Wider horizons

A 16-year-old Soweto learner has been rubbing shoulders with renowned scientists in London for two weeks. Lizzy Mashiloane was one of 10 South African learners attending the venerable Faraday Christmas lecture series at the world’s oldest research body, the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

The learners returned to South Africa on Friday.

Mashiloane, a grade 11 learner at Fons Luminis Secondary, called the science trip “her dying wish”.

Mashiloane’s father died last year when her unemployed mother was pregnant with her little brother. But, despite the stresses of being the eldest child in a family surviving on child support grants, Mashiloane is a top learner who desperately wants to become a medical doctor.
“I aim high and walk tall,” she said.

The Diepkloof teenager has a good role model in Michael Faraday, who began the annual Christmas talk series 185 years ago. Faraday, who came from a poor background, left school at 14 and apprenticed to a local bookbinder and bookseller. But his curiosity and intellect outwitted the pervasive class-based snobbery of the time. Faraday became one of the world’s most influential people, a science all-rounder and inventor of the electric motor.

Mashiloane, three teachers and other learners from KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Western Cape, travelled courtesy of the Widening Horizons programme launched by British brain researcher and broadcaster Baroness Susan Greenfield.

Greenfield said Faraday’s original aim was to provide education for the youth at a time when it was seldom available in the UK. Now that all British learners have access to the classroom, she decided to include future scientists from disadvantaged communities outside Britain.

This was the first time South African high school learners were invited to the lectures.

“Science is the lifeblood of the 21st century,” said Greenfield. “We hope to inspire talented young students from less advantaged backgrounds so they discover what is within their grasp.”

This year ecologist Sue Hartley gave a talk on the evolutionary war between plants and animals. The talks were televised in the UK.

Three of the South African learners came from Tholokuhle High School in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Richards Bay resident Mxolisi Mthembu, the son of a domestic worker and self-described “curious guy”, said that he, Ayanda Nxumalo and Sandile Mhlongo owed this opportunity to dedicated teachers and trips to Zululand University’s science centre. Kaylin Breda, from Ladismith, and two other learners came from the Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology in Cape Town.

For more information on the Royal Institution of Great Britain, visit www.rigb.org.

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