Profile: Krishnie Naidoo’s passion to develop promising young scientists

What brings Eskom Expo for Young Scientists’ Academic Director, Dr Krishnie Naidoo her greatest joy is to help develop promising researchers and seeing them grow into internationally-celebrated young scientists.

Naidoo, who recently obtained a Doctoral Degree (PhD) in Science Education from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has volunteered as a Committee Member and Regional Science Fair Director at Eskom Expo from 2012, prior to taking up her current role at the National Expo Office.

“My part in delivering on our strategic objectives of growth and expansion requires me to design, oversee, direct, and monitor the implementation of academic programmes. In addition, I am involved with developing resources – a role I thoroughly enjoy because I am constantly learning, whether it is the latest green technology or the science behind cricket spin bowling! This requires a dynamic approach where I have to be in tune with international research, local education curriculum requirements, and trends in learners’ interests,” she says.

“At Eskom Expo, I do enjoy being part of a very efficient, committed, and hard-working team with common interests and goals, made up of Management, Provincial Coordinators, Academic Programme Officers, Media and Project Management teams, and volunteers; all led by a visionary Board of Directors,” she adds.

With roots in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal where she lived, studied, and worked for many years, Naidoo has a slew of diverse interests, including a passion for astronomy, psychology, the science of magic, ancient architecture, anthropology and historical studies of scientists – her favourite being Leonardo da Vinci. She also enjoys reading and writing, nature trails, photography, fixing stuff, and all things green.

“My interest in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI) began as a child, always asking questions that mostly began with ‘why?’ and of course, the more answers I found, the more questions I had. Later, it was the learners I worked with who inspired me and fuelled my passion for STEMI,” says Naidoo.

“My background is teaching, which has to be the most understated and undervalued profession. The privilege of imparting knowledge and skills is not only rewarding but makes you a lifelong learner. When we teachers see our learners grow and become bigger and better than ourselves, it gives us an unrivalled sense of achievement. My chosen field is the sciences – I am not only fascinated by how our ever-evolving world works, but by how little we know and how insignificant we are in the Universe,” she adds.

Naidoo notes that in terms of growth, Eskom Expo’s reach (geographical footprint and transformation), benefits to young scientists and the diversity of its participants, volunteers and staff, have grown substantially over the years.

“We are now reaching more Quintile 1 to 3 schools (no fee schools) and rural schools. Not only has our participation increased, but the quality of the research and innovation has improved. Our focus has shifted from the science fair day to learner development before and after the event through several targeted programmes. The focus has also shifted to developing transferable 21st Century Skills that learners can use to navigate life in the years to come and not just at Expo,” says Naidoo.

“Developing young scientists is not just about the science fair research project, but about shaping how they think, solve problems, be creative and innovative, and their communication and technical skills, that can be applied to any chosen career path,” she adds.

While Eskom Expo is gearing up for its first face-to-face International Science Fair in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year saw a phenomenal increase in the number of projects exhibited in the face-to-face regional expos hosted around South Africa – an increase from 1,329 projects in 2021 to 4,432 this year.

Naidoo notes that the COVID-19 pandemic was a much-needed wake-up call for everyone, as the organisation questioned its relevance and the way it operated.

“Our response was to change the way we did things – how we viewed the world and connected with our learners. We had to upskill our staff and volunteers and adapt our resources for the virtual world. While we missed the valuable personal interactions, we gained in other areas, such as our productivity and development of varied skills” says Naidoo.

“The pandemic forced us to interrogate what we do – are the young scientists we are developing relevant? Are we equipping them with the skills-set needed to solve problems we are yet to experience? Can our scientists proudly stand side-by-side next to the giants from the rest of the world?” she questioned.

The answer to these questions is a resounding yes, as many of our Eskom Expo alumni are now teachers, researchers, scientists, lecturers, engineers and successful entrepreneurs who return to Expo to pay it forward.

Naidoo remains fortunate to be part of Expo’s 42-year journey, saying that one of the organisation’s achievements has to be its ability to constantly evolve while staying true to the founders’ visions, such as maintaining excellence in developing young scientists but now in the era of social media and virtual learning.

“Other significant achievements are the increased participation and performance of previously marginalised race groups and females. Together with our partners, we have helped transform the Competition landscape in the country. With the generosity of our sponsors, particularly Eskom, our greatest achievement has to be the bursaries and other prizes, annually exceeding millions of rands. This has opened doors and changed the lives of many young scientists,” she concludes.

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