Dedicated research scientist Charles Maphanga believes that being a responsible role model and transferring knowledge and life experience are some of the most effective ways to empower learners.
Schooled in Steelpoort in Limpopo Province, he knows first-hand the pressures of a disadvantaged learning environment, and has made it his life mission to help develop young learners, particularly in the sciences.
A biophotonics scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) national laser centre (NLC) in Pretoria, Maphanga is reading towards his PhD in physics. His research project focuses on the development of point-of-care diagnostic devices that can be used for patients in resource-limited healthcare facilities to improve the diagnosis, treatment initiation and monitoring of diseases in the healthcare system.
Awarded best masters studentship at the CSIR’s NLC 2017 excellence awards, and acknowledged as a finalist at the organisation’s wide excellence awards in 2018, Maphanga’s research work has been presented numerous times at local and international conferences.
As a product of mentorship himself, he is passionate about developing young people in science. He is the founder and executive director of Lesedi Academy for Science Advancement, a registered non-profit organisation that aims to educationally empower high school learners from grades 10 to 12 by offering monthly educational workshops in physical sciences, mathematics, life sciences and English. The academy also conducts annual job-shadowing, career days, mentorships and innovation camps in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) to empower pupils.
“I established the academy to help improve the pass rate of grade 12 rural learners so that they have a better chance to qualify for bursaries at universities to pursue careers in Stem fields. I also tackle the number of academic drop-outs at high school level which results in economic and social burden to the local communities and the country at large,” he says, explaining that part of his goal is to establish science centres in the villages.
Maphanga is the current president of the CSIR optics student chapter, having served as the outreach coordinator and secretary for the same organisation, which comprises postgraduate students registered in any light-related degrees at any South African university. It promotes awareness for careers in the Stem fields through outreach projects in rural areas and previously disadvantages townships. – Linda Doke