Kobus Wikus learned to resolve a range of problems he encountered in his job by adopting a scientific approach
In 2006 I started teaching at Kabega Primary School in Port Elizabeth. Aged just 22, I was new to the challenges of education, so I decided that the best way to empower myself was to get involved in as many school activities as possible. I became involved in tennis and rugby, the parent-teacher association and anything that I could in order to develop and enrich myself.
To maintain a balance between classroom responsibilities and community involvement was not always easy. I decided to surround myself with supportive team members who would encourage me, and from whom I could learn. One such a person was my head of department, Mrs Corrie van Eck. She introduced me to the Eskom Science Expo, and this opened many doors for me as I started to participate and enter learners into the expo.
Through my experience of helping learners with investigations for the Eskom Science Expo, I soon became a judge for the provincial expo. I also became well acquainted with the scientific problem-solving approach, and realised I could use this method to deal with challenges I encountered daily in the classroom relating to discipline, the administrative workload and striking a balance as a teacher.
Firstly, I would identify the problem and form a hypothesis of what I envisaged to be a positive solution. I would then look into methods of approaching the problem, and surround myself with a positive team to help me deal with the challenge. As a team, we would interrogate the data to discover the best possible solution. After following these steps a well-considered conclusion could be reached and recommendations made. Applying this approach would always yield a solution.
During my first year of teaching I entered two grade four boys into the science expo. They won first prize for their investigation on pollution. Today, I am proud to look back at the doors that have opened for the learners who took part in the expos. In 2010 our school received a national award for the most consistent performance during the Eskom Science Expo. We sent learners to participate provincially, and in 2015 we once again received five gold awards and the best junior project at the science event. Learners were also nominated to take part nationally over the years.
It is heart-warming to see that learners continue to participate in the expos at high school, after the love for science was planted at primary school level. As a teacher I have grown through this experience and reaped the positive result of becoming head of department. The crowning moment for me was being a finalist in the 2015 National Teaching Awards. However, for me what stands out are not these accolades — it is the development and growth of the learners whom I teach, coach and encourage that makes me proud.
Take up the challenge
My advice for any teacher would be to solve problems by adopting a scientific approach. This method will not only open doors for you as a teacher, but also for the learners you teach. At our school, activities such as recycling, vegetable and value gardening, supporting local charities and similar initiatives provide valuable teaching and learning experiences. These activities ensure that we are moulding our learners to become responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.
As actor Tim Minchin puts it: “Science is simply the word we use to describe a method of organising our curiosity.” Always attempt to awaken curiosity by providing teaching opportunities beyond the classroom, and set an example as the teacher by becoming involved in the school community. Never lose sight of the power of education; as the late Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”