High school pupils battle it out for the title of top researchers

06 December 2018 - 07:00 By Belinda Pheto
Young people with big plans on environmental issues, from the left: Mbalenhle Ntshangase, Lwandile Nkosi and Mbali Mhlongo of Kiriyatswane Secondary School in Embalenhle, Secunda.
Young people with big plans on environmental issues, from the left: Mbalenhle Ntshangase, Lwandile Nkosi and Mbali Mhlongo of Kiriyatswane Secondary School in Embalenhle, Secunda.
Image: Belinda Pheto

Three pupils of Kiriyatswane Secondary School in Embalenhle, Secunda, this week took part in a presentation on biodiversity and environmental governance, bringing issues to the symposium that were foreign to pupils from Gaunteng. 

 Lwandile Nkosi, Mbalenhle Ntshangase and Mbali Mhlongo made their presentation at the Young Researchers Symposium, hosted by SA Institute of Institutional Affairs, at Wits University on Wednesday.

Poor service delivery levels in their local municipality, Govan Mbeki, was a key highlight in their presentation.

“Sewage leaks are a daily occurrence in our area. Our local mall and post office have been burned and we have a very small library. Our school doesn’t have a library,” Mhlongo said.

According to the pupils, the waste management in their municipality was dysfunctional and maintenance on municipal infrastructure was also a problem, resulting in sewage running into the local river.

Lack of knowledge on environmental issues was one of the key elements they identified as problems.

“About 85% of fellow learners didn’t know what environmental governance was. So we had to start by educating them and encouraging them to be conscious of the environment with everything that they do,” they said in their presentation.

They were supported by teachers to get a refuse bin into every classroom of their school. 

“This eliminated the amount of litter on school premises and we moved things a step forward by making the whole thing competitive. We introduced awards to the best, clean classroom,” Nkosi said.

They took the project to other schools and even homes, but  were rejected by the local municipality.

“We didn’t want it to just be a research project,” Nkosi said. 


The pollution of the Vaal River led to them to choose their topic. They said they realised the sewage leaks in their local river could also be contributing to problems such as those in the Vaal.

The symposium allowed high school pupils to present their research and recommendations on climate change, sustainable development and biodiversity.

Ntshangase said she felt intimidated competing against some of pupils from the best schools in the country.

The team was competing against 11 other teams from other provinces in the country. 

“I wanted to buy badges that I can put on my blazer so that I could look cool and intelligent like the other learners from Model C schools,” she said.

However, Ntshangase said she was motivated by her teammates.

“Mbali [Mhlongo] told me that there was no need [to be intimidated]. She told me that I have to believe in our presentation and know that all the hard work we put in the project is what will matter,” she said.

Their teacher, Sipho Sibeko, said being from an area with lack of proper resources made it easy for them to come up with a relevant research topic.

"Some of the things we experience in our area are foreign to people living in Gauteng,” Sibeko said.

One of the adjudicators, Odwa Ntsika, said the presentations from the 12 groups were interesting and it was heart-warming to see young people trying to resolve big issues. 

“It was just great to see how all groups were able to link well the international and national problems and come up with solutions that we as academics are looking at to bring about change,” he said.

Ntsika said the groups took them by surprise when they came up with great solutions that were feasible.

“We didn’t see it coming. They truly did a great work with their research. They highlighted the lack of involvement between stakeholders, which is a very important. They identified and described problems and went to come up with solutions to those problems. It was truly outstanding,”  Ntsika said. 

The symposium forms part of the US Mission to SA’s efforts to promote active engagement among SA youth on issues affecting the region.