CHILDREN need to know the impact of science and technology on their lives; having this understanding will help them move with the changing global world economy.
This is the sentiment of Thandi O’Hagan, the senior public relations and marketing manager at Sci-bono Discovery Centre.
Sci-bono is an interactive science centre where people – especially children – can discover, experiment and learn. “We are a discovery centre rather than a museum. A discovery centre is where you can touch and explore things; we have 380 exhibits and they are world class,” she explains.
On 22 June, the centre won a Halala Joburg Award for being the top recreation centre and destination in the inner city. The awards are handed out each year to recognise individuals and projects that continue to inject momentum into the City’s regeneration efforts.
They identify private sector investors who are redeveloping and building inner city properties, as well as honour people who are striving to improve the quality of life in the inner city.
Science of Soccer
And indeed, adding a fascinating edutainment element to inner city offerings is what Sci-Bono does. In 2010, for example, to mark the excitement of the football World Cup in the country, it launched a world-first exhibition –the Science of Soccer – with hands on, mind on and feet on learning about science and sport.
“It is completely interactive. We launched it last year, the same time with the World Cup and for that we got a lot of international coverage across the world,” says O’Hagan.
Soccer is not the only focus at the centre, though. Sci-Bono has plenty of special programmes for learners, with exhibits and hands-on interactive workshops that include building electrical circuits or learning about chemistry by building chemical bonds.
Education is a key component of the work, and focus groups are held throughout the year that target key industries where there is a scarcity of skilled workers. Through these, high school learners are introduced to career opportunities. They can meet professionals in the industry in which they want to build a career. They are also able to find out first-hand about careers in critical sectors of the South African economy, explains O’Hagan.
“Here we have a full programme career centre. We do career assessments where we prepare learners for different careers. We give advice on universities, bursaries and learnerships.”
Year of Chemistry
To celebrate the International Year of Chemistry this year, Sci-Bono has an interactive periodic table exhibit. Interesting, practical applications of science to daily life are explored in workshops that run alongside it, such as “Discovering why cutting onion makes your eyes teary and what should be done to prevent it”.
“We also have a workshop called gravimetric analysis; it is a measurement of how much sugar is in physical drinks.
“We are taking that science lesson from class into a real interactive space, so they are able to see the whole thing live, not pictures in the textbooks. We have a great relationship with the national Department of Science and Technology.”
The centre also has a teachers’ training unit, where teachers across the province can improve their literacy, numeracy and science skills. “We have trained over 6 000 teachers this year,” says O’Hagan.
“One of our objectives is to find exhibits that link to the curriculum. We have wonderful exhibits on electricity, sound and electromagnetics, so it is good for teachers to come and have a look at how they can supplement the material they teach in the classrooms.”
Sci-Bono targets schools, teachers and learners from the foundation phase all the way to the further education and training phase, and there are programmes for the general public.
It was initiated by the Gauteng department of education in 2004, primarily aimed at disadvantaged schools. An important principle was making sure they had access to the facility. “The centre is unique because it is about family entertainment. It is created for family to interact together,” says O’Hagan.
Every age group is welcome. “We have had a three-year-old playing on our construction sites, and we make ice-cream using chemistry so that is something that can be enjoyed by everyone. We have programmes designed for all age groups.”
This term there are workshops on road safety, planets, stars and how to tell the time without using a clock. “Our programmes are really design for variety of people.”
A special evening programme, called Speak2aScientist, targets adults, for example. It is held once a month for people aged 15 and above. On these evenings, a range of local and international scientists answer a variety of science questions. “It’s a popular science cafe as well as an informal space to learn science,” says O’Hagan.
And the popularity of Sci-Bono is growing: already this year, 180 000 visitors have passed through its doors, comprising school groups and the general public. This is an increase over the figures for 2010, when 160 000 visited the centre in the entire year.
“The response that we get is good. We have a programme of birthday parties and parents tell us that children love this place in a way that they have to drag them out when it is time to leave.”
It’s not just visitor numbers that are up, though. O’Hagan says that when she joined Sci-Bono in 2008, staff numbered 30. Today there are 110 permanent employees.
All the major cities in the world have a science centre as a tour destination, and educational and entertainment facility. “The difference with our centre is the fact that we were initiated by the education departments, whereas others were commenced by private sector and public sector, but normally not the education department.”
Sci-Bono is in Newtown, on the corner of Miriam Makeba and President streets. The building that houses the centre is over 100 years old. It was built as the President Street Power Station in 1906, but an explosion in 1907 put paid to that.
It then became an electric workshop where machines and electrical parts were repaired. In 2004, the Gauteng department of education took over this building and in 2009 two new wings were added to the venue to house a conference and an education centre, as well as the career guidance centre.
Sci-Bono is open from 9am till 5pm on weekdays and 9am to 4.30pm on weekends. Advance booking is necessary for group. The entry fee is R10 per child and R20 per adult and school groups receive discounts.
For group bookings contact Cythia Sithole on 011 639 8400 or Cynthia.firstname.lastname@example.org, or Siphokazi Ndzamela on email@example.com. For more information, visit the Sci-Bono website.