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"I say SAEON rocks…" Learners reflect on their three-year journey with SAEON

By Omphile Khutsoane, Education Officer, SAEON Arid Lands Node
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There's nothing quite like a sleep-away camp to get learners off the couch during weekends and school holidays, away from Wi-Fi and detached from their cell phones in favour of game drives, hands-on science activities, swimming and exploring the great outdoors.

In January this year, the SAEON Arid Lands Node held its first grade 11 science camp at Good Hope Private Nature Reserve, a stone’s throw away from Barkly West in the Northern Cape. The camp focused on encouraging learners to re-establish their connection with nature by working in the field with scientists and education professionals.

The main purpose of this camp was to bid farewell to the grade 11 learners who had been part of the SAEON Education Outreach Programme since grade 9. The programme aimed to prepare the learners for the year ahead, and encourage them to work hard and stay committed to their educational journey.


The learners in high spirits on the final day of the camp (Photo: Leonard Ndou)

Over the past three years, the Node has held camps and workshops offering interactive activities to learners from grades 9 to 11. Each year these activities differed according to the grades - the higher the grade the higher the level of hands-on science activities.

"The science camp activities are tried and true, and learners love them," says the Node’s education officer, Omphile Khutsoane. "They’re mostly activities that teachers in the classroom don’t have the equipment to do. We attempt to supplement what is learnt in the classroom. There is no homework; just a lot of interactive and fun science activities."

Learners leave the camps more in touch with the environment and wanting to find out more. The SAEON programme has sparked a love for environmental science in a cohort of bright young would-be scientists during their involvement over the past three years. The time and energy invested in these learners has indeed been worth the while.

Learners recall the time they spent with SAEON since the beginning of their journey…

"I was first introduced to SAEON in 2014 when I was in grade 9. SAEON has been with me ever since, and has always helped me with my school work and projects. They also supported me in 2015 and 2016 when I entered the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists. With their support we managed to win a silver award for our project.

"The SAEON camp I attended has helped me to improve my presentation skills. I enjoy working with people and my view about the environment has totally changed due to the things I have learned. I now know the importance of monitoring our trees and rivers, how different animals adapt to different habitats, what they eat, how they protect themselves against predators and the role animals play in our lives, which is why we need to take good care of them." - Ayesha Sithole


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Learners identify the careers depicted in each of the photographs provided to make them aware of the wide variety of careers available in environmental science (Photo: Omphile Khutsoane)

SAEON field technician Marco Pauw (second from right) assists learners during a field survey at the Good Hope Private Nature Reserve (Photo: Tshililo Ramaswiela)

"My learning experience with SAEON has changed my attitude towards many things in life, not forgetting how much of a better person it made me, and for that reason I am proud to say I am a SAEON kid. Every experience I have had with SAEON has been worthwhile.

"SAEON introduced me to a world I had no idea existed and took me to places I never thought I would visit. SAEON has taught me and developed me. It has taught me a lot about nature and our environment. I now know what I want to become in the future - because of SAEON I have a career. I say SAEON rocks. There is no place like home and home is where SAEON is. Thank you SAEON! Ndo livhuwa! Kea leboga! Dankie SAEON!" - Reitumetse Mocuminyane


"My journey with SAEON has been an awesome one. Being part of SAEON has increased my thinking capacity when it comes to science. The programme has also increased my investigating skills. I have learned how to do activities such as vegetation monitoring, miniSASS and how to build my confidence.

Being part of the SAEON programme has had a positive influence on my learning at school because it gave me an opportunity to apply in practice what we are taught in science and geography. I used the programme to my own advantage and it has helped me a lot. Before SAEON I was never eager to learn about nature, but now I want to learn more about things concerning nature. I am grateful for the motivation and advice in choosing a career path. Thank you!" - Thuto Mogorosi


"Almost everything we were exposed to by SAEON was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The education outreach gave me an opportunity for self-exploration, to grow in a scientific world and try to reach out, being confident about myself and able to address the public in many different styles.

"My learning experiences since grade 9 have been numerous. The very first presentation by SAEON made me realise the importance of our environment as well as climate changes that affect our water-based resources. I realised that SAEON was there to monitor the effects of the weather. Later on, with the motivation from special teachers, we were encouraged to do a scientific project, which not only taught me how to do a science project, but also made me realise that I can do something bigger if I tell myself that yes I can do it.

"Our camps were filled with educational activities and how I loved the presentation by a botanist! I enjoyed all of it – working with plants; learning how to identify different types of trees, flowers and moss and how to see if it has seeds or fruits; and where plants are being stored in a herbarium.

"The education outreach helped us a lot in choosing a future career. I like the fact that we’ve been motivated never to give up in life and always to try to be the best. SAEON made science more interesting. I would like to follow a career in environmental science based on what I enjoyed during the camps of the past three years." - Pontso Mothibeli


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Excited learners about to embark on a guided game drive for the first time in their lives (Photo: Omphile Khutsoane)


Reitumentse Mocuminyane from Emang Mmogo Comprehensive School gives an astounding mathematics lesson to her fellow classmate and learners from other SAEON schools (Photo: Omphile Khutsoane)

"In my journey with SAEON I experienced a lot of things, like hiking in the field and learning how to identify animals by looking at their footprints and their droppings. We also learned how to collect and record data and analyse the results. I now know how to write a scientific report and compile a poster. I know how to collect data in the field that will help me to identify the habitats. I learned how to collect and identify plants. At first I didn’t find botany interesting but now I am hooked. I had an amazing journey. I would like to thank SAEON, sis Omphile, sis Tshifhiwa, uncle Tshililo and others. I would also like to thank my fellow learners." - Lebogang Lojane


"Since I started my SAEON journey I have learned how to interact with people and got used to being around scientists who are the best at what they do (experts in their field) such as Marco Pauw, who has been with us since grade 9, teaching us steps/methods of vegetation monitoring. We also met Leonard Ndou who taught us different methods of writing a scientific poster. We valued the opportunity to visit different nature reserves and participate in all the fun field trips. I would like to enter the Eskom Expo this year if I come across a good topic and get the support I need." - Puleng Kgatlane

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