20 November 2017

South Africa: Young Trailblazer Teaches Physics in Carnarvon

Photo: Perimeter Institute
Itumeleng Molefi, a high school science teacher in Carnarvon, South Africa, had attended Perimeter Institute's annual summer camp for teachers in Canada.

When Itumeleng Molefi decided to take a gap year after completing his Honours in Physics in 2013, he did not think he would find himself making a meaningful contribution in the small Karoo town of Carnarvon.

Molefi, 27, who comes from Barkley West in Kimberly in the Northern Cape, was supposed to pursue his Master's Degree in Physics.

Instead, he joined an organisation called Teach South Africa with the aim of teaching maths and science.

"I was supposed to do a Master's Degree in 2013 but because I had a difficult year in [2012], I decided to take a break. I joined an organisation called Teach South Africa, which looks for graduates that will be able to teach maths and science, technology and English."

While doing his Honours, Molefi already had a scholarship from Square Kilometre Array (SKA) South Africa. After graduating, he learnt that SKA South Africa had a partnership with Teach South Africa to bring teachers to Carnarvon and surrounding areas.

He was originally supposed to be posted in Witbank, Mpumalanga, but opted to head to Carnarvon because he would be closer to home.

"The main reason was that it was closer to home, and also because the SKA project was here. I had been trying to get a SKA scholarship since high school but I only got it when I did my Honours," he said.

Teach South Africa is a model adopted from an international programme called Teach America, which seeks to train professionals, who have never obtained a teaching qualification.

Through this programme, the trainees get on the job training to understand the syllabus and learn along the way on how to do everything.

He got to Carnarvon High School and despite his mother tongue being Setswana, he found himself having to teach in Afrikaans, which is the main medium in the community.

Molefi said teaching Physics at Carnarvon High School has been a fulfilling four years for him. After settling in, he urged learners to think out of the box to enter the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, which is a platform that offers hundreds of learners to represent their schools and showcase their scientific ideas annually.

In 2016, Molefi and another colleague guided 12 learners to enter their projects in the competition. They did their school proud by scooping one silver and one bronze medal for a social sciences and computer science projects.

This year, the school won four bronze medals for various projects. For example, one of the learners did a project on how infectious a smile is, while another was based on how many beauty adverts are in glossy magazines.

He said he always encourages learners to not only pursue topics linked to maths and science, but to broaden the scope to other topics such as agriculture.

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