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The Bloodhound Project Our roving UK Ambassador returns to South Africa

Our roving UK Ambassador returns to South Africa

Education News
Friday, 15 April, 2016

A year ago BLOODHOUND Ambassador Chris Lowther reported on his successful visit to South Africa, where he spent part of his holiday visiting local schools to spread the word about the BLOODHOUND Programme. This winter he returned and found the students to be more enthusiastic than ever.

By Christopher Lowther, BLOODHOUND Ambassador

Last month I spent time in several schools in the Western Cape in South Africa spreading the word about the BLOODHOUND Project and showing students how exciting science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) can be. The schools vary enormously, but I am always struck by the unbridled enthusiasm and open-minded attitude to STEM subjects displayed by all the teachers and students in the schools I visit.

Everyone there seems to appreciate the importance of the study of STEM subjects, although they may not be fully aware of the opportunities afforded by STEM careers. They have embraced the BLOODHOUND Project and have all expressed their commitment to making use of the BLOODHOUND Educational materials provided and those on the BLOODHOUND website. I hope to return next year and the schools I visited on this occasion say they want me back! I hope they do – it will be my pleasure and a delight for me.

Many thanks are due to the BLOODHOUND Education Team in South Africa and to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) for providing me with the BLOODHOUND Educational Toolkits. More next year please!

Before you read my diary, I’m going to make an appeal like I did last year. The team in South Africa need all the help they can get to spread the word about the BLOODHOUND Project and STEM. So UK BLOODHOUND Ambassadors – take a holiday in beautiful South Africa and visit some schools! (At the current exchange rate it is one of the cheapest places to enjoy a holiday once you get there.)

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Dear Diary…

This winter my wife and I returned to the farm near Paarl in Western Cape South Africa that we visit every year. So once again I offered my services to the BLOODHOUND South African Education Team and contacted the three schools I had visited last year.

Well, I was in for a surprise! After a restful start to the holiday I found myself booked to visit eight schools to give the 1 hour BLOODHOUND presentation I had developed during the past year in the UK and two Balloon Car workshops. I was delighted that so many schools had expressed such interest thanks to Hettie Streuders, a new member of the South African BLOODHOUND Education Team based in Kimberley, who had been recruited to support Dave Rowley and Wendy Maxwell.

The IMechE had kindly provided me with two BLOODHOUND Education toolkits and I had some material remaining from last year’s visit. However, I had not anticipated visiting so many schools, so I had to ration the materials I gave out, including the pens and badges awarded to children who answered questions correctly.

Klapmuts School near Stellenbosch was the only Township School I visited last year. When I approached them again this year they declined a presentation on the grounds of not having sufficient time. This was very disappointing since the objective of the Bloodhound Project is to reach children from all backgrounds. I asked Hettie to investigate and she ascertained that the school had thought the material was beyond the reach of their children and they needed to concentrate on the basics. This appears to be a common problem in South Africa and I was told not to feel guilty about it. Nonetheless, as I reported last year, if the teachers are not enthusiastic it is an uphill struggle to get into such schools and grab their attention. My suggestion to Hettie was that a local Afrikaans speaker should translate or give the presentation at such schools in future.

Most schools in South Africa have to charge fees for learners to attend – even State funded schools. This is because insufficient funds are available from the government to hire the teachers needed, so the fees are necessary to enable the Principal to meet the shortfall.

Friday 4 March – La Rochelle Girls High School, Paarl

Founded in 1860, this is the oldest girls’ high school in Paarl. It was rather like home from home since the girls and their uniforms were very much like those at my granddaughters’ convent school in England. I addressed some 160 girls from Years 8 to 10 who were very enthusiastic and full of questions. One girl’s grandmother even posted a note on Facebook thanking the BLOODHOUND Team for the presentation which had inspired her granddaughter Emma so much – Emma answered most of the initial questions I posed to the girls, and although I commented that she must have been watching Top Gear to know so much, it transpired that her cousin is at Cranfield University reading for a masters in advanced motorsport engineering!

The teachers, led by Karin Pietersen, Head of Science, were most enthusiastic too and planned to make use of the BLOODHOUND and IMechE education material I gave them. The Principal, Miss Amanda Lochner, made time to meet me and was most supportive. I left with the impression that the girls at this school were very open to careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Monday 7 March – Parel Vallei High School Somerset West

Today was an early start since most schools start the day at 7.30am and I had been booked in at 8.00am to visit Parel Vallei High School, a co-educational school in West Somerset near Cape Town which has over 1,200 learners from Years 8 to 12. The Principal, David Schenck, and Science teacher, Sonia Manthey, insisted that I address the whole school in their large Sports Hall.

Once again the girls and boys were most enthusiastic. For the first time in my experience of visiting schools one of the boys was able to explain how a jet engine worked – so I invited him up on the stage with three others to demonstrate the principle to the whole school. This always goes down well.

The Principal was very complimentary, having observed that all the children were paying avid attention throughout. This illustrated yet again the power of BLOODHOUND slides and video material to hold people’s attention. Many thanks to the BLOODHOUND Education Team for providing such good material!

Monday 7 March – Helderberg High School

Next I went to Helderberg High School which is a part of Helderberg College in Somerset West, a Seventh Day Adventist education establishment which caters for boys and girls from primary school age to university level. The school is set high up in the foothills of the Hottentot mountains and has magnificent views of Table Mountain and False Bay. The Principal, Aubrey Basson, was most welcoming.

The high school has around 140 students from Grades 8 to 12 and once again they were very enthusiastic and asked some great questions.

Afterwards the Principal kindly sent some comments from students who had attended and even added one of her own:

“At first I was curious, as was everyone else, on what the scale of the BLOODHOUND Project is really like. As we proceeded to the speech, I was quite surprised and intrigued by the specifications of the design, specifically on what’s powering it… this was an intimidating craft, but with all this spectacular design a lot of us forget what this is really for and that would be to show the world what Science and Engineering are capable of and to inspire young minds for the future of innovation and exploration.” Michael J van Rensburg, Grade 8

“I can’t properly put onto words the excitement and inspiration I got from Christopher Lowther and the BLOODHOUND project! It was absolutely inspiring. I enjoyed every moment of it and I loved the radical examples that he gave. I finally know how a jet engine works! I loved the fact that he said engineering is for anyone and as a girl that really inspired me to try out engineering, because I really enjoy Maths and Mechanics. I hope that the BLOODHOUND breaks the 1,000mph record! Thank you for the opportunity to learn more about the project, it is truly inspiring!” Cherese de Klerk

“Well, you have convinced me that I should change careers and become an engineer!” Aubrey Basson, Principal, Helderberg High School

Wed 9 & Thurs 10 March – Our Lady Help of Christians RC Primary School East Paarl

This is a good school, but funds and facilities are very limited. I visited the school last year and gave a presentation to Grade 7 learners but unfortunately we were unable to get the projector and sound to work, so I had to rely on my laptop instead. The Principal, Mr Brian, is a “petrol head” and was very keen for me to return and was determined that the sound and projector system would work this year, which it did!

The school does not have a hall large enough for the whole school and usually has to use the church situated in the school grounds for assembly, but since it was Lent the Principal thought it inappropriate to use the church for a secular presentation. So the presentation was limited to 78 Grade 7 students in one of the small classrooms. It was very cosy, but allowed great interaction! As ever the children were enthusiastic, full of fun and very well behaved.

I had also promised to run balloon car workshops this year and had managed to accumulate enough kits for the children to construct them in pairs. On Thursday the Grade 7 teachers and I (with the help of my wife, Ann, a retired primary school teacher) ran two sessions, one for each class. The children were really enthusiastic, but while they were constructing the cars, despite working in pairs, they were so quiet and absorbed you could hear a pin drop. What a contrast with my experience in some English schools! Unfortunately, the playground tarmac was too uneven for the balloon cars to work, so had to make do with a cleared space in each classroom. This was no problem for the children – they really appreciated the opportunity. We ran a series of heats and gave prizes to the winning cars in each class.

This was a most rewarding couple of days spent with children with limited means but fantastic energy for life! I hope to return next year to visit the next set of Grade 7 students.

Monday 14 March – Paarl Boys Primary School

Our farmer’s wife Tania, whose son Henrie attends Paarl Boys Primary School, was determined that I should visit his school to give a presentation. The school was founded in 1955 when Paarl Boys High became too large to accommodate the younger children. Paarl Boys High School itself is one of the oldest boys school in Paarl, having been founded in 1868, and teaches traditional values. The Principal, Henco Bester, and Head of Science made me very welcome and expressed their great support for the visit. The 120 boys from Grades 4 to 7 were enthusiastic, boisterous and full of questions and really up for it!

Tuesday 15 March – Worcester Gymnasium

Worcester is a small market town 40 minutes east of Paarl and the other side of the Drakenstein Mountains. It is hotter and drier than Paarl and since there had been no rain during the previous winter the surrounding farmlands were parched to a deep yellow brown. However, on the day of my visit it was cool and cloudy.

Worcester Gymnasium caters for secondary learners from the town and surrounding district. It is a mixed school and some board at the school. The Head of Maths and her husband act as foster parents to 41 girls and another couple of teachers foster 32 boys on the premises. Unfortunately, problems with the sound system meant I had to talk through the videos and make my own sound effects to accompany them. Nonetheless, the presentation went down well with the audience of around 400 students from Grades 10 to 12 and their teachers.

After the presentation the students invited me to the teachers’ staffroom where they were hosting a magnificent spread that they had made to thank their teachers for all the hard work during the term.

Special thanks are due to Magdel Human, who looked after me during my visit, and to Mrs Tromp, Head of Maths, and her husband Pierre who was so enthusiastic that he plans to run a BLOODHOUND competition and award the winners with a minibus trip to Hakskeenpan.

Wednesday 16 March – Bloemhof Girls High School, Stellenbosch

Bloemhof High School is situated in Stellenbosch in the heart of the Winelands and is the oldest Afrikaans medium high school for girls in South Africa. It was founded in 1875 and has around 700 students from grades 8 to 12.

I was warmly welcomed by the Head of Science, Rina Paul, and her husband Fritz who had ensured the hall was all set for the audio-visual presentation. The whole school attended and all the girls were extremely well behaved and polite. It was a pleasure to address these girls who were so very receptive and absolutely brimming with questions!

The Principal, Ms Wilna van Heerden, made time to meet me after the presentation and was most supportive of the BLOODHOUND Project’s efforts to inspire the next generation. Here is a sample of some of the girls’ reactions which were kindly forwarded to me by Mrs Paul:

“I found it very inspiring and enlightening and at the same time FUN. It opened my eyes to a whole different direction my subjects could take me; one I might enjoy more than my current options.” Carla Conradie, Grade 10

“I think this morning's presentation was absolutely amazing! I've never been really interested in maths or science at all. I love being creative, working in groups and have been struggling to find a purpose in the world. Today you opened my eyes. I think that I have found a job that will keep me going and inspire other people as well. Thank you!” Lu-Adri Groenewald, Grade 10

Wednesday 16 March – Rhenish Primary School, Stellenbosch

Immediately after my visit to Bloemhof I drove to Rhenish Primary School. The school was founded in 1860 by the missionaries of the Rhenish Society as the first girls’ boarding school in the Cape Colony. In 1985 it became a government co-educational school whose income is supplemented by reasonable fees from parents to enable employment of enough teachers to meet the school’s aims.

Once again the teachers and learners were most enthusiastic and full of questions, and I was met with another queue of questioners at the end!

Many thanks are due to Ms Nicola Vickery who set up the visit and looked after me so very well.