Science for development at Insite

Khanyi Magubane

Scientists from across the world will head to South Africa later this year for the third International Science, Innovation and Technology Exhibition (Insite) to share new knowledge and advancements science and technology.

Organisers of the exhibition, taking place from 15 to 17 September at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, say this year’s Insite will be the biggest and best yet, with some of the best international science exhibitions to be showcased.

With the theme “The role of science, technology and innovation as key drivers of economic growth and sustainable development”, the exhibition will highlight the role of the sciences in finding solutions to world problems, particularly advancing economic growth and sustainable development in poorer countries.

South African Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena says technological innovations are needed to address pressing issues such as housing and energy shortages. “As a continent we are hard pressed to find affordable but durable building materials in the place of bricks and mortar, and to develop a sustainable supply of cheaper and safer forms of energy,” he says. “We expect this exhibition to provide opportunities for collaborative efforts between our researchers and their international counterparts.”

A Department of Science and Technology initiative, Insite is held every two years and draws participants from over 50 countries, attracting 5 900 visitors in 2004 and 6 300 in 2006. These included key decision makers, big business, the public, students and teachers, as well as local and international science and technology practitioners and the private sector.

The biannual Professor Phillip Tobias Lecture and Award will be one of this year’s highlights. The lecture the contribution of Tobias, a globally respected veteran South African scientist, to the sciences in the fields of palaeoanthopology and genetics through anatomical studies.

This year, the organisers say the event will:

  • embrace technological solutions for the developed and developing world,
  • provide an international marketplace for innovation, science and technology, particularly in the context of long-term sustainability,
  • promote partnerships for global sustainable development, and
  • provide networking opportunities across industries to enable experts from across the globe to identify joint objectives, activities and initiatives.

According to the Department of Science and Technology, South Africa has a critical shortage of science and technology skills, a shortage that must be urgently addressed.

Statistics indicate that the average annual output of engineers from the higher education sector must increase by 1 000 to a total of 2 400 a year for the country to meet its short-term demand.

In 2008, skill shortages in the information, communication and technology sector are said to be well over 300 000, while government’s Information Systems, Electronics and Telecommunication Technologies Training Authority has capacity to train only 7 000 per year.

Currently, South Africa produces only 1 400 qualified engineers a year, and only half of these graduates go on to register with the Engineering Council of South Africa as practising professionals.

“South Africa needs to embrace the current skills shortages in science, engineering and technology and Insite 2008 will address some of these issues,” said Dr Phil Mjwara, director-general of the Department of Science and Technology.

Part of the department’s strategy to increase these numbers includes exposing learners to events such as Insite, especially emphasising the important of maths and science.

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