For many learners across the country, mathematics and science continue to be difficult subjects to pass, and as a result they tend not to pursue them at post-matric level. Not so for Phelo Lakitika, who grew up in rural Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape.

 

A career in science was always on the cards for Lakitika, as his natural surroundings made a profound impact on him. "All science studies are based on nature and daily life events. Science is nothing more than an analysis of the world at large," says Lakitika.

 

His passion for the sciences saw him obtain a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry degree from Walter Sisulu University, and he is currently teaching mathematics, physical science and natural sciences at Tsolo High School near Mthatha.

 

For Lakitika, advocating a love for the sciences doesn't stop at learners. He is on a mission to enthuse all young South Africans about science, and is doing this through the Youth Science Journalism Programme. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) appointed its entity, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, to initiate the programme.

 

The programme is being implemented in municipalities targeted by the DST's Innovation Partnership for Rural Development Programme, which uses water, sanitation, energy and ICT technologies to help municipalities tackle their service delivery challenges.

 

Through the Youth Science Journalism Programme, the DST aims to give community media practitioners the skills they need to improve their coverage of science issues, particularly in indigenous languages.

 

As part of the programme, interns are hosted at various community media organisations. Lakitika was hosted by Alfred Nzo Community Radio as a journalist and news reader.

 

"The programme boosted my confidence in science," says Lakitika. "Now I am a better science communicator who simplifies every scientific concept to the local understanding."

 

Fellow intern Pumeza Mabusela is equally enthusiastic about science journalism. The 28-year-old said the programme gave her the opportunity to produce and present her own science show on Kumkani FM, where she was selected as one of the top four performing interns and the best news reader.

 

Mabusela is passionate about promoting African languages. Currently employed as a lecturer in journalism at Walter Sisulu University, Mabusela holds degrees in journalism and media studies and African languages. Her research focused on the representation of African languages, in particular isiXhosa, in the media.

 

Despite government support for the promotion and preservation of indigenous languages, Mabusela found that they continue to be overshadowed by English due to its dominance in the teaching and learning environment.

 

"A significant amount of media coverage in indigenous languages has been generated through the programme," she said.

 

Since its inception in 2016, the Youth Science Journalism Programme has produced a cohort of successful interns, including Mbalenhle Shandu and Godfrey Pandeka.

 

Shandu, of Nqubeko FM, was acknowledged at the 2017 Liberty Radio Awards as one of the bright stars of the radio industry. And Pandeka, who has worked at Malamulele FM and Sekhukhune Community Radio, has written science articles for national daily publications.

 

"The journalism industry is very competitive, it's survival of the fittest, but I am up for the challenge," says Pandeka, who was born in Nghezimani village outside Malumelele in Limpopo. Pandeka wants to write stories that will open doors for neglected children in villages who want to pursue careers in science and engineering.

 

"I see myself as an educational section editor one day," he adds. "I always wanted to see children have equal opportunities of learning. I will not give up on science journalism. It is part of who I am."