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South Africa - ​The Young Ambassadors of Chemistry, Grahamstown
South Africa - ​The Young Ambassadors of Chemistry, Grahamstown

The Young Ambassadors of Chemistry project brought interactive Science activities and communication to the streets of Grahamstown, South Africa.

March 2007.

Rhodes University Faculty of Education hosted us in Grahamstown.
Ken Ngcoza ( from the Faculty of Chemistry Education was our contact person at the University.

This was the fifth venue for the project and the last with IUPAC funding.  The project has as its aim to bring Science to the people and attempt to raise public awareness of Science by getting them involved in hands on activities and with young people explaining the Science and so being Ambassadors for the cause.
Teatime at the University

It was a delightful place to run a workshop and for the most part the weather was ideal.
Erica Steenberg ( was our ‘troubleshooter’, one of the representatives for South Africa at IUPAC, the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry.
George, Head of Faculty, gets us started off

Erica was essential for assuring that all the bits and pieces were in place and is really the reason why everything went as smoothly as it did.  We couldn’t have done it without her!

Partners involved in the event make a longish list and so thanks go to:

IUPAC, Science Across the World, GlaxoSmithKline, The South African Chemical Institute, Cognis, BioRad, CCLRC, Roche.
We should also thank Brian Wilmot and the SASOL Scifest team for having us as part of their wonderful week of Science celebrations in Grahamstown.  It really was the ideal environment for a YAC event.

Day one
20 teachers from 10 schools from townships around the region, and all graduates from the university came sheepishly to meet us and to start a week of workshops to make Young Ambassadors for Chemistry out of their students.    
The programme for day one was an introduction to the week, an introduction to YACs, and an introduction to the Science Across the World programme.
We also carried out a name learning, memory game, which was a real challenge for Lida and me given our inability to get our tongues around the names of the teachers.  Thanks to those who helped, we got there in the end.  Kinetic Keith, Lady Lida…
Lida gave a short history of all of the previous YAC events around the world (PPT).
This is the culmination of two years of work spreading the YAC philosophy around the world and has seen us doing Science in the street in Argentina, Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Taiwan, and Korea.    

Day two
After a full teaching programme from early morning till lunchtime, the teachers returned for more!

We introduced a simple technique for creating discussion in the classroom and for debating the issues of genetics – a postits debate.
Along the same theme of genetics but focusing on variation and heredity the teachers were submitted to the Supertasters Test.    
Kululikai had only six, but they were enormous!
The teachers also surveyed the following variations in the group and had the group task of creating a visual means of presentation of the data they collected.
Shoe size
Ear lobes
Tongue rolling
Hair middle finger

Day 2 Evening
We were privileged to be invited to the ‘meet and greet’ evening of the Sci Fest at the ‘Settler’s Monument’ in Grahamstown.  We learned that the event was to expect 45,000 people in a week!  Hopefully we would get some of them at the YAC Day too.

Day three
The morning started in the computer room.  As a closing survey of the group the night before we had asked how many of the colleagues were happy to work on the computers and found that 6 from 22 were confident.  We rearranged our workshop so that each of the newcomers to the area of internet study would be sitting nearby an experienced colleague.  It turned out that the teachers were being very modest about their abilities and by the end of the morning we had created an email address for those who didn’t have one and signed eveyone up to the Science Across the World programme.  This is a great results given the absence of internet facilities in their schools and to say that the teachers were determined to get involved some how in the Science Across the World programme would be an understatement.  Thankfully we have Ken to help us help the teachers keep wired up via the university facilities.
One of the teachers asked why there is only one representative coordinator for Africa in the database.  It is a good question and we now hope that there will be energy to take the programme forward in the person of one of the participants in this very group.  Ken is already talking about follow up workshops for IT skills using Science Across as a focus.
This is a very good idea.  Science Across the World is an ideal focus for teacher development in all manner of ways, IT being one of them.  The programme is internet-based, involves email and web-based communication, gets students and teachers thinking about gathering data and presenting data in electronic formats.    
In the afternoon the colleagues returned to the classroom for practical work and practising the tasks which their students will be undertaking as part of the YAC day in central Grahamstown on Friday.
First, they built a 3 metre of model of DNA from liquorice and jelly tots.    

Second, they designed, constructed and presented a line of South African cosmetics including bath salts, hair gel and shampoo.
The teachers’ presentations were excellent but one teacher stood out to win the BioRad DNA extraction kit.  Shakes was so dramatic and energetic that he was an easy choice.  The group prize was well-fought too but the traditional piece of Lida’s Dutch cheese was actually chopped up and shared by everyone in the group.    

Day four
We were particularly lucky to be invited to visit a number of schools on this free morning.
We visited The Victoria School for Girls where we observed a lively quiz in a lesson on electricity.
The Ntsika school in the township where a senior Science lesson was going on.    
C M Vellem School in the township where we didn’t see a lesson but met the head teacher.
Visiting the schools gave us a reality check.  For all we are presenting about YACs and Science Across, the schools in the township have large classes to deal with, few resources and little in the way of ICT.  Having said this, it was very motivating to see the energy in the schools and the enthusiasm of the teachers and students.    


This may be a good place to place an invitation to colleagues who are interested in helping these schools to get in touch (  They need textbooks, we were working in Science and students need Biology, Chemistry and Physics books to A level or equivalent and which are English-medium.  I am sure there is a need for books in other subjects as well.
I am going to research the logistics involved in finding second hand books in the UK and getting them to Grahamstown.  Any and every help is welcome.    


In the afternoon the teachers prepared for the YAC day.  This involved preparing the DNA kits, and the cosmetics workshops as well as the tasks for the roving reporters and the bags of gifts for the students from our sponsors.
We also carried out a post its feedback session and Erica did her post-event feedback research activity.    
The feedback from the teachers was insightful and very helpful.  Of course they brought up the question of logistics in terms of getting involved in an internet-based programme without any internet.  More about this in the ideas for following up.

Day five
YAC day

The sun shone.

I burned.

And we did Science!
Around 80 students spent the afternoon with us
They built the largest DNA model from sweets ever created at 11.5 metres (Guiness may like to get in touch!)    
This has to be one of the best public awareness of science events I have ever had the luck  to be a part of.
The students presentations were theatrical and it was difficult to choose prize winners.  In fact, we ransacked our SciFest visitor’s bags for freebies to have more prizes to offer to the students.

Issues / Follow up

I think the pictures speak for themselves and I have to say that it is a visit I won't forget in a long time.  Having said that, there is still a lot of work to do to provide schools, teachers and students with what they need to carry out English-medium Science education.

There is no access, or little access to computers and the internet in schools.
We need to find a way to connect these teachers to the rest of the world.
Identify African organisations which can facilitate communication (Universities, GSK etc).
We create a contact address list / contact names of schools in Africa and we post to them.
We add them to the Science Across database.
We can advertise their schools.
We find them partner schools.

In working towards these aims:
Ken at Rhodes University has agreed to organise post event IT training for the teachers.  This is essential and will give them repeated access to the Web.
Ken to organise follow up YAC event next year and cascade the training using the teachers involved this time.

I can say for certain for Lida and myself that we'll be back if invited!

Much love to colleagues in Grahamstown, thanks for the time.