Scifest provides world-class formula for popular success

CLOSE LOOK: Young visitors to Scifest Africa make full use of the hands-on equipment and exhibits which have earned praise from overseas experts. Picture: DAVID MACGREGOR
CLOSE LOOK: Young visitors to Scifest Africa make full use of the hands-on equipment and exhibits which have earned praise from overseas experts. Picture: DAVID MACGREGOR

IT may not have the biggest budget in the world, but that does not mean that Scifest Africa is not world class.

Overseas scientists yesterday said that even though the science festival had a miniscule R3-million budget compared to the R100-million Abu Dhabi Science Festival, it was still one of the best around.

Dr Graham Walker, an Australian scientist who is one of only two people in the world who has a PhD in science shows, said Scifest Africa had learnt over the past 18 years what works when it comes to inspiring the next generation.

“Scifest resources are very limited yet they still manage to put on a world class show every year.”

Walker, who has attended science festivals in Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, Australia and SA says even though the level of production may be far slicker in wealthier countries – where everything is “bigger, shinier and more extravagant” – the interactive element is what really inspires the youth.

“A lot of kids in South Africa are not as fortunate as others around the world, and that is why I really like going on Scifest outreaches in the township,” Walker said.

“The whole thing is you have to make science the star of the show and Scifest is good at doing that.”

Japanese science teacher Hideo Nakano said Scifest Africa was one of the best gateways into science and technology for children – even those from under-resourced schools.

“You have to expose small kids to science to have the biggest impact.

“These science missions are so exciting – the children and teachers in South Africa seem much happier even though they have far less than those in Japan.”

Nakano uses simple throwaway items like drinking straws, elastic bands and old plastic to make amazing recycled rockets and planes that show the wonders of science even on a shoestring budget.

UK scientist Dr Stephen Ashworth, who has been to six Scifest Africa events, said it was his favourite as he got to inspire disadvantaged students and teachers how to make science using simple everyday items – including ingredients found in most kitchens.

Ashworth takes annual leave from his University of East Anglia job to come and inspire South African children because he believes he can “still make a difference” by turning on the next generation to the wonders of science.

“South Africa’s scientific future is bright. There are lots of good people working in universities, lots of up-and-coming students – Scifest is a major key to getting more young people involved.”

He said year-round outreach programmes by Scifest Africa helped inspire pupils at poorer schools without even coming to Grahamstown. Fears in the build-up to Scifest that Grahamstown’s notorious water outages could sink sponsorship of the event were unfounded this year after taps did not run dry like previously.

Scifest director Anja Fourie said the event’s future in Grahamstown looked good after the municipality worked hard to ensure there was water. – David Macgregor

 

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