The National Science Olympiad is one of the flagship programmes of the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA). Now in its 54th year, the initiative offers learners in grades 10 to 12 from Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, which include South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Namibia, an opportunity to compete in science. “The main aim of the competition is to identify talent, to encourage excellence in science education and to stimulate interest in the sciences. It seeks to inspire young people to consider careers in science and technology,” said SAASTA Managing Director, Dr Jabu Nukeri.
The poor uptake of young people in Mathematics and Science subjects at secondary and tertiary levels is shrinking the pool of qualified scientists, engineers, innovators and researchers, and subsequently threatening the future of scientific development in South Africa.
SAASTA is making strides in building the Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) human resource base in the country by communicating the value and impact of science and technology in a dynamic knowledge economy.
On 27 June 2018, SAASTA hosted the 54th National Science Olympiad awards, celebrating the top performing learners in Physical and Life Sciences. The ceremony, which took place at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Gauteng, forms part of the initiative to empower the youth in science. The main sponsor for the programme is Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited.
The awards ceremony honoured South Africa’s top young science learners in various categories, such as; Top Winners for Life Science or Physical Science and Top Learners from previously disadvantaged schools. The Olympiad contributes toward excellence in science and has great potential to improve participation and performance levels of previously excluded groups and make science and maths an attractive career choice for these and other learners.
The Olympiad comprised of an examination selected from a choice of two papers; the Physical Science (Physics and Chemistry) or the Life Science paper, with top learners and schools standing a chance of winning exciting prizes. Among this year’s top learners are Precious Kaunda from Mpumalanga, Josephine Tsubane from the Free State, Aleta Sibi from the Eastern Cape and Graham Mitchell from Gauteng who will be jetting off to London for the 60th London International Youth Science Forum.
To ensure the identification and nurturing of talent in SET, a group of 120 learners who excelled or demonstrated potential during the Olympiad are traditionally invited to participate in a Science Focus Week during the June/July school holidays. The programme of activities for the event this year consisted of lectures, excursions, and relevant industry visits to places such as the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation SOC Limited (NECSA) and Cullinan Diamond Mine. The awards ceremony is the culmination of these activities, where deserving learners and schools are recognised and rewarded for their efforts. This year, more than 33 000 learners from all nine provinces in South Africa and three of the other SADC countries part took in the initiative. The participants included learners from Harmony Gold Mining areas in the Gauteng, North West and Free State provinces. Mr Mashego Mashego, Executive Director of Harmony Gold Mining, emphasised the importance of absorbing bright young minds in key organisations.