National science forum focuses on solutions and features the fledgling Spring Bots

Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane addresses the delegates gathered for the 2018 South African Science, Technology and Innovation Summit. Picture: File
Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane addresses the delegates gathered for the 2018 South African Science, Technology and Innovation Summit. Picture: File

Science should be at the forefront of the growth and development of our society. It is instrumental in fighting and eradicating the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

These were the sentiments expressed by science and technology minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, on day one of the three-day long Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) that began on Wednesday at the University of Pretoria’s Hillcrest Campus.The minister emphasised that the conversations taking place at SFSA should be relevant and address the needs of vulnerable communities.

“The science forum has grown to become one of the most prestigious science events in the world and the largest in Africa.

“The most critical task of our forum is ensuring that discussions here are relevant and address the needs of our most fragile communities. The forum should help us to ensure we formulate concrete action to deal with the eradication of hunger and achieving food security; the prevention and control of disease; communication; the protection of our space; living together and building society; and wealth creation,” she said.

The minister’s sentiments were echoed by African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, Professor Sarah Anyang Agbor.

“We need to change our narrative and make sure that our science is for development and does not remain in publications on the shelf, but responds to topical issues and the challenges of our society,” she said. 

Hosted by the South African department of science and technology, the fourth SFSA saw about 3 000 researchers, scientists, policy-makers and students from around the world come together to showcase scientific innovations and hold discussions about science. While the overall theme for SFSA is “igniting conversations about science”, this year the focus is on the fourth industrial revolution. This covers the impact of digitisation in new ways by merging physical and digital technologies. The minister urged those in attendance to consider a number of critical questions. 

“With a growing youth population in Africa, how are we to ensure that the majority of the youth participate in science, technology and innovation?” she asked.

Co-founder and spokesperson of the South African robotics team, the Spring Bots, Barbara Moagi said her two-year-old team aims to create more awareness around science and technology among the youth of South Africa.

“Our robotics team focuses on young people between the ages of 14 and 18 and strives to push science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the country,” she said.

According to Moagi, the Spring Bots participated in a robotics competition for the first time last year where they were placed 77 out of 154 countries that took part.

The sport of robotics highlights the importance of various energy sources and making them sustainable.

“In 2017 we were 77th and that was not too bad because it was our first time taking part in such a competition. This year [2018], we came with a different strategy and we were 6th out of 192 countries in Mexico,” she said.

Team captain, Mikhaeel Reddy spoke about how a lack of funding in the South African robotics industry was an obstacle to the development and growth of the industry. “There have been a lot of talks and debates about the fact that there is research excellence in Africa. The problem is the funding. In order for us to develop and grow and for us to promote this industry, we need funding to make a difference,” he said.

Attendees at the event included minister of information and technology in the Kingdom of eSwatini, Princess Sikhanyiso Dlamini, International Council for Science President, Daya Reddy and Iran’s science and technology vice president, Sorena Sattari.

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