SAAO - South African Astronomical Observatory


SALT representatives visit King-Shaka High School

Learners from King-Shaka High School Umlazi.

Representatives from SALT's international partnership, local dignitaries and education officials were treated to a majestic display of traditional Zulu dancing, singing, drum majorettes marching along to a brass band and poetry readings all performed by learners attending the King-Shaka High School in Umlazi, Durban on the 25th October 2007. This celebratory event took place to mark the commencement of a relationship between the school and SALT under the auspices of the SALT collateral benefits program (SCBP).

The twin aims of the event were to commemorate the launch of the new link designed to promote science and technology education within King-Shaka High School and neighbouring schools and also to highlight the day to day realities and challenges facing the majority of South African learners to the SALT board members; the majority of whom are based at foreign institutes in Europe, the United States and New Zealand.

Drum majorettes putting on an impressive performance.
Look how straight the lines are!
One of the energetic Zulu dance performances.
Inspirational singing and dancing.

The SALT collateral benefits program (SCBP) has been actively promoting mathematics, science and technology education along with supporting and initiating programs designed to assist socio-economic development since SALT's conception. The program focuses primarily on the Western Cape and Northern Cape regions within South Africa and SCBP division manager Kevin Govender was delighted to exploit the opportunity to hold such a high profile event within the KwaZulu-Natal region.

SALT board members, local dignatories and event sponsors were invited to tour the school before watching the talented displays and making their contributions via inspirational speeches. The program culminated with a wonderful lunch during which SALT board members had the opportunity to meet teachers and local education officials to discuss science education within the school and surrounding area  and to pinpoint aspects where the SCBP could contribute. The day's activities did not stop there however. SALT board members were taken on an enlightening tour of Umlazi accompanied by  King-Shaka's music teacher Mr B. M. Mzobe in order to see for themselves the typical living conditions of the majority of South African learners.

SALT Board Chairman, Ted Williams from Rudgers University, USA, addressing the audience.

Learners at the school benefitted from direct interaction with Kevin Govender and SALT astronomer Nicola Loaring who introduced the students to SALT and provided advice on careers in science and technology. The ensuing discussions on astronomy and the role of science in society particularly impressed Nicola who was struck by both the maturity displayed and passionate and ambitious nature of the students. One of the direct outcomes of the days events was a pledge by learners to set up a science club at the school with a commitment of assistance from SALT staff.

Wendy from King-Shaka together with Nicola Loaring from SALT.
King-Shaka learners together with the school principal and computing teacher.

The students had ample opportunity to experience for themselves that not only is science useful but it can be fun too! The discovery mobile bus from the UniZul Science Centre was brought onsite to the school especially for the day and learners poured in in droves to experiment with the hands on exhibits. Mr Mdumiseni Nxumalo from the UniZul Science Centre gave a hugely entertaining presentation, reminding us all of the importance of surface tension where upside down glasses full of water are concerned!

Queuing up to jump onboard the MTN Discovery bus.
Learners couldn't wait to get their hands on the experiments inside the bus!

SALT/SAAO staff also brought along a portable telescope for the students to use to view the Sun using a special mica filter (NEVER look directly at the Sun with the naked eye). Unfortunately the weather did not co-operate on the cloudy day and learners instead got to try their hands at some unconventional bird-watching! Peering through the telescope they were able to view up close a bird preening itself at the very top of a communications pole some 30 m high. Nicola and other SALT board members then had to think hard about all their telescope optics knowledge to explain to the learners why the bird they saw was viewed  upside down through the telescope!

The SALT board and SAAO were pleased to leave the telescope with King-Shaka school on loan to be used in local schools. Kevin Govender returned to the school on the 26th October to demonstrate how to use the telescope and we hope it will prove useful as a teaching aid in science classes and will be utilised for the inaugural project of the King-Shaka's science club. 

Learners trying out the Dobsonian Telescope lent to the school from the SAAO.
Lining up the finderscope.
Dr Mike Shara from the American Museum of Natural History addressing the audience at the Old Mutual Gateway Science Centre.

A special evening event was also held at the Old Mutual Science Centre at the Gateway centre in Umhlanga. Members of the general public were invited to a visually stunning and captivating talk describing the unsolved mysteries of the cosmos which was presented by Dr Mike Shara from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Younger members of the audience (and young at heart adults!) also enjoyed scrambling into the indoor inflatable planetarium show. Here the public were treated to a riveting virtual tour of the night sky together with an introduction to indigenous starlore by Mdumiseni Nxumalo from the UniZul Science Centre.
The SALT partnership would like to thank the principal at King-Shaka High School, Mr J. B. Mncube, together with school staff and sponsors for all their hard work both on the day and in preparation for the event. We would like to thank the learners for their warm hospitality, and all those who contributed to this highly enjoyable and productive day. We look forward to a long lasting link with King-Shaka school and look forward to lending our support to astronomy and science education within the region. Finally we would like to thank King-Shaka School for the beautiful clay vase gifts given to the SALT partnership.