The College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, with the assistance of Mr Vassan Bensingh of the Department of Education, organised the donation of 54 microscopes from the Discipline of Geology to three under-resourced high schools near Durban.
When the University of Natal’s Pietermaritzburg and Howard College Geology Departments merged in 1996 (joining the Geology Department at the new UKZN in 2006) they inherited the Leitz SM POL Microscopes (student polarising microscopes) used by Geology students in the 1960s and 1970s.
According to long-serving UKZN technician, Mr Pat Suthan, the petrographic microscopes were used to study minerals and thin rock sections but had become redundant due to advances in technology. Suthan and his colleague, Mr Mukesh Seyambu, maintained the functionality of the microscopes after they went out of service.
The microscopes can be used to view thin specimens mounted on glass slides using either plain or polarised light with different objectives.
Many scholars in the three high schools had limited opportunities previously to use such equipment, with the result being that those who advanced to tertiary study in scientific fields were disadvantaged compared to students from better-equipped schools.
Some of the schools that lacked microscopes would borrow two to three microscopes for classes of up to 60 from the Centre for the Advancement of Mathematics and Science Education. With the microscopes each school has now received from UKZN, the landscapes of their laboratories have changed dramatically.
Sibongindlela High School on the outskirts of Umbumbulu was recently refurbished and now has two laboratories but had no scientific equipment.
‘This is what we’ve been looking for to assist our learners see what they’ve learned in class – seeing and using the microscope for the first time was a memorable experience,’ said teacher Ms Zodwa Ndawo. ‘I’m certain this is going to improve our Natural Sciences, Life Sciences and Physical Sciences results. Thank you for building a brighter future for our future leaders.’
Masibambane Secondary School in the Nsimbini area of Umbumbulu also received microscopes. The school has performed well, with its learners achieving a 100% pass rate in the sciences in 2018 despite adversity.
‘We are greatly honoured to have partnered with UKZN in securing this donation,’ said principal Mr Bongani Mkhunya. ‘We believe the learners and educators will benefit immensely through the use of these microscopes, and the donation goes a long way in the quest to have our two empty laboratories fully equipped one day.’
At Westham Secondary School near KwaMashu a reduction in state funding threatened the maintenance of its laboratory facilities that serve many students coming from impoverished backgrounds. The microscopes would make a huge difference in their classrooms.
‘On behalf of the circuit manager Mr VM Subrayen, the School governing body, staff and learners of Westham, I extend my sincere thanks for the donation of 17 microscopes,’ said the Principal of Westham Secondary School, Mrs Risha Bechoo.
The Discipline of Geology also supplied a selection of rock samples and slides with the microscopes, and Seyambu offered to visit the schools to teach learners how to use the equipment.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Bheki Mthembu