On Monday, 12 October 2015 the University of Pretoria Centre for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP CSMC) Student Forum, in collaboration with the Faculty of Education at UP, presented a seminar titled ‘Education towards malaria elimination’. The event emanated from a new collaboration initiative between the UP CSMC and the Department of Early Childhood Education, in which students from the Centre and the Department will strive to contribute to the prevention and eventual elimination of malaria by devising educational strategies aimed at educating learners about the disease. Prof Ina Joubert, acting HOD of the Department of Early Childhood Education, and Dr Taneshka Kruger, Senior Malaria Coordinator at the UP CSMC, made a significant contribution to the UP CSMC Student Forum initiative.
Prof Irma Eloff, Dean of the Faculty of Education at UP, officially welcomed eager students and academics from various fields to the Postgraduate Research Commons at the Groenkloof Campus. She said she believes that, although researchers are often measured on the basis of the number articles published, the number of postgraduate students supervised or the amount of time spent on research, essentially what research is about – and should be about – is the impact it has on the world. She is extremely excited about the new initiative between the Faculty of Education and the UP CSMC and is looking forward to seeing the results of the collaborative efforts that will be undertaken.
Following Prof Eloff’s inspiring welcome message, Prof Norman Duncan, Vice-Principal: Academic, gave a short presentation on trans-disciplinary research and education. Prof Duncan said that the nature of many contemporary phenomena require that we locate our thinking at the interface between disciplines or beyond disciplines. The seminar was unambiguous in its signalling of the commitment of the two faculties (Education and Health Sciences) to strengthen their contribution to UP’s vision of enhancing its status as a research-intensive university. Prof Duncan said it is heartening to know that at UP researchers are not simply going through the motions of doing research as exemplified by the old adage of ‘publish or perish’, but that they actually want to make a practical contribution to the world we live in, and chart new terrain. This disposition will enable UP to become an institution known for being on the cutting edge of innovative research. This can however only happen if we find ourselves in a place where we can share perspectives, ideals, methodologies and approaches with people from diverse backgrounds. Prof Duncan said that it is this type of interdisciplinary approach that will give us lasting solutions to the problems we are facing, including malaria. In conclusion he said that he was enormously impressed by the fact that students would organise themselves into a forum to conduct trans-disciplinary or interdisciplinary research and expressed the hope that students in other faculties would take note and follow suit.
The keynote address for the day titled, ‘The mosquito on the black board: Separating the lived experience from community trends using mixed methods research’, was delivered by Prof Linda Liebenberg from the Faculty of Graduate Studies at Dalhousie University, Canada. Prof Liebenberg’s presentation gave students valuable insight into maximising the research tools at their disposal to ensure that what they do and find during their research has the greatest possible impact on the communities that they work with.
Prof Liebenberg’s insightful and entertaining address was followed by presentations by post-graduate students in the Department of Early Childhood Education who had devised a variety of fun and creative educational plans that included simple songs, rhymes and stories that children could learn in the foundation phase to educate them about malaria. The students’ excitement and passion for their projects was evident in the amount of work they put into preparing puppets and models of mosquitoes for their presentations.
Four of these students (three MEd and one PhD) are the first to examine what primary school learners are being taught about malaria at school. They will also look at the effects of malaria on education owing to absenteeism of learners and teachers. Finally, they will determine if and how malaria awareness and education can be incorporated in the school curriculum. Their work will pave the way for more research on malaria education in schools.
Investing in the education of young children by making them aware of malaria and how the disease is transmitted will go a long way towards lessening the burden of the disease. It is hoped that by focussing educational efforts on a new generation, the information will be passed on to parents and other community members and trigger lifestyle changes that could contribute towards the complete elimination of malaria in Africa. According to Prof Tiaan de Jager, Director of the UP CSMC, it is essential to include communities in the fight against malaria.
The trans-disciplinary approach to and new initiatives in education and health promotion build strongly on the book, Sibo fights malaria, launched by the UP CSMC in 2014. Together with high impact research, this might just be what the country needs to move from malaria control to elimination.