The Engagement Office under the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) Research Innovation and Engagement has recently teamed up with a local non-profit organisation, Nka’Thuto EduPropeller. The aim of the partnership is to provide a mentoring programme that teaches high school learners research methodology skills as a practical way of exposing them to the world of Innovation, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (iSTEM).
This programme is delivered through a series of workshops, field trips and competitions and is offered to high school learners in the Bergville area under the Okhahlamba Local Municipality. The high schools that were selected were Amangwane High School, Ntathakusa Secondary School, Tabhane Secondary School, Thokoza High School, and Tshanibezwe Secondary School.
The programme is supported by young professionals (15 Masters and PhD students) from the Durban University of Technology (DUT) who volunteered to be mentors and facilitators. The programme specifically seeks postgraduate students as they are well-versed in scientific and research methodologies. The mentors received further training on workshop facilitation and were equipped with skills in research commercialisation to prepare them to support the learners to bring the material to life.
The programme was introduced to the high schools through a series of activations. During this stage, Nka’Thuto and DUT introduced themselves and the aims of the programme and encouraged the learners to sign-up for it. The activations were done by the two Nka’Thuto staff members Gugu Nkosi, and Noluthando Zwane and three young professionals (mentors) from DUT, Muzi Mhlongo, Precious Kumalo, and Sandile Msimango.
The response to the programme from the staff and learners was overwhelming, each school had a high number of learners’ signing up to be a part of the programme. At Amangwane, over 250 learners expressed interest, 112 at Ntathakusa, 146 learners at Tabhane, 86 at Thokoza and 189 at Tshanibezwe.
All learners who had signed up were then invited to join the Research Innovation Methodology workshops which were coordinated by the Nka’Thuto staff in partnership with the DUT DVC RIE Engagement Office. The workshops are referred to as the second stage of the ‘ideas to concept incubation’ period that forms part of the process of designing a product or invention from its infancy until it is a sellable product.
The Research Innovation Methodology workshops covered programme areas: Describing the identified problem; developing project aims and objectives of their project; data presentation and discussion; drawing conclusions from results; writing an abstract; report writing, and project presentation.
Reflecting on the workshops, the Engagement Practitioner, Ms Phumzile Xulu said that the programme team is grateful to all the five schools involved in the programme for their support and for ensuring learners come to school on Saturdays to participate in the programme’s activities. “The amount of commitment showed by both the learners and their teachers is amazing and it gives confidence that learners are keen to learn the research and innovation skills that they can use to support their innovative ideas,” she said.
The following, forthcoming workshop in the series is titled, Consultation Day. During this time, learners will get a chance to consult with the DUT young professionals on the feasibility of their ideas and receive advice on how best to proceed with their projects.
Pictured: Learners from Thokoza High School preparing to start the Research Innovation Methodology workshop.