Thursday, December 13, 2007


TIMES: Some concern was raised about the performance of science teachers and how this could have influenced the significant decline in the number of students studying science. How much of an issue is it?
JOKHAN: It is an issue. Science teachers are plagued with the lack of resources. Science has to be taught with a lot of resources; it's very intensive. A lab component is an integral part. But because of the lack of resources, teaching science would be very difficult for any science teacher. You can only do so much. We know from teachers who have been here for the past two days that many schools are very poorly equipped.

TIMES: So what do you propose be done?
JOKHAN: My understanding is that it's the schools that have the responsibility and not the government. The ministry gives the school an allocation, but the school managers however - school boards, parents association and school managers - just don't consider it an important part of resources. It's all about priorities, it seems, and so the frustration for science teachers mounts.

TIMES: What's your proposal to circumventing the problem?
JOKHAN: We do our best in trying to tell teachers wherever possible to use alternatives. You don't have to rely on expensive equipment which the schools are not going to get, so do what you can with what you have. We can do with home-made things. But they can only do so much. What we're now telling teachers is when they go back, they should be a bit more forceful about driving this home. And if they can, then they've fulfilled their responsibilities in convincing the school managers about the importance of the matter.

TIMES: How does the lack of resources affect the students?
JOKHAN: At the moment, the students go into a lab and learn as they would in a lecture. If they're lucky, they'd get a demonstration of what's in the lab. What we're saying is if all students got to do the demonstration themselves, with not necessarily the expensive equipment, then it'd be more interesting for the students because it's then hands-on and they're learning in the process.

TIMES: Would that increase the interest to study science?
JOKHAN: There has been a drop but a very slight drop which I have to admit that for here at USP - the numbers in terms of the decline isn't as significant. We will always have the core students coming in, only because we train teachers mostly.So while numbers have dropped a little bit, I don't think USP and other tertiary institutions, the issue in my view isn't really numbers. The issue is the quality. With quality comes success, so if you get poor quality students, the chances of them succeeding are less. If you have a higher quality, then you know you can churn out much better quality graduates and more of them.

TIMES:Were there other issues in respect of science that were not brought to the fore during the science teachers conference?
JOKHAN: One of the main issues is the curriculum. Teachers are saying they have a certain amount to teach, they have only a certain amount of time, and they're not spending enough time in labs. To me these things are not gelling. They don't appear to be making a lot of sense. Perhaps we need to revisit the curriculum to see if it is too heavy. Perhaps if the curriculum could be learnt elsewhere and while they're teaching children to learn by heart, emphasis can be put on children to be better learners to help them go on if they feel there is a need. Perhaps we are too content-based in our curriculum. I don't know. These are the things that need to be looked at closely in the near future.

TIMES: At the rate we're going and given the progress in the science arena, what do you think would be the economic impact of neglecting the question of science development?
JOKHAN: If you give it real serious thought to this issue, today there is a stronger science base than there was a long time ago. There is also a lot more appreciation of science. If we build up on science today, it will have a better impact on the economy in the years ahead. What we need to do is drive it in to the administrators of the country to start talking about it themselves as was suggested in the seminar. Government talks about sports. It talks about money. The Government talks about everything but no one talks about science. Once discussion on science starts at Government level, it will be a sign - and we'll know - that we're headed in the right direction. And that's where we come in. We need to have a section dedicated to talk about it, to tell the policymakers, to guide them on matters like these. Once we do that, they'll all start talking about it. I'm very excited about the meeting we had with the European Union at Rewa Dairy. I am on the board of directors. They're very keen to put in money into the country. At the same time they're keen to ensure that we use this money for research and development. And they want to ensure we don't let other people come and do it - but that we do it ourselves and we build the capacity. The bottom line is, once we've got that, we've got a sustainable economy. I am hoping the 'big people' will actually see it. I'd be really disappointed if we don't because we'd have got the money but not our act altogether. Come the next generation, we wouldn't have done what we should have done with the $60-$80million or however much the EU is giving us. That's the key.

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