Expanding young minds: geneLearners Workshop III a great success

By Shannon Derman and Elsabet Wessels

August has been a month of teaching and learning opportunities at CenGen! We were privileged to host both the geneLearners Workshop III and the geneTeachers Workshop IV at our laboratory.

Since the inception of the first geneTeachers Workshop held at our laboratory in 2021, our ultimate goal was to be able to extend the Workshop and tailor it to high school biology learners. With support from DIPLOMICS, we were able to make this goal a reality, and we hosted the geneLearners Workshop III for 24 top Grade 10 and 11 biology learners from the Breede River Valley Education District from 2-5 August 2022.

The workshops aimed to introduce students to the field of basic plant biology, plant genetics, GMOs and how companies like CenGen use genetics to improve plants. The concept of the workshop was constructed based on the Life Science curriculum taught in grade 10 and 11. It was a huge success, with the students showing great enthusiasm to both the theory and practical sessions. They were also introduced to the different types of jobs within agricultural genetics, and what they would be required to study to enter this type of field one day.

This workshop opened the learners’ minds to a field they previously didn’t know existed, and changed their perception of what it might look or feel like to be involved in agricultural genetics. Based on the feedback, this is an event that they wished their peers could attend too. Likewise, the three days that the CenGen staff spent interacting with the learners were eye-opening and we feel privileged to have been able to share our passion with young minds.

In the week following the geneLearners workshops, we hosted two geneTeachers IV workshops for twenty life science teachers from the Overberg Education District. This was arranged by Mr Hein Adonis, the subject advisor for Life sciences (Overberg Education District, WCED), who attended the geneTeachers Workshop II together with the other WCED subject advisors in 2021.

Like with the learners’ workshops, the teachers were exposed to the real-life applications of the biology content they teach on a daily basis. They were also provided with take-home teaching material to help them explain the more challenging aspects of the syllabus to their students. It is CenGen’s hope that the teachers return to their schools and use this background knowledge to motivate their students to understand and actively pursue genetics in the future.

We’d like to thank DIPLOMICS for their ongoing support of our initiatives, and the WCED for their enthusiasm and collaboration on our projects.