S.E.T. for socio-economic growth
Vuwani Science Resource Centre, Coordinator: Dr Nnditshedzeni Eric Maluta
Transformative communication and collaboration
Dr Nnditshedzeni Eric Maluta, co-ordinator for the Vuwani Science Resource Centre and member of the Council of the South Africa Institute of Physics (SAIP) and International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP), Commission 14: International Commission on Physics Education, won the Communication Award for an exceptional contribution to the sharing and promotion of STEM. This award recognises those who have made STEM accessible through innovative and remarkable programmes and approaches.
The Vuwani Science Resource Centre located in the Vhembe District, Limpopo, is a platform for providing education outreach to rural learners. The goal of the programme is to stimulate interest and understanding in maths and science among learners. The centre also provides people with access to basic computer literacy, providing training for three months and assisting them in getting employment.
“We want our learners to get excited about STEM and to continue engaging with these subjects throughout their education, all the way through to university,” says Maluta. “To achieve this goal, we go to different schools and do hands-on experiments that show students the magic of science, and how they can take this subject into an exciting career. We also focus on girls in science, with groups of young women using dedicated female academics who inspire them and talk them through the challenges that women face in science, especially postgraduate, and how they can overcome them.”
In addition to in-person, hands-on engagements, the centre aims to help learners from rural communities to bridge the gaps and problems inherent in schooling systems that often result in high failure rates for first-year students. It also focuses on building awareness around renewable energy as well as indigenous knowledge with the Limpopo Province Indigenous Knowledge System Documentation Centre (IKDSC), which gathers invaluable information around plants for medicinal and other uses.
“We excel in renewable energy and weather parameters for climate change and showing the public how to use solar cells, and explaining the benefits of this form of energy,” says Maluta. “We have a carbon monitoring tower that measures solar radiation and carbon over specific parameters and we show people how this impacts them and the wildlife in their area.”
The centre has had significant success with many students going on to complete PhDs in different fields of STEM, some getting their medical degrees, and some becoming engineers. It has made the team feel that they are having a measurable and genuine impact on the community.
“We realised this year that many people who are now educators went through the centre and are now making a difference themselves, even knowing the challenges that we face,” says Maluta. “This is a huge achievement for us, because it shows that we are making a real difference.” — Tamsin Oxford
Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.