The international educational program Experimento is currently active in eleven countries in Europe, Latin America, and Africa.
Educational requirements are different in every country and are strongly influenced by cultural factors. This is why local partners such as education ministries and universities are involved in all the countries. The cooperation with local educational partners helps meet the specific teaching and learning requirements of each country.
Nelson Mandela famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world!” The reorganization of government education policy and the school system is one of the main tasks facing South Africa. Although the country has an efficient school system, the discrepancies are clear and the challenges in the education sector enormous: a general shortage of qualified teaching staff, lack of equipment and overcrowded classrooms with up to 60 students per class. The multilingualism prescribed by the constitution is also a complicating factor. South Africa has 11 official national languages. This linguistic diversity creates educational barriers and hinders the expansion of the education system, which accounts for a fifth of all government spending.
The Siemens Stiftung has been conducting its Experimento education program in South Africa since 2012 – with the goal of training teachers to use Experimento and to promote the science and technical education of pupils. Use of Experimento cannot succeed without the support of dedicated educators from the area. That is why teachers and educators are given training in Experimento’s didactic and methodological approaches in specially developed seminars. They pass on their knowledge to pupils as part of teaching. The Experimento seminars have also been certified as an official further training tool in accordance with the criteria set forth by the South African Council for Educators (SACE).
To facilitate the successful implementation of Experimento at schools in South Africa, the Siemens Stiftung cooperates with special Science Competence Centers (SCCs) in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Mthatha. At the same time, the Siemens Stiftung is working with universities and German international schools on directly integrating the Experimento concept into the teacher training curriculum.
Nelson Mandela was passionate about setting up a secondary school in his home town, Mvezo, in the South African province of Eastern Cape. With the help of the government and community, Siemens has made Mandela's dream come true: In January 2014, the Mandela School of Science & Technology became the first secondary school to be opened in the region.
Experimento has been used here ever since. Science and technology teachers here completed the training program along with teachers from other schools in the area. In the process, they received a hands-on, educational introduction into the world of learning through discovery. “Practical work is a huge help in explaining complex matters. You also really see how students who are normally quiet will open up and begin to ask questions," one excited teacher said in discussing the use of the things she learned in her classroom. The Siemens Stiftung provides the program and helps local trainers organize regular meetings of teachers from all schools in order to continuously develop and expand a province-wide network.
An international dialog also takes place: For two years now, an exchange program open to principals, teachers and students has been conducted with the Nelson Mandela School in Berlin. In the program, two students and one teacher from each school visit the partner school on the other continent every year in order to attend classes there and get to know life in the other country. The Deutsche Schule Johannesburg will soon become the third member of this partnership.
On behalf of the Siemens Stiftung, academics at the University of the Western Cape – School of Science and Mathematics Education are examining the use of Experimento I 10+ in South Africa's Western Cape province. The acceptance, functionality and practicality of Experimento for South Africa's teaching and learning requirements were examined between June and November 2013 using participant observation, interviews, conversations, and feedback discussions. The research focused on teachers and teaching students from science subjects.
The results showed that the experiment kits are valued as particularly beneficial to lessons. Teachers appreciate the easy access to the materials provided. The (prospective) teachers also rated the experiment- and activity-based methods positively, seeing them as less abstract than teaching approaches based on direct instruction. Learning through experimentation also proved to be a successful teaching method – even in classes of up to 60 students. Furthermore, teachers noted the development in students' performance, observing that their audience understood scientific and technological interrelationships more easily when the students experienced them in the form of experiments. Participants identified multilingualism in teaching, which can sometimes lead to language barriers, as a challenge for the further development of Experimento.