Research scientist changing lives of learners from underprivileged schools

This article appeared in the August 2018 Edition of the SDG Bulletin South Africa. The SDG Bulletin South Africa is a collaborative product of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, the United Nations in South Africa and the South African SDG Hub.


Many underprivileged schools have no lab space or chemicals, however, the teachers are expected to present and assess a prescribed practical to their grade 10-12 learners. Practical experiments (practicals) are an essential part of a learner’s assessment, so not having the infrastructure or resources to host these practicals poses a big problem to the teachers and subsequently to the learners. This leads to a decline in the number of learners in physical sciences and ineffective practical work due to lack of infrastructure and resources.

In the quest to find solutions, Dr Rehana Malgas-Enus  designed an outreach programme which enables high school learners from underprivileged schools to complete their practicals in one of the university’s fully equipped chemistry labs. Through this initiative, Dr Malgas-Enus, a research scientist at Stellenbosch University, is showing how researchers based at universities can contribute to ensuring quality of secondary school education. In addition to publishing research in high-impact journals and supervising postgraduate students, she established the Stellenbosch University Chemistry Outreach Initiative (SUNCOI) – A  project that seeks to address the  inadequate chemistry infrastructure in underprivileged secondary schools.

Although most teachers were trained to be able to do chemistry practicals in their classroom, they did not have the chemicals nor the budget to perform these practicals in their classrooms. Being the solutions oriented person that she is, Dr Malgas-Enus then designed SUNCOI kits to be used by Grade 10-12 learners for their practicals. The kits consist of enough chemicals and basic glassware to do the practical at least five times and they come at a relatively low cost of R250-R300 per kit.The launch of the Grade 10, 11 and 12 SUNCOI Kits has helped teachers tremendously. By training teachers to do the pracs, and by designing the SUNCOI kits, most of the issues that teachers previously experienced has been eliminated. SUNCOI kits make it possible to do pracs in unequipped classrooms.

An extension of this programme involves the setting up of mock labs in communities with under resourced schools, thereby allowing the learners at those schools an opportunity to complete their practical experiments.

Based on the success of the SUNCOI project, Dr Malgas-Enus has recently launched  the SUNCOI Satellites project, which encourages participating universities (Nelson Mandela University and the University of Pretoria) to implement the same model at their respective institutions. With the launch of the SUNCOI Satellite Project, more learners in more Provinces across South Africa will benefit.

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