The holiday season is replete with children’s gifts in big boxes to be opened on designated days. KZN Science Centre in South Africa has an entirely different idea, focusing instead on giving children the lifelong gift of a better education. KZN aims to help South Africa develop the talented technology, math and science graduates that this emerging economy needs. It’s not an easy task in communities where 92% of schools have no library.
From its educational center in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, KZN begins with the youngest children. With support from SAP, KZN launched the Early Childhood Development Centre that educates underprivileged children ages one to five. Activities include both teacher training and curriculum development.
“This is really about the future,” explains Candice Potgieter, CEO of KZN Science Centre. “We’re helping make sure that disadvantage learnerswill go to primary school with the same skill set as their more advantaged peers. Together, we are planting the trees for our future generations to enjoy the shade.”
SAP also sponsors Community Days that include employee activities. “Having SAP volunteer their time to teach and interact with people in rural areas shows them the fun side of science. This can motivate children to choose science and math as core subjects in their later years at school,” says Potgieter.
The KZN Centre will have hosted over 100,000 visitors by yearend. Parents, teachers, and children, from pre-school through university-level take part in a variety of activities to make learning about technology, science, and math more fun. These include video-based interactive exhibits and workshops featuring the latest laboratory equipment—something they can’t get anywhere else. Participation opens a dialogue between the Centre and families that has led to scholarships at local institutions of higher education for many children who might otherwise not have attended college.
For 2013, KZN plans to visit some 6,000 schools in the province. SAP employees provide not just funding for the travel and other expenses, but just as important volunteers who help open students’ eyes to the wonders of science and technology. Science kits provide equipment to study everything from biotechnology to waves. Homework assistance helps bring every student along.
Oh, and KZN does have a special holiday program. Until January 13, children can take part in a variety of mini science workshops that explore interesting science reactions like Bubble Mania, Liquid Rainbow, Test Tube Volcanoes, and A-Mazing Race. The objective is to get kids experimenting with everyday items and become a “Scientist for a Day.” Programs like these may not be easily wrapped up in a big box but one thing is clear. Learning is one gift that truly lasts a lifetime.