National Science and Technology Forum on Review and Development: briefing

Arts and Culture

03 October 2001
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

3 OCTOBER 2001


Chairperson: Mr Sello Dithebe

Documents handed out:

An overview of National Science and Technology Forum projects
Ethics in Science and Technology

The National Science and Technology Forum presented recommendations to the Department of Education encouraging more children to study maths and science. Incentives should be introduced in the form of tax relief to encourage research in the science and technology industry. The Committee commended the report.

Presentation by National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Dr Steve Lennon, Chairperson of the NSTF discussed the projects of the NSTF, including science engineering and technology policy issues which include the national system of innovation. The encouragement of maths and science education in schools has been central in their development programs. Ethics in science and technology was discussed. Growth is the result of technological innovation in many economies of the developed countries.

For more details in the presentation please refer to attached document

Ms A Van Wyk (NNP) asked if the NSTF had investigated the imperative for transformation and the unintended consequences of brain drain. How could the methodology and the emphasis on transformation be approached in such a way that the country would retain skills. Are there any black scientists who living the country?

Dr Lennon replied that investment in innovation,research, development and skills will facilitate an enormous amount of transformation in South Africa. They did not know the full extent of the brain drain in science and technology.

There are black scientists, engineers and technologists who are leaving South Africa but this is not a unique problem to South Africa. They were on a fact-finding mission with the department in Switzerland and the Swiss were expressing their great concern about their brain drain, from Switzerland to the United States. Most economies have this thirst for technical skills. The NSTF needs to quantify the figures of the brain drain accurately.

Prof I Mohamed asked if the NSTF was part of the committee researching HIV/AIDS. The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), were researching statistics on HIV/AIDS mortality rate. Prof. Mohamed noted that the ANC rejected the MRC’s report.

Dr Lennon replied that as far as HIV/AIDS is concerned the NSTF has some members actively involved in this area. The NSTF were observers in two sessions of the HSRC and MRC when they prepared a report which was submitted to the department. They did not have further inputs since then.

An ANC member asked if black schools had a maths and science programme identifying gifted learners. Schools should be set up for gifted learners.

Dr Hlongwane replied that the NSTF had engaged the department of Education which resulted in a conference held in 2000. The proceedings are available in the NSTF website. In the conference a strategy document was adopted by the Department of Education and most of the recommendations came from NSTF. This would focus on students studying maths and science from disadvantaged communities. It was recommended that there should be 100 schools that should be identified across the country.

These schools must be turned into special schools for maths, science and technology. The schools should have qualified teachers and all the provinces have undertaken to train teachers in this regard. To service these 100 schools the Department of Education has put aside R403 million for the next three years to ensure that they are functioning well. Partnership with business and other interested stakeholders has been made to make sure that the process goes smoothly. Some provinces have announced the schools that will be used as special schools. These schools are not necessarily for talented children but for those who show interest in science and technology.

The chairperson commented that he has not heard anything about biotechnology, perhaps it is encapsulated broadly within the science and technology field? For instance issues such as malnutrition and child mortality what could be done to reduce this? Is the NSTF promoting public understanding of biotechnology? What advantages could be found for South Africa in the light of the fact that the country has a Genetic Modified Organism Act of 1997?

Dr Lennon replied that NSTF supports the trust for biotechnology and the biotechnology road map that has been developed. Biotechnology presents enormous opportunities for the South African economy and scientists across a very broad base. Biotechnology could address major problems in agriculture and the opportunities it presents for indigenous medicines. It is a fundamental base for the quest for an AIDS vaccine.

Prof Mohamed asked about the graphs of economic development. How do they determine those proportions between labour, capital and technology and their contribution towards the economy?

Dr Lennon replied that the detailed methodology is addressed in full in the document that he submitted, however they use standard economic data and statistical techniques.

Ms Van Wyk (UDM) said that mother tongue speakers perform better in maths and science. Has the NSTF tried to address that in their recommendations with the Department of Education? She asked about the role that radio and TV can play in raising awareness among pre-school and very young children.

Dr Hlongwane replied that the question of mother tongue was raised and the department of Education is dealing with it. However, some people argue against it, they say it means that the departments would spend money covering the eleven languages in the country, they say teachers should teach in English but if there is a need to explain in the child’s mother tongue that should be acceptable. The Department of Education is still debating that.

On the question of TV and radio programs Dr Hlongwane said these programs are run by independent individuals and organisations for SABC which have an agreement or contract with SABC. It is up to parents to encourage their children to watch these programs. There are very few programs which are run in conjunction with the Department of Education.

The Chairperson asked the NSTF about recommendations for incentives. He made a special recommendation that giving incentives to research and development should form part of the affirmative action package in the science and technology industry.

Dr Lennon replied that there are various mechanisms that are available at the moment that the industry can use to access funds, for example the national innovation fund, the National Research Foundation, the strategic programme for industrial innovation run by the Department of Trade and Industry. The tax situation is an attractive incentive for investment in research and development.

In conclusion the chairperson asked Dr Lennon to make his informative presentation available to other Departments and Committees. Their role as legislators is to put pressure on the executive for more investment in science and technology.

The meeting was adjourned



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