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Filling the Science Gaps - The Green Energy Curriculum in North West
Friday, June 15, 2018

The Green Energy Programme, supported by the Platinum Trust of South Africa,  aims to promote knowledge and interest in renewable energy resources with a specific focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation (STEMI). The primary subjects of focus are Natural Science and Technology where all work has been mapped against the National Curriculum. Targeting Grade 9 learners, the programme aims to encourage the learners’ subject choices toward maths and science, in preparation to embark upon STEMI degrees. 

The programme is designed as a multilevel competition structure that culminates in participation in the Shell Eco-marathon. These stages start with an internal competition where learners design a wind-powered device from recycled materials to carry a specified weight. The next stage is the solar power challenge where learners design, build and race a vehicle that is powered by the solar panel capacitor using the provided LEGO packs. In the last stage of competitions the learners design, build and race a LEGO vehicle powered by a Hydrogen Fuel Cell. The best teams that emerge from the last stage will participate in the Shell Eco-marathon, going head-to-head against one another, to determine the ultimate winner. 

During April, we conducted introductory presentations to ten schools in the North West Province. These presentations were focused on introducing learners to the fundamental concepts of energy and the various ways of generating clean energy. The impact of the presentations was influenced by the profile of the Rustenburg schools that we visited. This profile consisted of two categories of schools. The first was the majority of the schools which were under-resourced, solely funded by the Department of Basic Education. The second category consisted of better-resourced schools that seemed to be funded by mining groups in conjunction with the Department. This scarcity of resources meant that the first category of schools have limited exposure to science equipment as they lacked labs and budgets to attend science fairs. 

The lack of exposure of learners to the field of science made the schools highly receptive towards the programme and what it offered, a rare opportunity to engage with science from a more practical perspective. The learners’ interaction with the programme introduced them to the ordinary quality of science that occurs in their daily lives, which so far had been full of abstract ideas. The programme used interactive methodology and equipment which allowed learners the opportunity to experience some scientific principles like electrolysis, which they had previously only been able to read about in textbooks. The presentations also offered an element of career guidance that tied these principles to potential careers. 

The interaction with teachers highlighted the level of isolation these schools experience, where learning seldom surpasses the curriculum into ‘hot topics’ such as clean energy. This lack of learner engagement with current topics and issues in science excludes them from participating in innovating solutions to current global issues. This is an issue that is not restricted to the North West, but applies to most under-resourced schools.  Reaching almost 2000 learners, the Green Energy Programme contributed to satisfying this gap in exposure that Rustenburg schools have. 

Despite the lack of resources, the learners showed an impressive aptitude for science and problem-solving. They were presented with scenarios which included ‘Why is the windmill not working?’ And solved it by providing pitch to the blades. One of my highlights on this visit was on the fourth day of the visit to Freedom Park Secondary School. There was a team of two girls, who have responded to a community problem of resource depletion and air pollution from coal heating.  Their solution was a solar stove concept. Combined with this level of learner aptitude in science, this programme can significantly increase interest in STEMI careers post-secondary school. 

This programme taps into meeting the critical need for innovation in Green Energy, not just as an international priority but the national priorities and critical skills outlined by the government of South Africa. The Green Energy Programme contributes to meeting these priorities and ensures that participating secondary schools and learners are exposed to leading topics in science and are equipped with the knowledge to provide 21st-century innovations in STEMI fields.