Secrets of the universe accessed via language
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On Wednesday, Praesa delivered 300 copies of George’s Secret Key to the Universe written by Lucy and her father Stephen Hawking, the famed astrophysicist, to keen children at the Molo Mhlaba primary school in Khayelitsha. The book was translated into isiZulu and isiXhosa to stimulate curiosity and interest in science to children in their home language.
The book relays the story of George, who’s taken through the vastness of space by a scientist, his daughter and their supercomputer, Cosmos. Together they fight the forces of evil, using scientific information, facts and theories that they learn along the way.
The book starts by describing black holes, atoms, stars, planets and their moons and covers the foundations of astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology and other principles that govern the universe.
Praesa member Nadia Lubowski said there were 11 official languages in South Africa, but many children were not able to read to comprehend in their own mother tongue.
She said the organisation wanted to bring bilingualism into schools through the book, and other online resources, because there was no printed material available for pupils in their mother tongue.
“It’s great having 11 languages but how do we make it accessible? We have a huge amount of books available online in 11 languages and we develop training material in the curriculum. We use the story as a point of learning,” said Labowski.
Xolisa Guzula, from the School of Education at the University of Cape Town who translated the book, said her son was in Grade 3 when he read the book in English and enjoyed it. She thought that other children would enjoy the book too, which is why Praesa had the book translated.
Guzula said it was not a textbook, but a story of two children exploring the universe, which was a good way to teach children science, instead of them being taught in an abstract manner.
“African languages are rich. We’ve had scientific concepts and names before but because we don’t have access to written text about it, children don’t talk about stars or meteors or comets but we have names for them.
“People use the argument there is no terminology to teach bilingual reading, but it’s a lazy answer. If they write they will discover the terms and they have the ability to create new terms,” said Guzula.@IAmAthinaMay