Hi-tech for high seas

Lawhill Maritime Centre head boy Bohlale Motsielo, head girl Katlego Makgato and Premier Helen Zille are pictured at the official opening of the school's new facilities

A world-first electronic navigation classroom for secondary school students has been opened in Simon’s Town.

Twenty-two years ago, Lawhill Maritime Centre became the first school in South Africa to offer students a maritime-focused education while they are still in high school.

On Tuesday March 28, the school opened its new education and boarding facilities. These include the navigation classroom, a marine sciences classroom, a ships library and resource centre and additional accommodation.

The new facilities – which were funded by the TK Foundation – were opened by Premier Helen Zille.

When the school opened, it introduced two subjects, maritime economics and nautical science, to combat youth unemployment and poverty by preparing young South Africans for maritime careers while still in Grades 10 to 12. The two subjects are part of the national curriculum.

The school’s 66 pupils come from all over South Africa and Namibia.

Lawhill’s head, Debbie Owen, said nautical science instruction had, until recently, relied on paper charts and paper radar plots.

“Lawhill identified the need to provide PC-based simulation training, especially in electronic chart display systems (ECDIS), as the students will encounter ECDIS both in their tertiary navigation studies and at sea,” she said.

“To ensure that our nautical science course remains current and relevant, and to provide a head start for those of our learners who wish to embark on a sea-going career, we felt it imperative that the students are exposed to ECDIS while at Lawhill.”

The appropriate simulator software, valued at over R1 million, was donated to Lawhill by Maretek’s Captain Kieron Cox.

Electronic equipment was also donated by the AP Moller Foundation/Safmarine, and ECDIS training will be done by the South African Maritime Training Academy (SAMTRA).

The equipment and training reaches beyond the school environment too, as Samtra will use the new ECDIS facility to train qualified officers during the school holidays, creating a revenue stream for Lawhill. The school gets no direct state funding and relies on grants, donations and sponsored students bursaries.

Lawhill has also worked closely with the Two Oceans Aquarium to develop a marine sciences curriculum to form part of the South African FET Grades 10 to12 and the matric qualification.

The document is awaiting approval by the national Department of Education.”We hope to introduce the subject to Grade 10s at Lawhill in January 2018,” Ms Owen said.

The new Lawhill facilities also house important maritime photographic collections that record Cape Town’s maritime history.

“Among these are the collections of Robert Pabst, Karel de Vries, Michael Stuttaford and Unicorn Lines. We are privileged to be the custodians of these unique collections,” Ms Owen said.

There are also several interesting items donated by the family of the late Captain Dai Davies, one of the country’s most prominent salvage experts, and Rob Young, another very prominent figure in the South African shipping industry and marine engineering sector.

“In the venue is a plaque in honour of the late Captain Paul Staples, whose career included two circumnavigations aboard the original sailing ship Lawhill. During those voyages, Lawhill rounded Cape Horn twice. Captain Staples also made trans-Atlantic voyages under sail in another old sailing ship, making him one of the most seasoned South African seafarers,” Ms Owen said.

The expansion of the Lawhill was significant when considering the importance of the shipping sector to the South African economy, Ms Owen said, noting that the state had launched Operation Phakisa a few years ago to, among other things, create more jobs for young people in the maritime sector.

Aubrey Sosibo is a former Lawhill student. After matric, he enrolled in Maritime Studies at CPUT.

After a year of study, he served as a cadet on board a vessel, where he was told not to touch the ECDIS as he would break it.

“I was very eager to learn as a cadet, but I know first-hand how much of an advantage this system will be to students currently at Lawhill how it will prepare them for careers at sea,” he said, adding that the maritime industry was very technological and cadets had to do a two-week course before they could handle the ECDIS system in the field.

“How much more competent will the students of Lawhill be, if they can move into the field with working knowledge of the ECDIS rather than this two week course. What they will learn will be far superior to the two week course in the industry, making them better equipped for their positions. By doing this, Lawhill has made their education practical and relevant to the industry, and given their learners a distinct advantage,” he said.

Mr Sosibo received the Dean’s Medal for the top student in the entire Engineering Faculty at CPUT. He passed with distinction.