Sci-Enza at UP takes science to schools and makes STEM subjects fun for all

Posted on March 16, 2023

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Sci-Enza science centre recently visited 19 primary schools across the capital city to introduce young learners to the magic of science – in particular, coding and robotics.

“Earlier this year, we were able to engage with 1 500 learners from 19 schools in Tshwane,” says Puleng Tsie, Manager of Sci-Enza. “The outreach programme introduced both foundation and intermediate phase learners to coding and robotics, and from the feedback we received it was clear that learners and teachers enjoyed the programme and appreciated being exposed to other sciences outside of the classroom. Introducing learners to coding and robotics nurtures logical and computational thinking, which helps in reading and mathematics, leading to better education outcomes.”

UP’s Sci-Enza science centre introduces young learners to the wonders of science.

This special outreach programme was made possible thanks to funding from the Department of Science and Innovation through the Programmatic Support Grant Initiative managed by the National Research Foundation and the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement.

Sci-Enza is the oldest interactive science centre in South Africa, located at the Technical Services Building on UP’s Hatfield Campus in Pretoria. Since opening its doors in 1977 it has educated hundreds of thousands of people about the value – and fun – to be found in learning more about science. The centre is changing its community in multiple ways by making science accessible and relevant – via its outreach programme, and through its ongoing “in-reach programmes”, aimed at drawing visitors to what has long been a popular destination for local families, visitors to the city, and learners of all ages.

“Sci-Enza’s primary mission is to make science accessible to learners of all ages in a fun and entertaining way,” Tsie says. “By providing opportunities for people to engage with the different fields of science through valuable hands-on learning experiences, interactive exhibits, science shows, and demonstrations presented by young scientists and trained science communicators, Sci-Enza both reflects and shapes our communities’ perspectives on science.”

The name Sci-Enza is a combination of the word “science” and the isiZulu word “sebenza”, meaning “work” or “to do”. And Tsie reminds us that the centre really puts the “sebenza” into getting the word out about how exciting science can be: Sci-Enza engages over 20 000 people – young people and adults eager to learn more about science – each year, through outreach and in-reach efforts. “By addressing key social issues and transforming how we see the future, we enrich people’s lives and their understanding, through engagement with science of local, national, and global relevance. We are committed to creating a learning environment where science and imagination UNITE!”

Tsie says regular visitors to the centre – which has more than 200 interactive exhibits – can look forward to some new attractions this year, including the Sci-Enza Research Showcasing, which will see key UP research achievements showcased (and explained in simple terms or in practical ways) in the centre, ensuring that the breakthroughs unlocked in UP’s laboratories are made real and easily understood by the broader community. “The showcasing will also encourage young learners to choose a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, break down unhelpful stereotypes about science and scientists, feature female academic role models, and inspire innovation and knowledge transfer.”

The Sci-Enza team is also passionate about playing their part in helping to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “We play a role in enhancing the implementation of education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, which enhances progress toward the SDGs,” Tsie says. “We have run social media campaigns around the SDGs, and one of our current focuses is on ways of embedding the SDGs into our daily operations and programmes, to promote actions towards a sustainable future.”

Tsie encourages locals and visitors who haven’t experienced Sci-Enza yet to add it to their next trip. “We offer science and puppet shows, coding and robotics workshops, a mobile planetarium, public talks and seminars, and school holiday science enrichment programmes. You can even get tips about science experiments you can try at home from our website.”

So bring your family, school group, or anybody interested in learning more about science – Sci-Enza is making a difference in the community by making it clear that science is for everyone!

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