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7 June 2013
Science for everyone: UWC-SLCA opens new Science Lab in Ashton

Science for everyone: UWC-SLCA opens new Science Lab in Ashton

“Often people make excuses for non-delivery of results in teaching. They say we don't have enough money, or you can't expect much from a small town, or that  the poor can't make a success of education. Well, who said that poverty and achievement are naturally exclusive? Why can't we take a previously disadvantaged child and push them and help them to become great?”

Those were the words of Myrtle February, Director of the Garden Cities Archway Foundation, spoken at the opening of a new Science Learning Centre at Ashton Secondary School on Wednesday 5 June 2013.

The Science Learning Centre, developed by the University of the Western Cape's Science Learning Centre for Africa (UWC-SLCA), in conjunction with Garden Cities Archway Foundation, is intended to provide the opportunity for that greatness – by giving support and training to practising science educators, getting learners involved in science activities, and  allowing learners and teachers to work in a safe environment.

This is the twelfth Science Learning Centre constructed by the partners over the last three years, and a further ten of these science laboratories are planned for this year. There is a great need for the laboratories - previously, no primary schools in the region had constructed a science laboratory, and the high school science laboratories were in a very precarious state.  In addition, more than 50 science centres have been developed at participating rural and primary schools, managed by passionate science teachers and principals who go the extra mile to ensure that their learners participate.

The opening was held in the Ashton Secondary School's dining hall, and the school's principal, Mr P. Buis, served as a lively master of ceremonies for the opening, introducing speakers and welcoming guests and supporters, including representatives from Sanlam, Garden Cities, UWC-SLCA and others, and extending a special welcome to the principals and science teachers from other schools in the region who have benefited from the programme (including Mullersrus Primary, Weltevrede Secondary and Visusizwe, among others).

Prof Shaheed Hartley, Director of UWC-SLCA, explained how the programme had grown with success after success – and the help of Garden Cities Archway's Board and its CEO, John Matthews - to help teachers and learners take pride in what they do and to stimulate and instil a culture of science learning.

“I'm often asked just how we determine which schools should get a lab,” Prof Hartley said. “It's not just a token process. We look at commitment and excellence from the science teachers, and from school management, and think hard about our selection.  It's almost like a reward for their hard work and achievement over a number of years – and certainly our science teachers can use a reward these days.”

The success of the programme speaks for itself – but Prof Hartley was happy that there were science teachers from other UWC-SLCA Science Centres available to explain how the investment was used to best effect.

One of those teachers was Reggie Caesar from Visusizwe Secondary School, who spoke about how the Science Centre provides an ideal opportunity to keep up with and explore new technology. Fellow science teacher Cecil Felix spoke about how the project could help address the shortage of maths and science skills in South Africa. Primary school science teacher Danie Burger conveyed the joy and wonder his primary school learners experience when they're able to do experiments. And De Villiers Primary School teacher Francois Jones, who was last year voted teacher of the year in the Western Cape, explained how the programme inspired him to step up and love science (he's actually an art teacher).

Science teacher Gert Marero, who's taught at Ashton Secondary School for years, offered sincere, heartfelt thanks to the Garden Cities Archway Foundation and UWC-SLCA – and to Prof Hartley in particular – for providing support to Ashton, and for providing the opportunity for him to grow as an educator.

“Every year you watered our little seed – and later tended the tree it grew into, and now you can see some of the fruits of your investment,” he said. “Thank you for bringing the science club together and showing that science in the region has a future. I live for physical science, and now I can finally show it.”

Professor Brian O'Connell, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape, delved into the importance of projects like these, and of mathematics and science to South Africa and the world.  “We can't build a dam without science,” he explained. “We can't build a car without science. And  we can't have proper medicine without science.”

Science thrives on collaboration, he noted. “Science builds on science. It is a collaborative enterprise, and our entire species is part of it – though some do it better than others. A quintessential believer in and practitioner of science as a collaborative enterprise is Prof Shaheed Hartley, and this project is a great example of that. It gives me hope. You are the future of our nation – and you may be among the geniuses in our schools who will help build a modern learning culture.”

Attendees at the launch were treated to a tour of the new Science Centre, with its smartboards, microscopes and other equipment, and a plaque was unveiled by Prof O'Connell and Mrs February to commemorate the event.