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Brilliant Learners Treated to a Week Filled with Exciting Science

Winners of the AstroQuiz 2016.
Winners of the National Schools Debate.
Winners of the Natural Science Oylmpiad.

Top performing participants in SAASTA’s school competitions, the National School Debates, Natural Science Olympiad and AstroQuiz, were treated to an exciting week of science-related activities in Gauteng.

Ninety learners from all nine provinces across the country participated in activities and competitions during the Focus Week from 4 to 7 October 2016 at St George’s Hotel and Conference Centre and other sites. They visited the National Zoological Gardens, SAASTA’s Johannesburg Observatory and Sci-Bono Discovery Centre. The focus week provided a platform for interaction, networking and excellence through competitive science activities.

On the first day of the Focus Week, the Natural Science winners participated in the Jaquar School Competition at Sci-Bono Discovery Centre. Learners from Sivananda Primary School won the competition. On 5 October, the final round of the AstroQuiz competition took place. Each province was represented by a team of four learners, one educator/coach and science centre mentors. “I have never seen such an intelligent group of learners,” said Onica Phayane of SAASTA, one of the organisers of the event. Three teams tied for both first and second positions. The ties were indeed tough to break, but in the end the following schools took the top positions:

First place: Ncotshane Primary School from KwaZulu-Natal
Second place: Sol Plaatje Primary School from North West Province
Third place: Laerskool Voorpos from Gauteng.

On 6 October, the AstroQuiz group engaged in an informative Skype call with an Italian astronaut and engineer, Paolo Nespoli, from the European Space Agency (ESA). He gave the learners a virtual tour of ESA and they were given an opportunity to ask questions. Paolo motivated the learners telling them “Believe in yourself and maintain focus… Anything is possible”.

On the same day, the finals of the National School Debates competition took place. The winning schools from all nine provincial competitions competed, addressing the topic: South Africa faces high levels of poverty, resulting in a significant number of households being classified as food insecure and high levels of malnutrition, particularly in children. How can biotechnology be used to address food security in South African households? The aim was for teams to discuss practical science based solutions, incorporating political, economic and socio-cultural factors, to improve the general health of South African households. Randfontein High School in Gauteng proudly came out on top of the 2016 national competition.

The excitement of the week culminated at the splendid gala dinner that was hosted on the evening of 6 October at St. George’s Hotel. Learners, educators and schools were awarded prizes for various categories. Prizes included laptops, tablets, trophies and vouchers. The AstroQuiz winners (first to third places) were also given space activity puzzles and caps by the Italian Embassy in Pretoria.

The success of the focus week was mainly due to the joint effort of SAASTA’s sub-units working together to achieve a common goal. The testimony of Lucky Buthelezi, Educator from Sivanada Primary, who said, “The whole week was an awesome experience for me and the learners. We learnt a lot and gained so much… Science is key!” confirms the team’s effort had a positive impact. More than anything the focus week was a hub for motivation, excitement and inspiration for the attending learners and educators.