Making science fun

The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) is urging grade 11 and 12 learners to participate in the 2011 National Science Olympiad.

The Olympiad is a flagship programme of SAASTA, which is a business unit of the National Research Foundation and its aim is to steer young minds towards careers in science, technology and innovation.

According to SAASTA spokesperson, Ina Roos, “just over 20 000 learners participated in the 2010 Olympiad. In 2003, just over 9 000 participated. While numbers rose dramatically this year, it means only 10% of schools participated.
We don’t know if teachers are scared or maybe they don’t know about the Olympiad.”

The Olympiad was started in 1964, initially for grade 12 learners with the objective of promoting physical science. In recent years learners from countries including Namibia, Lesotho and Zimbabwe have also been participating.

The competition comprises an annual exam in science. The exam consists of a number of curriculum based and general science and technology questions for grade 11 and 12 learners. Candidates may opt to write the physical science or life sciences paper.

“Participants will have access to lots of past questions and answers and their scientific knowledge increases during preparations for the Olympiad,” explained Roos.

Candidates write the exam through their school under the supervision of their teachers. Next year’s Olympiad takes place on March 4 and the closing date for entries is 30 January.

Several prizes are awarded to the top five national winners.

Harmony Gold Mining Company sponsors the project. Prizes include laptop and desktop computers, iPods, laboratory equipment and book vouchers, invitations to attend a Science Focus Week in Pretoria, and a trip to the UK to attend the London International Youth Science Forum for the top five learners.

The 2010 top five learners are:


  • Physical Science in Grade 12: Junfeng Guo from York High School, George, Western Cape

  • Life Science in Grade 12: Sam Tolmay from Voortrekker Hoër, Bethlehem, Free State

  • Physical Science in Grade 11: Sean Wentzel from Westerford High School, Rondebosch, Cape Town

  • Life Science in Grade 11: Fatima Haq from Sama High School, Johannesburg, Gauteng

  • Disadvantage School Physical Science Grade 12: Sibongukuhle Gladness Masango from Bantfwabetfu High School, Mashishila, Mpumalanga.

They were part of group of 100 of the best achievers who recently participated in a week of edutainment and exposure to careers in science, engineering and technology in Pretoria.

According to SAASTA’s Science Education Unit Manager, Dr Jabulani Nukeri, the science focus week events included lectures, excursions and industry visits to Harmony Gold Mining, the National Zoological Gardens, and Forensic Laboratories. “We want to expose learners to science and let them see for themselves where the science is happening.” said Nukeri.

For more information on the Olympiad, go to: www.saasta.ac.za

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