Grahamstown is renowned for its national science festival (Scifest). The festival includes various activities such as workshops, talks/lectures, exhibitions, shows, experiments and so on. These activities are co- ordinated by Scifest Africa. The aim of the national science festival is to demystify and make science, technology, mathematics and engineering accessible to school learners and members of the community.

A major challenge for an event of this nature, advertised at the national language, is that learners in township and rural schools outside Grahamstown are unable to attend Scifest due to financial constraints. As an attempt to address this problem, the idea of regional festivals was mooted. Scifest Africa approached the Embassy of Finland for funding, with which it has strong links. The partnership between Scifest Africa and the Department of Education, supported by the foreign donors, led to the organisation of the first regional festival, which was held in uMthatha in 2008.

Following the success of the event, the new director of Scifest Africa secured funding from the Embassy of Finland for another regional festival. An evaluation of the event was commissioned to the leading authors of the present paper, to bring an external perspective. The goal was to identify challenges and areas for improvement in order to turn the regional festival into an annual event like the national science festival in Grahamstown. This paper reports on the evaluation of the 2009 uMthatha regional festival, whose specific target group was grade 10 – 11 learners in the uMthatha region.

Data were gathered through using questionnaires, informal semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions, field notes and reflections. To make the evaluation participative and to enhance its validity, questionnaires were given to the organizers (to get an insider perspective about this initiative), the presenters, educators and learners. The evaluation sought to establish the quality of the experiences of all the participants.

The mutual collaboration between Scifest Africa as the main organizers and the DoE officials contributed to the high quality of the event by providing support for presenters. In order to improve learners’ experiences of the event, two key challenges need to be addressed: lack of subject content knowledge (this was apparent particularly in areas such as physics) and the language barrier. The latter point could be addressed by diversifying the composition of presenters to include speakers of isiXhosa, the mother tongue of most learners. The use of metaphors and analogies proved to be helpful in encouraging learner engagement, but needed to be made more relevant to the learners’ everyday lives (Smit, 1998; Kasanda, Gaoseb & Lubben, 2002). This evaluation indicated that there is a great potential to develop meaningful learning through events such as science festivals, provided that follow-up support is given to educators and learners in their school contexts. By the time of the conference, analysis of the data will be completed and more insights will be available.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Learning science in interactive ways at the uMthatha science festival
Beyond the classroom walls

Kenneth Ngcoza   Rhodes University, South Africa

Lorenzo Dalvit   Rhodes University, South Africa

Eduardo Mortimer   Unversidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil

Grahamstown is renowned for its national science festival (Scifest). The festival includes various activities such as workshops, talks/lectures, exhibitions, shows, experiments and so on. These activities are co- ordinated by Scifest Africa. The aim of the national science festival is to demystify and make science, technology, mathematics and engineering accessible to school learners and members of the community.

A major challenge for an event of this nature, advertised at the national language, is that learners in township and rural schools outside Grahamstown are unable to attend Scifest due to financial constraints. As an attempt to address this problem, the idea of regional festivals was mooted. Scifest Africa approached the Embassy of Finland for funding, with which it has strong links. The partnership between Scifest Africa and the Department of Education, supported by the foreign donors, led to the organisation of the first regional festival, which was held in uMthatha in 2008.

Following the success of the event, the new director of Scifest Africa secured funding from the Embassy of Finland for another regional festival. An evaluation of the event was commissioned to the leading authors of the present paper, to bring an external perspective. The goal was to identify challenges and areas for improvement in order to turn the regional festival into an annual event like the national science festival in Grahamstown. This paper reports on the evaluation of the 2009 uMthatha regional festival, whose specific target group was grade 10 – 11 learners in the uMthatha region.

Data were gathered through using questionnaires, informal semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions, field notes and reflections. To make the evaluation participative and to enhance its validity, questionnaires were given to the organizers (to get an insider perspective about this initiative), the presenters, educators and learners. The evaluation sought to establish the quality of the experiences of all the participants.

The mutual collaboration between Scifest Africa as the main organizers and the DoE officials contributed to the high quality of the event by providing support for presenters. In order to improve learners’ experiences of the event, two key challenges need to be addressed: lack of subject content knowledge (this was apparent particularly in areas such as physics) and the language barrier. The latter point could be addressed by diversifying the composition of presenters to include speakers of isiXhosa, the mother tongue of most learners. The use of metaphors and analogies proved to be helpful in encouraging learner engagement, but needed to be made more relevant to the learners’ everyday lives (Smit, 1998; Kasanda, Gaoseb & Lubben, 2002). This evaluation indicated that there is a great potential to develop meaningful learning through events such as science festivals, provided that follow-up support is given to educators and learners in their school contexts. By the time of the conference, analysis of the data will be completed and more insights will be available.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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