Solar-generation workshop for learners sparks interest

[Author: Daniel Bugon]

Teachers and learners from schools in Cloetesville and Kayamandi¬†recently benefitted from a solar-generation workshop presented by Stellenbosch University’s Department of Business Management in partnership with the Faculty of Engineering and the Science, Technology and Electronics Programme (SUNSTEP).

The workshop, which hosted top math and science Grade 11 and 12 pupils from Cloetesville and Kayamandi High Schools, focused on teaching them how to build their own individual portable solar-powered USB phone chargers and to manufacture solar panels. Not only were they taught new skills such as soldering, wiring and cutting, but they also discovered how solar energy works and the benefits it can bring to a community.

Funding for the project was provided by the Netherlands Embassy as part of the development of entrepreneurial initiatives emanating from Young Entrepreneurs Project (YEP), an annual entrepreneurship programme presented by the Department in collaboration with Hoogeschool Utrecht.

Mr Adolph Neethling, lecturer of the Department of Business Management, said the initiative came about after learners attending YEP identified a business opportunity for solar energy-driven cell phone chargers. However, learners had not yet identified how to access such chargers.

Says Neethling: “At a meeting facilitated by the Division for Social Impact, I met the chairperson of EWB (Engineers Without Borders) from the Faculty of Engineering. He said EWB was experiencing difficulty in getting schools to commit to their solar energy-generation workshops in the community. A decision was taken to collaborate the two efforts and provide solar generation workshops to learners from schools in the community that had an established relationship with the  university through the YEP programme.

‚ÄúThe collaboration with EWB is essentially a marriage of two social impact initiatives. Following this workshop presented by the EWB students, the entrepreneurship students will again offer mentorship to these schools.”

Bennedictus Chingodza, executive member of EWB and the workshop coordinator, says their solar generation initiative has been running since 2017 and was started by Julian Daniels, a final year electronic engineering student and the chairman of EWB Maties at the time.

‚ÄúJulian’s objective was to impact the lives of the students at Kayamandi High School and spark a keen interest in engineering and technology. He believed that this would then hopefully lead to them pursuing a tertiary qualification in the math or science fields and, in turn, help uplift their community.

‚ÄúThe initiative has evolved and now not only focuses on their communities but also looks at South Africa as a whole. The objective is to teach the children the importance of renewable and sustainable energy, with an emphasis on solar energy, and how it is relevant to South Africa given the issues of load shedding.”

SUNSTEP, which facilitated the equipment and technical assistance during the workshop, has been an entity of Stellenbosch University since 1997.

Miranda Myburgh, executive director of SUNSTEP, says they provide electronic kits, tools and practical training to teachers and learners.

‚ÄúThis meets a critical need in our largely theory-based educational system, which provides virtually no hands-on learning in disadvantaged schools, and in which many teachers are greatly inexperienced,” says Myburgh.

Mr Luyanda Mankayi, a maths teacher at Kayamandi High School, says the eight learners who attended the workshop learnt a lot.

‚ÄúLearners were able to distinguish between renewable and non-renewable resources at the end of the workshop. They were so inspired by everything they were taught that they have now started to enquire about available courses in information technology and computer science. Most of them are now also interested in studying engineering,” said Mankayi.

  • Schools that wish to participate in future workshops can contact Mr Adolph Neethling at¬†acn@sun.ac.za¬†for more information.

Photographs (supplied): Learners from Cloetesville and Kayamandi participated in a solar-generation workshop.