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Last year, only 3.7% of South Africa’s matric science students achieved a distinction for science. Despite the increasing focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) at high school level through various independent programmes, many learners are still struggling to come to terms with the basic concepts on which they are built.

ChemStartEntrepreneur Bathabile Mpofu has come up with a unique concept in an effort to change the poor STEM statistics in the country – a chemistry kit that allows high school learners to gain hands-on experience with practical science experiments. The ChemStart kit has exercises designed to teach scientific principles like sublimation, different types of chemical reactions, and osmosis. It also contains the equipment – such as beakers and test tubes – necessary to conduct the experiments.

“The curriculum is fantastic. Its implementation is facing challenges because most schools do not have adequate infrastructure in place. Learners watch their teachers demonstrate, but they usually don’t have an opportunity to be hands on,” Mpofu says. This, alongside her discovery that her high school education hadn’t prepared her for university science, prompted her to create the kit.

Launched in the middle of last year, ChemStart has been used by more than 2000 learners. Consisting of 52 individual exercises, the kit was designed for use by high-school pupils at home, doing one experiment every week of the year. The concepts covered are CAPS [Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements] aligned and can be used by pupils from Grade 8 to Grade 12.

The kit explains the concepts, provides instruction on how to conduct the experiments, explains the science behind the reactions observed and explains the application of the science in real life.
“It makes science fun and attractive and not the usual intimidating subject. ChemStart unleashes a scientist in every¬ child who uses it. Every child should make a career decision after they have gone through the kit,” Mpofu says.

“A shocking statistic from equal education.org.za claims that out of 21 000 ordinary schools, only about 1 200 have stocked labs. You can imagine then how many pupils are in need of this box at high-school level.”

ChemStart is currently sold commercially, but Mpofu has been working closely with the Department of Basic Education, private science- and technology-related companies and communities to try and get the kit accepted as a standard teaching tool. Proceeds from its sales are used to subsidise learners in disadvantaged communities.

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