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Plascon, “Africa Meets Africa” team up for maths via art project

A project that uses Ndebele art to explain Pythagoras's Theorem to schoolchildren has recently benefited from the assistance of Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), Plascon and the “Africa Meets Africa” project.
The project is part of Africa Meets Africa's uniquely South African methodology of using indigenous arts skills to make mathematics less abstract and fearful to learners.

The way Ndebele art and Pythagoras's Theorem interface in a compellingly accessible way will be revealed to mathematics and art educators at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre on Saturday, 8 August from 11am to 12.30pm.

Well-known mathematics educator Jackie Scheiber (currently a national examiner for Mathematics Literacy) will address educators while several famous Ndebele artists complete a mural on the front wall of the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown.

World-famous artists

The mural forms part of Africa meets Africa's third educator's resource - “Africa meets Africa: Ndebele Women designing Identity”. Already, world-famous Ndebele artists Esther Mahlangu and Francinah Ndemande have made a start on the mural that will be used to explain Pythagoras's Theorem to the learners who visit the Sci-Bono Centre weekly.

The mural is partially complete and the finishing touches and educator's workshop by Schieber will be funded by Plascon and BASA, enabling Sci-Bono to incorporate the Ndebele wall painting as a regular display and educational tool.

Thandi O'Hagan, education officer at Sci-Bono, said: “The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is committed to bringing maths to life and is thrilled to have the Africa meets Africa project creating a hands-on interactive maths exhibit.”

Said Helene Smuts, founder director of the Africa meets Africa Project: “Ndebele art has captured the imagination of the world and presently, of course, all South Africans identify with the colourful Ndebele designs wrapped around iconic 2010 soccer balls! But very few people know the compelling history behind the Ndebele visual language, or grasp the sophisticated mathematics of its design.”

Smuts revealed that, until recently, the Ndebele artists had no idea that their creative endeavours would assist learners with mathematical concepts. “Esther Mahlangu will tell you she has never opened a mathematics textbook, while Francinah Ndemande has said she uses her eyes only,” commented Smuts.

Natural alignment with the arts

For BASA member Plascon, the chance to contribute to a lasting project that combines visual appeal with heritage and teaching proved a compelling package.

Patrick Seager, corporate social investment & PR manager, said: “Plascon's alignment with the arts is a natural one, although our paints are used for buildings, stadiums, houses and the like. Looking at the request we felt that it has far more to offer than simply an adornment on a building in that it has a distinct cultural as well as teaching angle to it.

“The issue of illustrating maths and science through the artistic field and ancient practice of Ndebele art is a novel one and one feels that children viewing the work will take away a more practical understanding of the sciences. We are really looking forward to seeing the work completed and are grateful that our membership of BASA has brought us into this wonderful project.”

Interested educators are asked to meet at the mural scaffolding at the Sci-Bono Centre just before 11am on Saturday, 8 August.
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