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Maths & science bus

Mobile Science Laboratory
Mobile Science Laboratory
The Science Laboratory Bus is used to overcome the low level of Science education in historically black schools in South Africa under apartheid.

The Science Bus helps to overcome the acute shortage of laboratory and subject classrooms in an economical way. It enables natural sciences to he taught in rural schools where there is no running water and no electricity.

Taken into use at the beginning of 1998 the Science Bus cost about 30,000 to buy, convert and equip. It looks like a camper van, and has specially designed cupboards to securely hold laboratory teaching equipment and chemicals. A tank of clean water, butane gas, and a mobile generator overcome the lack of these resources we take for granted. The vehicle is equipped with anti-theft alarms and tracking equipment to deter theft.

Supporting science education at fifteen schools stretches the teacher and the equipment to the limit. A specialist science teacher who works with teachers in the fifteen schools drives the vehicle. The specialist teacher consults with the schoolteachers, advises on how to teach the various topics, and how to set up the demonstration experiments. Our specialist then provides the necessary equipment and supplies, such as chemicals. With water, gas and electricity supplied from the Bus the pupils are able to see for themselves what occurs in physical and chemical processes. Direct experience has replaced rote learning! The young people told our reporter that they were excited by this “new” living method of science teaching.

The Faculty of Basic Sciences at the Medical University of Southern Africa (MEDUNSA) some 20 miles from Pretoria, administratively owns the Bus. The University opened in 1978 as a “Black” University on the edge of the Bophuthatswana “Homeland”. Now it is in the Gauteng Province and also serves the NorthWest, Northern and Mpumalanga Provinces.

Our first Science Bus serves secondary schools with about 1,000 black pupils each in the Shoshanguve District near the University. The Science curriculum is a combination of the fundamentals of physics, chemistry and biology.

All three subjects may be taken for Matriculation. By improving the teaching of these subjects the schools are strengthened as places of learning. The pupils are able to complete their matriculation examinations without the need to attend other institutions.

A visit to the Molebatse High School showed the project in operation. Molebatse is ahout one and a half hours drive from Medunsa in the direction of Hammanskraal, in the former Bophuthatswana Homeland. The vehicle reaches the school at the end of a rough country road across the fields.

The lesson in Natural Science was taught by Mrs Maureen Pole to a class of 53 children preparing for their Matriculation examinations. Mrs Pole trained at the University of the North as a teacher of natural sciences. She has taught at Molebatse for the past three years. Because of her commitment to improving the educational attainments of her pupils she has become deeply involved in the introduction of the Laboratory Bus.

When she arrived in 1996 not one pupil at this school had ever Matriculated in the Natural Sciences. Through her efforts, her pupils achieved a 14 per cent pass rate in Science in 1997. Now that the Lab Bus takes the demonstration materials to her school, she says she expects her pupils to achieve a 60 per cent pass rate in their Matriculation examinations!

The science teacher’s task is multi-faceted. He familiarizes the subject teachers in the fifteen schools with the Laboratory Bus. He discusses the lesson plans with the teachers and they agree on the experiments they will use to demonstrate the concepts to the pupils. He then brings the materials and equipment required to the next lessons at that school. The teacher attends the lesson in the classroom and assists in setting up the experiments when necessary. He switches on the generator when electricity is required or provides clean water from the tank in the Laboratory Bus when that is needed. The school’s subject teacher functions independently, and the Bus Teacher sees his role as one who does not try to dominate but gives whatever support he can in ways acceptable to the subject teacher.

Since the Bus has been seen and word about its function has spread, a flood of requests has been made to the Faculty of Basic Sciences at Medunsa by schools wishing to participate in the project. When the pilot phase has ended and the consequences and experiences have been analysed the Bus project will be extended. The Bus Teacher is working on a scientific report on the project.

The Annual running cost of the Bus will be Rands 250,000 (about 30,000). The start up costs of 30,000 and first year’s expenses have been provided through the united efforts of several donors. A total of five buses are urgently needed. They can only be procured when the financial support is assured, and the administrative resources at Medunsa have been provided. At present, all the work is still being done by Professor Groenewald and his Secretary. Professor Groenewald hopes that besides further donations, the individual Provincial Departments of Education will bear some of the costs. The Buses will be needed in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Northern Provinces.

This report is a translation of a report by Edelgard Nkobi, Member of the Executive of Community H.E.A.R.T. e.V., Essen, of a visit to the Project in April 1998.