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Sci-Bono powerhouse turns attention to JNF environmental education

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He was one of the brains behind Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Johannesburg, and has been knighted by the French government. Now, David Kramer, a Johannesburg-based educator, has taken on the role of chief executive of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre in Mamelodi.

“Since my retirement from formal work in 2019, I’ve been working with a number of NGOs [non-governmental organisations] in education and development,” he told the SA Jewish Report. “This seemed like as good a cause as any. It seemed like a good idea to use my experience in NGOs and in education to help the centre out.

“Somehow, my name was suggested by somebody. They phoned me, and we sat down and had a conversation. There seemed to be a fit, and I agreed to an initial term of six months. We’ll see what happens after that.”

Kramer succeeds Riaan Visser, who is emigrating to London, and the custom-designed environmental discovery science centre is “very excited to have David on board”, says Michael Kransdorff, the chairperson of JNF South Africa.

Kramer helped build the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Johannesburg and in 2011, became a Knight of the National Order of Merit of France for his work not only with South Africa and France, but also in science.

The Walter Sisulu centre offers environmental education. It consists of an auditorium and four educational-themed rooms concentrated on waste, energy, water, and biodiversity. It’s surrounded by a reticulated wetland and a demonstration food and medicinal plant garden, showcasing indigenous plants.

The centre is designed to use green technology such as passive solar orientation, thermal comfort, water harvesting and saving, and natural and energy-efficient lighting.

The JNF established the centre in Mamelodi in the 1990s as an environmental science centre, “at the request of President Nelson Mandela at the time”, Kransdorff said. “The JNF asked how it could help after the transition, and he asked that we do something in Mamelodi because it was a neglected township and there wasn’t a lot of money invested there. So, the JNF partnered with the education department to set up an environmental centre where pupils from many schools in Mamelodi can learn about science and the environment.”

Kramer believes the centre has done some remarkable work. “I’m hoping to be able to maintain the momentum and hopefully to be able to grow the centre to a slightly higher-impact centre than it has been over the past year or two during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Helping the centre recover from the pandemic is his first priority. His second is to return the centre to its former level of activity. “Number three is to grow the level of activity and make sure it has a higher impact on the education development of young people in Mamelodi,” Kramer said.

Raised and schooled in the Free State, Kramer graduated with Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Education degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand. “Then I went to London and trained at the Royal Society of Arts in teaching English as a foreign language.”

After working for one of the big insurance companies in South Africa, he left the country for all sorts of reasons, mainly political. “I came back to the country in 1984, and decided not to go back into formal business. I have been involved with educational NGOs since then. I spent 20 years or so with an organisation called Protec [Programme for Technological Careers], which works to provide maths and science support for kids in disadvantaged communities. In 2004, I was asked to help set up the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, which I helped to build as chief executive from 2014 to 2016. I then left Sci-Bono and took on the position of deputy director-general for ICT [Information Communication Technology] in the Gauteng department of e-government, and I was the provincial CIO [chief information officer] until I retired in 2019.”

Kramer’s skills, and experience don’t just lie in maths, science, and the technological education of young people, but also in digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies by teachers and pupils. “I’m an informal educator at heart, and have been for the past 40 years or so,” he said.

Of the centre, Kramer said, “We’re looking at strengthening the contribution to school education and seeing how we can help young people in Mamelodi schools improve their achievement in mathematics with physical and natural sciences. We hope to be able to work a lot more with schools in some of the mainstream curriculum-support activities, and possibly also to start working more closely with teachers in the sciences and strengthening our relationship with the district office of the Gauteng education department.”

Last year, the centre was accredited as a Level 1 Science Centre by the department of science and innovation. “We’re the only one in the township,” Kransdorff said. “We have exhibits, instructors, and educators which teach children about water, recycling, biofuels, natural sciences, and different plants.

“There’s a need in South Africa for maths and science education. It’s such a glaring gap, so we have plans to expand the centre under David’s leadership. It’s also an opportunity to showcase Israel as the world leader in water, technology, and science. There’s a real possibility for us to work with our partners in Israel to showcase and bring Israeli technology to South Africa.”

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1 Comment

  1. Paula Green

    Jun 3, 2022 at 9:20 am

    I would love to re-connect with David Kramer. We worked in the same building when he was in Protec and I in Molteno Project. I, like him, am now retired and have set up, with two friends, the Kwasa Education and Skills Trust to support promising secondary school learners in Kwazulu Natal. It would be great to explore possible synergies.

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