The Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) in its quest to demystify science and technology theories and position itself as the to go science and technology institution in the region has embarked on a hands on science exhibition to students, teachers and communities in parts of the country.
Addressing members of the media recently in Gaborone BIUST Director of Pre-University Programmes Dr Haniso Motlhabane stated that BIUST and Australian National University, Questacon (Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre) Ducere Foundation and Department of Research Science and Technology (DRST) have partnered to embark on this initiative dubbed Science Circus Africa which will tour for three weeks.
In the first phase of the initiative BIUST hosted a Science teacher training launch in Gaborone, followed by the launch of the Science Circuses in Jwaneng. From Jwaneng the science circuses will be staged in Kang on the 26th until the 27th of May both for students and the community.
From the Kang, another training of science teachers will be hosted in Palapye at BIUST auditorium, after which more science circuses will be hosted in Francistown from the 1st of June to the 2nd thereafter Kasane on the 4th of June.
During these circuses according to Motlhabane, demonstrators will use real life example to explain and showcase to both students and the general public that science isn’t really complicated and that it is actually embedded in the day to day activities they themselves execute in their lives. “We want to dispel the fear of science in people and in the process build partnership with communities we will be visiting,” he said.
According to the Director the initiative is directed at strengthening a pipeline of Mathematics and Science teachers from pre-tertiary levels of education in the country to tertiary institutions, particularly to the BIUST. “The endeavor is motivated by the reality of scarce numbers of students with interest in Mathematics and Science to be able to take up the science and technology programmes that would transform Botswana into knowledge-based economy which it aspires to be,” he said.
The 2014 Botswana General Certificate for Secondary Education (BGCSE) Provisional Report by Botswana Examination Council noted that number of syllabi show a decline in performance at grade C or better over the last five years.
The report highlights that Science: Single Award continues to have the lowest cumulative percentage of 2.16% at grade C followed by Human and Social Biology 4.03% whilst Chemistry has the highest cumulative of 82.97% followed by Physics at 72.63%. Chemistry, Physics and Biology continue to maintain a cumulative of greater than 65% at grade C over the last five years.
It is perhaps interesting to note that while it is not all science subjects have dismal performance it is at the same time a cause for concern as government is trying to strengthen science and heighten interest in science as a base for economic diversification and a direct tackle to the existing skills mismatch.
Research not only in Botswana but worldwide has over the time revealed that society tend to have a negative attitude and perception towards Mathematics and Science which end up translating in the number of students with interests to pursue maths and science related courses at tertiary institutions.
In Botswana, in fact almost all careers falling under the science sector have been categorised as scarce skilled careers, and thus government has to pay professionals a little extra as incentives to attract them into the industry.
However a number of students who this publication interviewed recently revealed that they have interest in pursuing science related subjects. Most indicated that due to access to career guidance in their respective schools they had been able to have a change of heart and are now willing to give a career in science related fields a shot.
With the advent of technology, advice on selecting courses in science and math, are vastly available online and on other platforms hence students no longer have to rely on their teachers to know whether they can give science related courses a try.
Institutions offering science related courses are also coming up with ways to increase and attract more numbers of students to venture into science and change negative perception towards science. In America for example some universities have lowered the high requirements that were initially demanded of aspiring students of science.
The revised national policy on education (1994) highlights the value of science and technology in the education system. Motlhabane said Africa Science Circus will thus provide a vehicle for achievement of the said national policy.
He explained that BIUST through this initiative will reach out to the ordinary Motswana especially in the rural areas who in most cases are the worst affected by misconceptions related to science and technology. After the first phase of the tour is concluded, the university will then embark on another tour on dates to be communicated.
BIUST Marketing & Communications Manager Keoagile Rafifing explained that though they had partnered with the above mentioned Australian institutions, BIUST has entered into Memorandums of Understanding with several other science and technology based institutions locally, regionally and internationally. “It is imperative for us to form such partnership especially because our focus is more on research based training,” he said.