Nov 2023 1st Edition

Rural learners pioneer solutions for the country

Written by Anele Zikali

The solve for tomorrow competition reveals the untapped brilliance of South Africa’s rural students

A public-private partnership has successfully unearthed transformative solutions to the country's most urgent challenges, and the beauty of it all is that these solutions come from learners in rural schools.

In January 2023, Samsung South Africa and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) initiated a collaborative competition focused on grade 11 and 12 learners in rural schools across South Africa's nine provinces.

The aim of the Solve for Tomorrow competition is to encourage young minds to devise community development solutions using Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Mbilwi Senior Secondary School from Sibasa in Limpopo were crowned winners of the competition at an event recently hosted in Benoni, Gauteng. The school secured the top award against 25 other schools during the competition.

The innovative learners from the school presented a groundbreaking idea, where they showcased a simplified scientific solution to close potholes while alleviating plastic and glass pollution.

One of the young minds behind the idea is Grade 11 learner Nzumbululo Todani, 17, who said their idea seeks to address socio-economic problems not just in their area but in the whole country.The Public-private sector partnership aimed at helping STEM learners

“We are tackling three of the most problematic challenges that our community is facing, [such as] plastic pollution, glass pollution and potholes. We use waste plastic and glass and an organic biopolymer called lignin that is found inside trees, it acts as a binding agent. We boil plastic, add crushed glass and lignin and it forms a very strong mixture that is heat and water-resistant,” he explained.

The team repurposed the mixture as a pothole filler for local roads. “Our community is rattled with potholes and there is no economy without roads,” added Todani.

His fellow learner, Igoline Coelhi, also in Grade 11, expressed her excitement after winning the competition.

“We worked very hard every day. Even during the exams we found time to put work into the project,” she said.

The school won R100 000 in cash and the money will go towards buying STEM equipment.

The Head of Department for Physical Sciences at the school, Tshifhiwa Tshidzumba said: “We have so many needs in our school, all learners in our school do pure mathematics and physical science, and there is no mathematics literacy. This means there will be contribution towards science related material.”

Mbilwi Senior Secondary is well known for its academic achievements. In 2022, the school was the best performing public school in Limpopo province based on the number of bachelor’s passes achieved.

The school currently has 510 matric learners and a total of 2 183 learners from Grade 8 to 12.

“Every year we are number one in the province, even if you check at the end of this year, we will be number one. We believe in quality,” said Tshidzumba.

About the partnership 

The Public-private sector partnership aimed at helping STEM learners in underdeveloped communities to be part of solving socio-economic problems in their own environments.

By so doing, they benefit from skills transfer such as problem solving, team work and being part of the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution 4IR.

The Head of Corporate Affairs at SITA Tlali Tlali commented about the programme during the finals “SITA as an institution of state has a mandate in the provisioning of ICT solutions to government departments and other institutions of state and to the extent that we are able to partner with industry players both in the public and private space.”

“We saw it fit that we should partner with Samsung as we are working towards a common goal. Part of which is to really pay dedicated attention on young people especially and without shame those who come from previously disadvantaged communities,” said Tlali. He added that this will be an annual event.

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