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6 September 2013
UWC-SLCA Open Multiple Science Labs in Western Cape

Science centres seek to address crisis in education

The lack of science laboratories at schools in the Western Cape is a challenge the University of the Western Cape (UWC) is helping to address, opening four new science centres at schools in Mitchell's Plain.

Partnering with the Garden Cities Archway Foundation, UWC's Science Learning Centre for Africa (UWC-SLCA) saw a total of 16 science centres being provided to schools severely lacking infrastructure for proper science teaching.

The latest four science centres were opened at Westridge High, Lentegeur High, Zisukhanyo Senior Secondary and Princeton High School. Science centres have also been opened at rural schools such as Ashton Secondary School.

While learner achievement against international benchmark tests, together with results achieved by teachers in similar tests, paints a bleak picture for education in South Africa.

UWC-SLCA director, Prof Shaheed Hartley, speaking at the opening of the Westridge High science centre on Monday, 2 September, said the basics needed to be put in place and that teacher support, to enable them (teachers) to teach science from an advanced level of understanding, knowledge and teaching skills were needed to address the national crisis that was education.

He said developing a culture of science teaching amongst science educators and a culture of science learning for learners will be the starting point in improving National Senior Certificate results.

“The conducive environment provided by the science learning centres was a step in the right direction,” he said.

The laboratories were designed in such a way that other, non-science subjects could also be taught in them.

"Science learning centres are not strictly laboratories," he said.

Furthermore, to create an ethos of collaboration is essential to the development of science and learning, the different science centres will be connected to each other using a programme called Bridget, which is similar to Skype, "but much better and much more stable".

He said work on connecting the science centres began on Friday, 31 August and so far two science centres have been connected.

"What happens is that I can stand in my lab at the University and I can talk and teach in my lab and they can see me, hear me and interact with me," said Hartley.

An additional five science learning centres are due to be constructed by the end of the year.

Garden Cities Archway Foundation chairperson, Myrtle February said the foundation had initially started building halls at disadvantaged schools, but after they were approached by UWC-SLCA they shifted their focus to science centres.

Westridge High principal, Wendy Vertgotine said UWC was a continental leader in science research and that the University’s "input in our communities" was something she treasured.

“The school could not contain its excitement at having a science centre constructed for them,” she said.

"The provision of proper facilities is vital in the good execution of learning," said Vertgotine.

In his motivation speech to approximately 50 Westridge High learners present at the handover, UWC Rector Prof Brian O'Connell urged learners to meet the multiple challenges facing the province and the country.