term goals, Dr Mokhothu said the aim is to have science centres to support schools, teachers and most important to have learners who are studying science and technology.

He relayed the need for training teachers and to equip and support teachers with relevant skills in their role as subject specialists to enhance innovation and creativity in the science subjects for the benefit of their learners and schools in the society.

Last but not least, he stressed the need for a mobile laboratory to access remote areas in the province.

DUT’s Tex Peters from Student Recruitment explained the importance of leaners ensuring that they apply online for the respective study opportunities at DUT through the CAO by the deadline which is end of October 2021.

One of the partners, KZN Sharks Board’s Nomfundo Xabi shared her journey of success from school to becoming a Marine Biologist at the Board. She motivated the learners to work hard and achieve excellent results.

Giving their support to the launch, principals Mr MSI Khubeka (Thokoza High School and Mr S Majola (Tshanibezwe High School) said such a programme not only benefits the learners but also helps the subject teachers who battle to teach practical’s with little or no resources. They both expressed how grateful they are to DUT and the various stakeholders for making this a reality and they can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Grade 11 pupil from Mthende High School gave a heartfelt thanks to DUT and all the stakeholders for launching such a programme in Bergville.

“I am very excited and I look forward in getting all the help I need to better my marks in science so that I can go to university,” he said.

Giving the vote of thanks was Mrs NP Manyathi, Deputy Chief Education Specialist, Bergville CMC, who said that having the support from all the stakeholders will definitely put Bergville on the map and give the learners the opportunity to work hard and produce good results.

Pictured-left to right: Grade 11 pupils Nyosha Marimbela (Ekwaluseni High School), Amanda Nkini, (Ekwaluseni High School), Bongiwe Molaba, (Mqedandaba High School), and Nkanyiso Nkwanyana, ((Mqedandaba High School), at the launch.

Waheeda Peters

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