South African chemistry kit to inspire young scientists

A locally created chemistry experiment kit was created to ignite a love of science in learners. Developed by social entrepreneur Bathabile Mpofu, ChemStart is a fun and practical learning aid for high school science.

ChemStart kit, Bathabile Mpofu, STEM learning, education in South Africa
Launched in 2016, the ChemStart chemistry kit offers high school learners the chance to gain much-needed hands-on experience with practical science experiments and enhance their STEM education. (Image: Nkazimulo Applied Sciences)

CD Anderson

Inspired by her own experiences of struggling with science and chemistry at high school and university, Bathabile Mpofu set about developing a locally manufactured chemistry kit, ChemStart.

ChemStart is a product of Nkazimulo Applied Sciences, a company founded by creator Mpofu. It is packed with hands-on chemistry and applied science experiments that learners can use to enhance their understanding of the high school science syllabus.

Consisting of 52 individual exercises, ChemStart is aimed at helping learners grasp various scientific concepts through self-motivation rather than traditional instruction alone.

ChemStart kit, Bathabile Mpofu, STEM learning, education in South Africa
(Image: Nkazimulo Applied Sciences)
ChemStart kit, Bathabile Mpofu, STEM learning, education in South Africa
(Image: Nkazimulo Applied Sciences)

The idea is doing its part to develop much-needed skillsets for economic growth in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

According to research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the demand for specialised skills in fields such as mining, engineering and agriculture is increasing. The building blocks for success begin with a dynamic and modern approach to developing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at high school level.

Mpofu says South Africa needs to boost STEM education to empower future generations, adding that while “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.”

In making chemistry and science fun and interesting rather than dull and intimidating, Mpofu says “science concepts [can] be linked to student’s daily lives to make it [more] relatable… everyone can be a scientist; it doesn’t matter what your economic background is.”

Since launching in June 2016, more than 2,000 learners have been using the ChemStart kit in their science studies. The product is also sold commercially, with proceeds from sales used to subsidise learners in disadvantaged communities.

The concept won Nkazimulo Applied Sciences a 2016 Total Startupper of the Year award sponsored by LifeCo Unlimited.

Mpofu, however, has bigger plans to take the ChemStart idea nationwide, working closely with the Department of Basic Education, private science- and technology-related companies and communities to invest in making the concept a success. She says, though, that communicating the benefits of the idea remains a challenge.

“Since we work with schools, it requires meticulous co-ordination because there are several stakeholders involved. Understanding the culture of the school you are dealing with is important. Sometimes when people are faced with a challenge, they are unwilling to see the value in the solution you are offering, so we have to go the extra mile,” says Mpofu.

Ideas such as ChemStart are gradually beginning to inspire a new energy in science learning, making it fun, practical and a worthy investment in the future of the country.

For more information on ChemStart and Bathabile Mpofu’s continued efforts to develop science education in South Africa, visit the Nkazimulo Applied Sciences website.

Source: News24, Destiny Magazine

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