Aquarium guru talks to SABBEX about the country’s latest matric subject and its potential impact on the maritime sector

Generations of seafarers have perished trying to solve the mysteries of the ocean. Now you can download them all on your cell phone, without getting the least bit wet.

As from next year Marine Science will be an official matric subject, available from grade 10 but only in a handful of schools countrywide. It is the first new matric subject to be introduced in South Africa in over a decade and the first ever that can be delivered entirely without textbooks – ie in digital format accessible online. Instead of deciphering tattered and outdated textbooks, kids will be able to download course videos on their cell phones.

“It was signed into legislation on Friday two weeks ago – we have been waiting for that since October last year,” says a visibly excited Russell Stevens, the course co-ordinator, during a coffee interview to discuss the new curriculum. “It will be introduced entirely on eplatform.”

Stevens, the head of education at the Two Oceans Aquarium, has been developing the subject for years, first in its nascent form as a successful ‘enrichment’ programme based at the Aquarium, and later in minute detail together with a team of fellow scientists and educators from the Western Cape Education Department. The result is an all-you-need-to-know-for-now introduction to marine science that, even if it doesn’t wet hands and feets, will almost certainly whet appetites for future maritime careers.

“We were approached by parents and students and by the education department officials who asked us to write a curriculum,” explains Stevens, who wrote much of the material himself – and who is still writing it. “Those who were our peers in education noticed the values of what we were doing (at the Aquarium) and asked us to develop a school curriculum.”

The curriculum has four main pillars: oceanography, marine biology, ocean ecology, and humans and the ocean. As such it ranges from the interplay of ocean currents and wind, to over-fishing and climate change. Course content was selected in consultation with some of the doyens of the local scientific community, such as George Branch from the University of Cape Town. Input was also received from other universities.

Although the curriculum will be ready to go for the 2020 school year, it is only being implemented in ten schools initially due to the limited number of educators currently involved. This number would increase in future. “It will be offered at schools that we can support –we can’t offer it at too many due to limited capacity,” Stevens says, adding that Western Cape government officials had been hugely helpful and instrumental in translating the dream into reality.

He says one of the goals of the curriculum is to stress a ‘trans-disciplinary’ mindset, to emphasise that marine science reaches into multiple aspects of life: “I don’t believe that any element of marine science should be studied independently in a silo – you can’t study the weather without studying the waves or currents. It is all so interrelated.”

The course will hopefully also inspire youngsters to consider a variety of maritime careers, including boatbuilding.

Stevens also believes the introduction of the course comes at a critical juncture, with many ecosystems at tipping point: “The resources are not infinite. It is taking cognisance of the fact that this is a sensitive environment – there is only one ocean.”

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