The Science and Technology Education Centre at UKZN (STEC@UKZN) has received accreditation from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), placing it among South Africa’s top centres for encouraging an interest in science among young people.
STEC@UKZN, one of six accredited science centres in KwaZulu-Natal, aims to stimulate and encourage school learners with inquiring minds to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Headed up by Dr Tanja Reinhardt (aka Dr T), the centre’s activities include “hands-on” experiments, interactive displays, posters, informative presentations, workshops and science shows. With trained personnel manning the centre, custom programmes for learners and educators are often drawn up, and Reinhardt is a regular at University events such as Open Days, the Royal Show, Wonder Women in Science and more. The STEC team has also collaborated on the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, with Reinhardt conducting 15 online workshops for the Expo at a national level.
STEC@UKZN also incorporates a Geology Education Museum on UKZN’s Westville campus, which is the only one of its kind in the province with unique minerals, fossils, meteorites and rocks on display. The centre has also, together with other science centres in the province and with international partners, participated in events like the Umjikelezo We-Science outreach collaboration to promote studies and careers in STEM to rural schools.
The DSI has in place a national plan for a network of science centres that promote STEM literacy, enhance learner participation and performance in STEM, identify and nurture youth talent and potential in STEM, and provide career education for STEM fields.
Accreditation is a means of establishing and maintaining this network by establishing credibility for the centres, developing existing and new science centres according to set guidelines, creating a platform for communication between accredited centres, creating opportunities for funding support for set activities and equipment, establishing a pool of resources for exhibits and programmes, and providing a platform for international recognition. Through SAASTA, training programmes for science centre staff are also available to contribute to capacity building.
The voluntary accreditation process involved several evaluation steps, and resulted in STEC@UKZN being classified as an emerging science centre. It will engage with the DSI and SAASTA’s Science Awareness Platform division to generate a customised development plan for the centre and determine applicable timelines and the nature of support to be provided to enable STEC@UKZN to improve its performance and operational environment.
‘We are very grateful to SAASTA and the DSI for providing the accreditation platform and giving us the opportunity to participate in the accreditation procedure,’ said Reinhardt.
‘Although it was a very long process, which included a lengthy self-evaluation document and a peer review process, it gave us a better perspective on who we are, what we are good at, which areas we can improve in and how we compare in the South African Science Centre world. Being measured against fixed criteria provides evidence for potential sponsorship and accreditation which makes it easier to apply for financial grants, support and/or subsidies from the DSI and SAASTA.’
SAASTA thanked STEC@UKZN for its concerted hard work, diligence and consultations with the science centre community that contribute to SAASTA’s partnership with science centres.
During the intermittent lockdowns in South Africa due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reinhardt has adapted the centre’s reach to learners through virtual science workshops that take place during the school holidays. Making use of simple apparatus and supplies that can be found in most homes, the fun workshops provide an educational diversion for children stuck at home.
Words: Christine Cuénod