Learners test engineering skills through bridge building competition in Gqeberha


Learners test engineering skills through bridge building competition in Gqeberha

Caption: Winners of 2024 Bridge Building Competition run by iGEMS in partnership with SANRAL

Gqeberha, 2 July 2024 – The South African National Roads Agency (SOC) Limited (SANRAL) hosted a Bridge Building Competition for learners in Grade 11 and Grade 12 at Labco in Struandale, Gqeberha.

Twenty-seven learners put their heads together in separate teams, drawn from 12 schools in the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality and one from Paterson in the Sundays River Valley Municipality.

The competition is run through Incubating Great Engineering Minds (iGEMS) and has 35 learners selected from maths and science classes. The idea is to instil a passion for engineering, which would encourage them to become engineers in various fields.

Every year they meet to put calculations and angles together to build a bridge from wooden pieces that is then tested for strength and stability using weights.
Tronél Candiotes-Strydom, a professional Civil Engineering Technologist for GIBB Consulting Engineers, has been a facilitator for the competition since its inception in 2015. The competition was suspended for two years during the Covid-19 period.

‘I’m an external assistant for iGEMS,” said Candiotes-Strydom.“ I get involved with the the civil engineering aspects of the competition because I’m in the industry. What I like about the programme is working with a small group of the kids to expose them to what a future in Civil Engineering could look like. I was so surprised the first time I got involved, that most of them are prefects, headboys and headgirls in their schools. The excitement from SANRAL’s side is getting involved in moulding the future of the leaners and giving back to community.

Tronél enabled the learners to see the fun side of the competition and encouraged them to work as a team. “We give them the basic building material and tell them that we are going to build this bridge together and test it. The main learning outcome is the realisation of what could be created with very little resources”, said Candiotes-Strydom. Operations Coordinator at Unity in Africa Foundation, which runs iGEMS, said, “The key objective of the iGEMS Education-to-Employment Programme is to increase the number of technical and engineering graduates from disadvantaged communities in the Nelson Mandela Metro and then place them in permanent employment. This is critical to both the region and South Africa’s economic development.”

SANRAL’s Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator, Michelle Ah Shene, expressed the roads agency’s excitement at seeing the growth and development of the prgramme since it began nine years ago.

“The scholars have developed in a way that they could use these skills which is science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) as a foundation for future careers in the STEM field. We are therefore looking forward to the future involvement of SANRAL in this programme,” said Ah Shene.

Then it was time to test the strength of the seven bridges, with some collapsing within seconds. The first prize went to The Forward Thinkers with 68.6 points. Lungile Masimini from Ethembeni Enrichment Centre said that co-operation mattered, in reaching the top spot.

“I didn’t come with the mentality that ‘last year I did this so everybody should listen to me’. I gave my team space to think for themselves and there was dedication amongst us. In the end, teamwork made us the winners,” Masimini said.

Learners were given four hours to build the bridge and for the first time since 2015, no penalties were issued for not following the engineering brief.