Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor MP, at the national launch of the 2010 National Science Week, University of Fort Hare, Alice, 29 July 2010
29 Jul 2010
Programme Director, Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General of Science and Technology;
Honourable Premier of the Eastern Cape, Ms Noxolo Kiviet;
Eastern Cape MEC for Education, Mr Mahlubandile Qwase;
Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare, Prof. Rob Midgley;
District Municipality Mayor, Mr Sakhumzi Somyo;
Acting Superintendent General of the Eastern Cape Department of Education; Mr Ronnie Swartz;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We're here today to launch National Science Week 2010.
What's it for?
National Science Week is an opportunity for young people (and their parents) to explore science, engineering and technology.
It's an opportunity for the public to engage with the wonders of science and technology.
And it's an opportunity to encourage young people to become scientists.
Parents of my generation expect our children to be better educated than us and we expect many more of them to become scientists than were allowed to in our day.
You may well be surprised to learn that some universities not here, but abroad require all students - even those who study in the human sciences - to be mathematically and scientifically literate,.
To help young people make informed study choices, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) distributes thousands of booklets on science, engineering and technology careers annually.
This year we will distribute 50 000, and about 20 000 will be distributed during National Science Week.
Over the past 10 years, we have made progress with the National Science Week campaign, and have learnt some valuable lessons.
We began with the science week in one place. Then in 2005 we expanded it into 30 sites. This year we science week takes place in 88 sites across the country.
Although there has been such a significant increase in the number of sites, we still need more to reach more pupils and their parents.
We have a campaign that aims to reach at least five million people through different media.
The United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity, and National Science Week 2010 has activities to tie in with the year-long focus on biodiversity.
The conservation of biodiversity is of particular significance to South Africa.
Some of you may not know this fact: South Africa is one of the three most biologically diverse countries in the world.
While our plant life is extremely rich, it is estimated that about 3,435 of South Africas plant groups are considered to be under threat of global extinction. In addition, 204 of our plant groups are estimated to be threatened at a local level.
The Department of Science and Technology is involved in programmes to fight this loss.
One of our successes has been to develop an appetite suppressant from the Hoodia - scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research learned about this from the San community. Over the years the San used the Hoodia cactus to suppress hunger and thirst when they embarked on long hunting journeys.
Another budding success story is to be found here at the University of Fort Hare where scientists are contributing to the conservation of animal biodiversity through its Nguni cattle research project.
I was also particular intrigued to learn that Prof. Eugene Cloete, a microbiologist at Stellenbosch University, has invented a quick and cheap technique to purify drinking water. It appears that this invention consists of a hi-tech "teabag" that will be able to purify water at a cost of three cents a litre. This could enhance government efforts to speed up citizens access to safe drinkable water.
As you may be aware, the DST has established the Technology Innovation Agency to assist with product commercialisation in our country. New ideas often come from creative and innovative young minds.
This is what our Youth into Science Strategy is for. For example, we will be unveiling a mobile FabLab today. The FabLab is a small-scale version of a modern production facility. While a FabLab cannot be used to manufacture thousands of assembly-line products, it can be used to build prototypes ranging from arts and crafts to engineering and architecture models.
Computer based design or drawing software, in most cases Open Source software, is used to create designs that are then automatically manufactured by an appropriate cutting, milling or forming machine.
Electronic circuit boards can also be designed and fabricated. It also provides access to prototyping tools that could, among many other things, enhance the quality of learners projects presented to science expos and related competitions.
Over the last three years, a small network of Fablabs have provided thousands of people with a chance to work with engineering and design tools.
To provide more people with access, the DST is piloting a mobile fablab, with a sample of the facilities available in a full fablab.
We hope that the mobile fablab will encourage more partners to come on board and support the roll-out of hundreds of fablabs in South Africa.
In closing, I would like to thank the Premier of the Eastern Cape and her team for their support for this launch event.
The implementation of National Science Week has been strengthened by the cooperation that the Department of Science and Technology continues to receive from provincial governments, which not only assist in organising the event, but also provide additional resources.
The Department of Science and Technology has so far afforded eight of the nine provinces an opportunity to host the national launch of National Science Week.
Next year the launch will be in KwaZulu-Natal.
The message that we must continue to spread is that science, engineering and technology are an essential and inescapable part of almost every aspect of modern life.
We have just witnessed how state-of-the-art technology made it possible for millions of people in different parts of the world to enjoy the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup games, and changed the thinking of the world about South Africa and Africa in general.
The world-class stadiums developed by South Africa were made possible by skilled engineers. Science and technology were a crucial part of the success of the Football World Cup.
I urge you to join us in spreading the message.
I declare National Science Week 2010 officially launched.
Tel: 012 843 6802
Cell: 082 566 0446
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
29 Jul 2010
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