Mobile Science Lab

The Mobile Science Lab has been operating for many years as a Rhodes University outreach project. Due to funding challenges, it became a project of GADRA Education in 2016 and operated very effectively in a number of schools for 2016. The evaluation of the MSL, conducted towards the end of 2016, pointed to the need to focus the intervention in Schools that show receptivity to the Programme. It also reinforced the huge potential value of the programme in contributing to improved Life Sciences marks, as the Practical contribution towards the CASS marks is significant, i.e. 30% in Term 1 & 2 and 12% in Term 2. The potential for increased impact by providing further input and support, pre- and post- the practical lesson, was also recognised. In discussion with Ms Kim Weaver, Rhodes University Science Faculty Community Engagement Coordinator, it was agreed that postgraduate science students could potentially play a significant role in providing this pre- and post-practical support.

Problem to be addressed

Transformation of public schooling is a long-term priority, but in the short-term there is serious concern about the depth and breadth of the schooling crisis in the Grahamstown District. The local matric results are very poor with the most failed subject being Life Sciences. There is a paucity, in the no-fee township schools, of good Science teaching, and particularly of demonstration of key science principles through practical work and demonstrations. The teachers often do not have the required equipment to do Science practicals, and if they do, they do not have the training or inclination to organise Science practicals for their learners. Learner performance in Life Sciences (the biggest subject in terms of number of learners writing it) is thus very poor. Improving the practical component of the learners’ CASS mark can not only improve their Life Sciences CASS mark, but can also contribute to an interest in, and competence in, Life Sciences.

Outputs and Outcomes

In the 3 core schools, Mary Waters, Ntsika and Nombulelo, Grade 10, 11 and 12 learners will each have one Practical lesson presented to them in Terms 1, 2 & 3.  Handouts/worksheets are provided for each Practical and this forms the basis for assessing learners practical work. Support is also provided to Life Sciences teachers as requested. Each Practical will be preceded by a two-hour Pre-lesson, which will focus on foundational work on the topic, explaining terminology and theory required for the practical. It will be followed by a two-hour Post-lesson which will aim to reinforce the theory and practical work, assist learners with completing the practical worksheet, e.g. data collection, evaluating results, and graph work. These pre- and post-lessons will be conducted by Rhodes Science student volunteers and will be in smaller groups of approximately 10 learners.


This project is one of a raft of projects already discussed which will ultimately have the impact

of transforming these three schools into centres of excellence in the Grahamstown

community. Having demonstrated the impact on these three schools the focus can then shift

to other township High Schools in the community;

The direct outcomes of this project are:

  • Improved Life Sciences results – Baselines have been established during 2016 for Grade 12s at Ntsika and Mary Waters. All data will be collected for all Grade 10-12 learners in each of the 3 schools for March, June and November. Analyses of these results will be conducted to measure the impact of the project.
  • Teachers are empowered to teach Life Sciences more effectively by seeing Practical work demonstrated and through requests for specific support, where relevant.
  • Ultimately more students will choose to study the Sciences at Rhodes University. The number of learners being accepted to study BSC and BSc Foundation will be tracked from 2017 onwards, a baseline is available for the Grade 12 class of 2016.
  • There will undoubtedly also be positive outcomes for the Rhodes Science students as the value of tutoring and mentoring has already been clearly demonstrated in other work within the Vice Chancellor’s initiative.


Key Areas of Activity

Approximately 40-66 Rhodes University science students will volunteer and groups of student volunteers will be formed to assist with a total of approximately 670, Gr12, 11 and 10 learners in each of the three participating schools. Ideally, they will work in a ratio of 1 student volunteer per 10 High School learners. For Grade 12, there will be 3 groups of six student volunteers, for Grade 11, also 3 groups of six student volunteers and for Grade 10, 5 groups of six student volunteers. They will be recruited by the RU Coordinator, Ms Weaver, and she will work with the MSL Coordinator in preparing the students to conduct the pre-lessons and postlessons. At the beginning of each term all the student volunteers will meet with the MSL Coordinator and Technician and the RU Coordinator to have a briefing session on the Practical for the term. This will include a full run-through of the Pre- and Post-Practical sessions planned for each Grade.


Two-hour pre-lessons will then be run in each school on a designated afternoon with the learners of the relevant Grades. They will address the foundational work for the Practical, including explanations of terminology and the theory that is necessary as a basis for understanding the Practical. 

Practical Lesson

The following Practicals will be presented by the MSL Coordinator and Technician in each of

the Schools on a date agreed with the school Life Sciences contact person:


Grade 12

Grade 11

Grade 10


Term 1

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)


Organic compounds

Term 2




Term 3



Cardiac Cycle


Post-Lesson Reinforcement of Concepts and Skills

Two-hour post-lessons will be run in each school on a designated afternoon with the learners of the relevant grades. The Rhodes students will be accompanied by the MSL technician at each of these sessions. They will focus on reinforcing the theory and practical work covered in the practical. Student volunteers will assist learners with the skills and input required to complete their Practical worksheets. This will focus on data collection, evaluating results,manipulating results and graph work.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Life Sciences results of all participating learners at the 3 schools will be gathered in March, June and November. These will be compared with the baseline (where available) from 2016. Successful University applications after June 2017 will also be gathered and the number that are BSc or BSc Foundation acceptance will be recorded.

Management Plan

The Programme will be under the overall Management of the GADRA Education Manager. Day-to-day management will be handled by the MSL Coordinator in consultation with the RU CE Coordinator (Ms Kim Weaver). A student leader (senior post-graduate student) will be selected to liaise with all the student volunteer groups.

Last Modified: Thu, 19 Jan 2017 16:27:30 SAST