By Mekonnen Teshome
(December 12, 2018, Pretoria) – Africa’s premier Science, Technology and Innovation forum, Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) -2018, which has brought together over 3, 000 researchers, scientists, policy-makers and students from all over the world kicks off today in Pretoria.
The Forum scheduled to take place from 12 to 14 December 2018, with over 70 exhibitors from around the world showcasing scientific innovations and igniting conversations about science would facilitate discussions on opportunities is expected to benefit communities marginalized by previous revolutions, enhance participation of young people and the role of government in this regard.
In her welcoming address on this year’s forum organized by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Republic of South Africa, at the University of Pretoria, Hillcrest Campus South Africa Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane called upon all stakeholders to put science diplomacy into practice by building a better South Africa, in a better Africa and a better world.
The Minister urged participants to consider a number of critical questions. “With a growing youth population in Africa, how are we to ensure that the majority of the youth participate in science, technology and innovation? What concrete steps will we, as Africans, take to ensure that the participation of women in science is in proportion to their percentage of the population?”
Prof. Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology also said: “We need to change our narrative and make sure that our science is for development and does not remain in publications on the shelf, but responds to topical issues and the challenges of our societies.”
“We have a mandate to deliver on the role of STI in Africa’s development within Agenda 2063, hence the various initiatives established by the AU Commission which we need to drive together. I look forward next year to celebrating concrete actions on new discoveries, innovation and maybe an African Nobel Prize for distinguished scientists with groundbreaking discoveries,” she added.
UNESCO Assistant Director-General Dr. Flavia Schlegel pointed out that there is a greater need to exploring ways to engage African young talents and promote innovations to realize the Sustainability Development Goals Agendas.
“Science is under pressure. Recommendations of various scientific researches should be accepted and adopted by politicians,” Dr. Flavia pleaded.
She also underlined that gender equality is at the center of UNESCO’s efforts in assisting Africa’s capacity building in scientific researches and innovation.
Dr Vladimír Šucha, Director-General of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre concurred with Prof. Agbor, saying that what South Africa had done in STI in such a short time was impressive. He said South Africa had seen exponential growth in STI with limited funds because there was drive and energy to succeed.
Šucha spoke of the numerous challenges facing the world today and how science should respond to these challenges and the needs of the people. “Science must be open to the public; it must not be an elitist endeavour. Science must come out of its ivory towers and disciplinary silos to address societal challenges.”
President of the International Science Council Prof. Daya Reddy highlight the role of scientific evidences for policy and public action. “The scientific community need to provide politicians/policy makers with its advices supported, of course, by robust evidence and with the expected integrity and ethical standards.
President of African Academy Sciences (AAS) Prof. Felix Dapare Dakora , on his part underscores the free movement of scientists across the Africa, if the continent considers the success of the AU agenda 2063 and other vital issues of securing funds for researches.
Building on the success of previous SFSA, the 2018 Forum will again serve as a large, open, public platform for debating the science and society interface, looking at issues such as how Africa can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala with the University of Johannesburg made the first of the series od discussions at the forum, calling on Africans to create their own databases, “so we are not excluded in the revolution of science”. Prof Marwala made these comments in the context of aspects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR) like artificial intelligence and machine learning. He said that machines responded to the data fed into it.
This year’s event will show off the work of, among others, the Spring Bots, the team of South African learners who came 6th out of 175 at the first World Robotics Global Challenge in Mexico.
The South African heat for the international science communication competition Fame Lab will take place at the forum, with participants given three minutes to present their research in a clear and charismatic way.
The programme will also feature talks on topics such as forensic science for justice, climate change, and establishing citizen science projects.
The“Fourth Industrial Revolution”, focusing on the current and developing environment where disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work, is expected to be one of the prominent issues during the forum. As to the organizers, the forum is also becoming bigger and better from year to year.
According to the World Economic Forum, the First Industrial Revolution is widely taken to be the shift from our reliance on animals, human effort and biomass as primary sources of energy to the use of fossil fuels and the mechanical power this enabled. The Second Industrial Revolution occurred between the end of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, and brought major breakthroughs in the form of electricity distribution, both wireless and wired communication, the synthesis of ammonia and new forms of power generation. The Third Industrial Revolution began in the 1950s with the development of digital systems, communication and rapid advances in computing power, which have enabled new ways of generating, processing and sharing information.
This year’s SFSA organized with the theme “Igniting Conversations About Science” is dedicated to igniting conversations about science that will promote open scientific research and innovation.
The team of learners (aged 14-18), mentored by the University of Pretoria and who placed sixth out of 180 teams participating in the annual FIRST Global Challenge Robotics Olympics in Mexico City, also share their experiences
Prior to the High-lever opening session, South African Scientists had presentations on early MeerkKAT science , Space Observatory Telescope project and the related “Breakthrough Listen” global partnership for the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence, including astronomical research efforts in the country. Demonstrations by the South African team (learn between 14-18 years) who had participated in the global Robotics Olympics and had won the Walt Disney award for innovation and creativity were also highlighted the scientific forum.
Iranian Vice President for Science and Technology and, AU Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology Prof. Sarah Anyang Agbor and also other partners delivered their official support messages of the biggest forum of the continent and outlined major issues in the development of Africa’s Science and Technology.