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Preparing young environmental scientists to find sustainable solutions for the future

By Tsumbedzo Ramalevha and Joe Sibiya, SAEON Ndlovu Node
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In our quest to study, understand and apply the knowledge we’ve gained into the effects of anthropogenic impacts by human-induced practices on the environment, it is important to involve those who will be in the leadership and decision-making positions of tomorrow.

SAEON has done exceptionally well over the years with its science education outreach initiative, which aims to engage learners in environmental science through various platforms and initiatives such as the annual SAEON Science Engagement Symposium and SAEON Kids Competition for learners.

The Science Engagement Symposium brings together the top performing learners from various schools in the science education programmes of four SAEON Nodes – Arid Lands, Egagasini, Elwandle and Ndlovu. Outreach coordinators and external stakeholders engage the schools, education circuit and government departments to create this platform for learners to share their knowledge, learn new skills, improve their presentation skills, network and ultimately to become environmentally conscious citizens.

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Tsundzuka Mnisi (left), Khutso Madiba (centre) and Amanda Khosa present their projects at the Kimberley city hall

This year’s Science Engagement Symposium and SAEON Kids Competition were hosted by the Arid Lands Node based in Kimberley, Northern Cape Province, on 17 September. Learners from schools in Kimberley were exposed to exciting activities during the symposium by the SAEON Node teams. 

The Ndlovu Node’s activity, ‘Climate change and the future of the savanna ecosystem’, was conducted by Tsumbedzo Ramalevha. The activity highlighted the interconnectedness of the components and activities taking place in the savanna ecosystem and how depletion or removal of one component as a result of climate change can impact the mere existence of the ecosystem and ultimately the existence of the human population.

Three learners represented the Ndlovu Node at the symposium. Their presentations were developed within the National Science Week theme – Facing the harsh realities of climate change. The topics were ‘Utilisation of carbon dioxide emitted by coal mines’, presented by Amanda Khosa; ‘Seed germination and vegetable oil’, presented by Tsundzuka Mnisi; and ‘Sustainable utilisation of water within households’, presented by Khutso Madiba.

The learners came up with their own project ideas or topics. With guidance and assistance from SAEON’s Tsumbedzo Ramalevha and Joe Sibiya, the project ideas were shaped and structured. The learners were shown how to create a PowerPoint presentation that best displayed their understanding of the subject matter.

The young scientists were subsequently encouraged to put forward a research plan, research methodology and a plan of action. Upon obtaining their experiment results, they were guided through the process of analysing their results and putting together a PowerPoint presentation. Numerous presentation practice sessions were held to improve their understanding of the project and their mental strenghts. Learners from the four SAEON nodes presented their projects at the SAEON Kids Competition Finals in Kimberley city hall. 

Practical sessions

During the next two days they participated in two practical sessions. The first was vegetation monitoring looking at tree height and water availability in the Good Hope Nature Reserve. The second consisted of a MiniSASS experiment studying water quality in the Vaal River.

These mini projects were designed to encourage learners to develop their scientific thinking skills, learn how to analyse data using Excel and improve their presentation skills, as their findings were presented on the final day of the symposium, followed by questions and feedback from the facilitators.

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Tsundzuka Mnisi and Khutso Madiba (left) and Amanda Khosa (right) participate in the MiniSASS project at the Vaal River

Feedback from the Ndlovu Node’s learners

‘Before and during the SAEON Kids Competition, I got to learn how to use PowerPoint, summarise information and improve my presentation skills. The MiniSASS project at the Vaal River got me thinking about my own career path.’ – Tsundzuka Mnisi

‘In preparation for the SAEON Kids Competition, I learned how to write scientifically and improve my presentation techniques. The experience I gained has made me a better person, both in terms of my education and life in general.’ – Khutso Madiba

‘The amount of work that went into preparing for the SAEON Kids Competition taught me the importance of being prepared. The experience I gained will be useful going forward as I am going to be participating in the 2019 Eskom International Science Fair.’ – Amanda Khosa


SAEON's Joe Sibiya (right) and Tsumbedzo Ramalevha (left) join the Ndlovu Node’s learners in congratulating Tsundzuka Mnisi (second from left), who won the trophy for best presenter in the terrestrial category

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