Dr Tanja Reinhardt’s passion is science education and she lives it through developing and delivering fun, interactive
workshops as well as staging science shows for youngsters.
Reinhardt has some unusual loves which include minerals, rocks, gadgets and experimentation – all of which she incorporates in her presentations.
She has been coordinator of the Science and Technology Education Centre at UKZN (STEC@UKZN) since 2008 and is the curator of the Geology Education Museum. She also runs a variety outreach projects such as Umjikelezo We-Science, Science4U, and Complit4U.
Her goal is to take Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to rural communities in all parts of KwaZulu-Natal through her interactive exhibits and dynamic shows
She recently developed a workshop for the UK-based Earthlearning idea website (https://www.earthlearningidea.com/PDF/355_Wandering_continents.pdf) and did the layout and graphics of an online geoscience textbook http://www.igeoscied.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Exploring-geoscience-across-the-globe-2.pdf .
Reinhardt, who was awarded a PhD in Mineralogy from the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, is a co-founder of the Umjikelezo (isiZulu for circle) We-Science programme.
“The idea for the programme was sparked during a coffee break at the 18th Southern African Association of Science and Technology Centres (SAASTEC) conference in 2016,” said Reinhardt. “I had a discussion with Mr MJ Schwartz of the Unizulu Science Centre about a presentation at the conference by representatives of the then Department of Science and Technology. They indicated that many communities in South Africa, most notably in rural areas, were not adequately exposed to or sufficiently supported by the science education community with the majority of science awareness spaces such as museums, science centres and NGOs being located mainly in or around urban environments.
“We came up with the idea of having a travelling mini science festival initiative in KwaZulu-Natal and identified a variety of organisations to partner with. It was titled Umjikelezo We-Science and involved the following outreach initiatives: the Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Education (CASME) Science2Go, Durban Natural Science Museum (Go Wild), KZN Science Centre, STEC@UKZN and the UNIZULU Science Centre.”
A year later the first Umjikelezo We-Science outreach outing was launched with the various tasks split between the participating outreach organisations. Since then it has reached more than 4 000 learners from Grade R to Grade 12 as well as teachers and the public in Zululand, the greater eThekwini area, and along the KZN south coast.
STEC@UKZN usually handles the proposals and the final reports while UKZN provides financial support and publicity.
“In my opinion everybody should have the opportunity to get exposed to science education, science centres and museums,” said Reinhardt. “Traditionally, science centres and museums provide an ‘in-reach’ service although the importance and necessity of ‘out-reach’ is becoming increasingly recognised. KwaZulu-Natal is home to a large number of science centres, museums and other STEM public facilities in South Africa, placing it in an ideal position to host major collaboration between local science centres, non-profit organisations and museums. The aim is to reach areas where learners are usually not exposed to science activities.
“The project is based in KZN but the grand plan is for the model of Umjikelezo We-Science to be replicated in other provinces as well.”
Reinhardt said by initiating the project, participating organisations hoped to bring the museum and science centre closer to the community. “We want to bridge the spatial divide and expose learners to science literacy – including career choices in STEM – and also spark their interest and feed their curiosity.”
The participating individual organisations use their own funds to finance the outreach ventures, dedicating their time, human resources and outreach vehicles to the project. A variety of sponsors also assist, an example being the SASOL Foundation which donated an outreach vehicle.
Last year several exciting outreach projects had to be abandoned because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All the Umjikelezo We-Science partners are keen on continuing with the project this year,” said Reinhardt. “We want to pick up our 2020 plans and visit the uMgungundlovu and uThukela districts and partner with other organisations including the Midlands Community College.
“However, with all the uncertainty of the pandemic, we don’t really know if we will be able to get out there but we are determined to explore alternative ways to engage with our target communities.”