July 2015
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Special award for Limpopo learner
National Science Olympiad Awards
Youth Science Focus Week
Showing career opportunities to girls
Africa Code Week
FameLab International Competition
My FameLab experience
Debates winners off to New York
Finding solutions to energy problems
Centenary of Proxima Centauri
Meet SAASTA's Gao Tiro
Refocusing our lens on our youth
Science on a research vessel
Partnership to conserve water
Managing freshwater resources
Rhodes and SAIAB promote science
In the news
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

SAASTA National Schools Debate Competition: Finding creative solutions to our energy problem*

Have you had to do some of your work in the dark lately? Have you been late for something because you were stuck in traffic when the traffic lights were out?

We can probably all say that in some way we have experienced the effects of load-shedding and the electricity crisis in our country. On top of it, we are being told it's here to stay for a while. So that got us thinking that we should start talking more about how our country is going to solve this problem, and stop just moaning about it when the lights go out.

The winning Western Cape team from De Kuilen High School
The SAASTA Schools Debates place emphasis on creatively finding solutions
Team members brainstorm ideas during an imbizo

With this in mind, the top ten schools selected for the SAASTA Schools Debates Competition in each province across South Africa were asked a relevant question when they competed in this year's provincial competitions. They debated whether biotechnology could be part of the solution to providing electricity to the country.
SAASTA Schools Debates Provincial Topic
"South Africa is currently facing a large bottleneck in the supply of energy to its citizens. Can biotechnology add value to the required energy mix in order to ensure viable provision of electricity in the country?"

The SAASTA Schools Debates are different from other debating competitions in that while other debating competitions focus on arguing who is right and who is wrong, or who is better or worse, the SAASTA Schools Debates place emphasis on creatively finding solutions.

Each team is assigned a different perspective on which they should base their arguments. These are:

  • the application and benefit of the science and technology, which looks at how the science/technology addresses the needs and challenges we face;
  • the economic perspective, which looks at the money needed to develop the science and technology, as well as whether it will save money or make money in the future;
  • the socio-cultural perspective, which looks at the influence of and impact on cultural values and society, and
  • the political perspective, which considers the political environment and how decisions are made or should be made around science and technology development.

Working in groups

Part of the competition involves "imbizos" (the isiZulu word for meeting or gathering), where smaller groups can meet and discuss more specific issues that are raised. Team members can take new information learned from discussions back to the team to prepare for the closing statements. The team members also tweet and post their discussions on Facebook.

Using nature to find solutions

Biotechnology aims to find innovative solutions to current world problems through biology, and uses materials and organisms already found in nature in the production of valuable products such as biodiesel, microbial fuel cells and biohydrogen. These were just some of the aspects that the teams had to research in order to be able to come to a debate about biotechnology and energy.

Provincial winners

The winners of each of the provincial rounds will compete in the national competition in October. The top schools in each province are:
Gauteng – Randfontein High School
Limpopo – Taxila Secondary School
Mpumalanga – Mashishing Secondary School
Western Cape – De Kuilen High School
Northern Cape – Kimberley Girls' High School
Free State – St. Michael's School for Girls
KwaZulu-Natal – Wingen Heights Secondary School
North West – Lebone High School
Eastern Cape – Clarendon High School
SAASTA, a business unit of the National Research Foundation, has been running the SAASTA National Schools Debates Competition annually since 2010. Through structured debates, it aims to encourage young people to delve into and talk about real problems that are faced by their communities and by our country, and about how science and technology can resolve or affect these issues.

* This article first appeared in Minimag