The NWU is helping to bring the magic of science to rural classrooms. Through its researchers’ involvement in the Teachers without borders project, more than 3 000 microscopes have been provided to schools in the North West, Limpopo, Northern Cape and Gauteng.

These microscopes – called the Stanford foldscopes – are an inexpensive way to empower learners to do scientific research. Each unit costs R30, which is a highly affordable alternative to conventional microscopes, which most schools cannot afford.


Each foldscope consists of a microscope lens mounted on a cardboard body. It can be easily assembled even by very young learners, and brings fun and practical experience into the classroom. Learners can investigate anything from water to plants and insects through the lenses.


Learners can even use their phones to take photos through the lenses and post the images in an app so that learners from other provinces, and even countries abroad, can also share their pictures.


“It is a wonderful instrument for them to not only discover, but also share and discuss their findings,” says Prof Josef de Beer, research professor at the School for Natural Sciences and Technology for Education, and researcher in the research focus area Self-Directed Learning.


Becoming a flagship project


The full title of the project is "Teachers without borders: Creating indigenous knowledge science labs in rural schools". Conceived in 2016, the project has taken off since the Carl and Emily Fuchs Foundation made it one of their 50th anniversary flagship projects by providing a lot of the funding for it.


“There are three major challenges in providing children with quality science education. This project aims to help teachers to overcome these,” Josef says.


These hurdles are underqualified science and mathematics teachers, schools that are not equipped to nurture inquiry-based learning due to a lack of effective laboratories, and a science and mathematics curriculum that does not always show learners the relevance of science in society.


Implementing indigenous knowledge


The Teachers without borders project entails more than just the foldscopes. Researchers are also developing resource packs for mathematics, natural sciences and technology. This includes indigenous knowledge games that will simplify the teaching of many of the concepts in the mathematics and natural sciences curriculum.


Lecturers also present various cycles of short learning programmes (SLPs) for science, mathematics and technology teachers. A strong focus of these SLPs is to foster self-directed learning in teachers and learners.


*Three lucky readers can each win a Stanford foldscope and a book, People's Plants. To enter the lucky draw, click here and answer the five questions in this short questionnaire before 7 August 2019.


The Stanford foldscopes were developed at Stanford University by Manu Prakash of the Prakash Lab. The video above shows how these foldscopes are used in South African schools.



Josef, who is also a researcher in the research focus area Self-Directed Learning , explains to a group of learners of Hoërskool Calvinia in the Northern Cape how the foldscopes can be used to investigate nature. With him is life sciences teacher Marlize Huisamen.


Prof Josef de Beer from the School for Natural Sciences and Technology for Education says the Stanford foldscopes enable learners to discover the wonder of science and share their findings with each other.



bring magic of science to classrooms