Minister opens Scifest 2017

There has never been a better time in history for Africans to develop solutions for our own challenges, particularly with the unprecedented growth in many sectors in the country, says Science and Technology Minister, Naledi Pandor.

Opening Scifest Africa 2017 in Grahamstown on Friday evening, Minister Pandor turned the limelight on two particular groups of people: women in science and the youth, highlighting the innovative contributions they can both make to ensure the economic growth of this country. 

She welcomed the Scifest Africa focus on women scientists explaining that she has supported this drive in the Department of Science and Technology with a number of initiatives promoting women. One such initiative is the Women in Science Awards which celebrate the achievements of women in science. It is also a “reminder that we won't realise the full scientific potential of our country until all our young-women scientists are able to enjoy access to the best facilities and education”.

Pandor expressed her satisfaction with the four, recent Women in Science Awards winners who are presenting lectures at the current edition of the science festival. 

The first member of this elite group is Professor Shivani Mishra, who gave a lecture on the philosophy of the water molecule on the first day of Scifest Africa. She was followed the next day by Muthoni Masinde, a computer scientist, who spoke about integrating indigenous knowledge on droughts with seasonal climate forecasts. 

The third award winner was Dr Henrietta Wakuna Langmi, who delivered the Brian Wilmot lecture on “Hydrogen Energy: a real solution to a real problem” shortly after Minister Pandor addressed the packed auditorium. 

The fourth is Professor Jane Catherine Ngila, who on Sunday will explain to her audience how to improve water quality management. 

Turning her attention to the thousands of school children who have passed through the doors of Settlers’  Monument to attend this year’s instalment of the science festival,  Pandor reminded us that today’s youth will make up the country’s core group of young scientists and innovators for the future.

She appealed to all the young people present to follow a career in science, engineering or technology and noted, “The fact that you are here at the national science festival shows that you are looking towards the future.”

This year, three Eskom Expo Young Scientists, who featured prominently in the 2016 National Awards Finals, are presenting their projects in two separate lectures at Scifest Africa.

Bianka Reyneke, a pupil at the Welkom Gimnasium Secondary School in the Free State, conducted a study to determine the influence of perceptual motor abilities on performance in pre-school. She then found a linkage between a learners’ perceptual motor skills in pre-school and their academic performance in high school, especially in mathematics and physical science.

Andrea Blignaut and Charles Murray Hofmeyr, pupils at Woodhill College in Pretoria, have designed a robot that tests structural safety in mines - for use in rescue operations.

Minister Pandor said innovation was not beyond the reach of the curious pupil at school or the keen student at university, mentioning several other young role models who have come up with solutions to  challenges currently facing South Africa.

At a Scifest media briefing, Pandor acknowledged that there are certain challenges that need to be overcome to get children committed to mathematics and science. One of these is that science and technology, and particularly mathematics have been presented to young people as “a kind of bogey man. You know, something you should be afraid of. So young people are told these are difficult subjects - don't try to do them. They'll lower your overall average for your performance in tests and examinations”.

She insisted that the cycle of fear had to be broken “because once you get a good foundation in these subjects you're able to do really well right up to PhD level”. 

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Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor addresses a packed Guy Butler Theatre at the Monument in Grahamstown during theopening of Scifest Africa 2017. Photo: Steven Lang
Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor addresses a packed Guy Butler Theatre at the Monument in Grahamstown during theopening of Scifest Africa 2017. Photo: Steven Lang