STEM Education

ASSAf established a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education Standing Committee in 2008 to provide strategic direction to the Academy’s role in the STEM education field.

The members of the Committee are:

  • Prof Jenni Case, University of Cape Town
  • Prof Zodwa Dlamini, Mangosuthu University of Technology
  • Mr Kevin Govender, Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD)
  • Prof Fritz Hahne (Chair), Retired
  • Prof Loyiso Jita, University of the Free State
  • Prof Sunil Maharaj, University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Prof Delia Marshall, University of the Western Cape
  • Prof Marietjie Potgieter, University of Pretoria
  • Prof Marc Schafer, Rhodes University
  • Dr Amanda Weltman, University of Cape Town

Revitalising Agricultural Education and Training (AET)

In October 2014, ASSAf commenced a consensus study on Revitalising Agricultural Education and Training under the leadership of Prof Frans Swanepoel. The aim of the study is to provide recommendations that will revitalise AET in South Africa from the perspective of research, teaching and learning, as well as the agricultural extension service. The goal is to chart the way forward towards the emergence of an agricultural human capital development and knowledge system that drives smallholder farmer-led development initiatives and innovation in order to achieve commercial production and increased productivity, food security and economic growth and development.

The consensus study panelists are:

  • Prof Frans Swanepoel, University of Western Cape (Chair)
  • Prof Felix Dakora, Tshwane University of Technology
  • Prof Adipala Ekwamu, RUFORUM-UGANDA
  • Prof Johann Kirsten, University of Pretoria
  • Prof Albert Modi, University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Prof Voster Muchenje, University of Fort Hare
  • Ms Bongiwe Njobe
  • Prof Alice Pell, Cornell University, United States
  • Prof Aldo Stroebel, National Research Foundation
  • Prof Stephanus Terblanche, University of Pretoria
  • Prof Volker Wedekind, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Pilot Project on La main à la Pate

ASSAf’s commitment to Inquiry-based Science Education (IBSE) gave expression to the initiation of a pilot project in ten primary level schools in Pretoria based on the French Academy programme of La main à la pate. With strong support from the French Embassy in South Africa, the three-year pilot project was launched in November 2012 as part of the French season in South Africa.

A group of South African trainers drawn predominantly from Gauteng higher education institutions was trained in IBSE by two French trainers. The programme was implemented as a pilot project in ten primary schools in the Tshwane District. It is being implemented with the cooperation of the Gauteng Department of Education and the Tshwane South District.

PhD Study

Although not confined to STEM education, one of ASSAf’s most widely cited consensus study reports on education is “The PhD Study: An Evidence-based Study on how to meet the Demands for High-Level Skills in an Emerging Economy”, published in 2010. The report gave an account of the status of the PhD in South Africa and made specific recommendations on what needs to be done to scale up the numbers of doctoral graduates produced in the country.

The study was led by Prof Jonathan Jansen of the University of the Free State and a panel comprising the following experts:

  • Prof Sakhela Buhlungu, University of Johannesburg*
  • Prof Priscilla Reddy, Medical Research Council*
  • Dr Dwight Triegaardt, AURECON
  • Prof Merasi Nerad, University of Washington
  • Prof Kay Harman, University of New England
  • Prof Michael Samuel, University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Prof Johann Mouton, Stellenbosch University
  • Prof Ahmed Bawa, City University of New York*

*The affiliated institutions at the time of the study

Inquiry-based Science Education

In May 2010, ASSAf firmly established its long-term interest in and commitment to Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) by hosting a workshop on “IBSE for Girls” in partnership with the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC), the Organisation of Women Scientists for the Developing World (OWSD), and the Gender Advisory Board of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD).

The workshop attracted science education specialists from Africa, France and Australia. Information on IBSE was shared and ways to encourage girls and young women to enter into science at school and later into science careers were explored.

The key messages from the workshop were later compiled into a policymakers’ booklet, entitled “Inquiry-based Science Education for Girls: Increasing Participation of Girls in Science in sub-Saharan Africa”, which was launched in April 2011. The booklet was aimed at promoting IBSE as a pedagogical method for teaching science and to inspire girls to enjoy science. Learning through exploring, discovery and investigation was emphasised.                                  

Access to basic quality education for most sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) children remains a challenge, with the majority of children not attending school being girls. Educating girls in SSA is critical to achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), especially those associated with improved maternal health, universal primary education, and reducing acute poverty in the region.                                                                

The following year, in 2012, the policymakers’ booklet was localised and launched at two events in Zimbabwe and Zambia, in collaboration with the academies in each of the countries. The events brought the recommendations on IBSE to the attention of policymakers in each country, including the Minister of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe.

School Mathematics and Science

In 2009, the Committee held a forum on “The state of science and mathematics in South African schools”, generally regarded as a ‘national crisis’. The forum proceedings report entitled “Critical Issues in School Mathematics and Science: Pathways to Progress” drew attention to the poor performance of those at school level, which in turn impacted on the pool of scientists, engineers and health practitioners.

A follow-up forum, called “Mind the Gap” was held in October 2010, to investigate how tertiary level science and engineering programmes should respond to the ‘gap’ that had been shown to exist between basic and higher education in South Africa. Exemplars of course and curriculum innovations that were ‘minding the gap’ in a responsive manner were showcased.

The forum outcome was a position paper which highlighted responsiveness to the gap at the levels of pedagogy, curriculum and institutional culture. The paper was later published in the South African Journal of Science (SAJS).

Statement on Teaching Evolution

In 2008, ASSAf issued a statement on “The Importance of Teaching Evolution in South African High Schools”. The Academy recognised that teaching of evolution is a sensitive matter amongst some communities but took the position that it was unwise and inappropriate for any group of citizens, religious or otherwise, to limit access of any young people to the means to understand the workings of the natural world.