Founder of Aerobuddies Joe Phalwane is transforming the education sector and helping instil a positive attitude in children of South Africa towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM education).

After spending a decade in an aviation industry, Phalwane realised there was a business opportunity in the education sector. His experience and passion for aviation and mathematics inspired him to start a business that would help children learn STEM outside the formal classroom in a more entertaining way.

When Phalwane was training for a private pilot license, he saw a young boy helping his father with pre flight checks.

“This inspired me and I also did research and found that in the USA, there was a guy who was doing an aviation programme for kids – in this case, it was a real and they were teaching kids from the ages of five and training then how to fly real fixed wing aeroplanes,” he says.

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It was during this time that he realised that aviation could be a powerful tool for empowering children, while simultaneously educating them in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“Almost everyone gets fascinated with flying and so I decided to use it as a tool for edutainment,” he says.

Aerobuddies offers a range of edutainment programmes for children, including flight simulation, robotics, aeromodelling, birthday parties and online mathematics lessons.

Children are introduced to STEM education through the science of flying an aircraft and the use of flight simulators, children learn embedded knowledge of Mathematics and Science as well as develop life skills such as discipline, focus, teamwork, leadership, gross motor skills, positive self esteem, perseverance and the ability to deal with adverse circumstances.

Children also learn how to design and launch rockets, design, make and fly their own aeromodels and how to code and program robots to do what they desire them to do.

“We are located in Diepkloof, Soweto, and we have a franchise location in Bethlehem in the Free State,” he says.

After winning the 702 Sage small business awards, they have received several franchise enquiries and are working on opening new locations.

The company is planning to open two sites in Kempton Park and Pretoria soon. He says the business shows how passionate he is about education.

“When you look into the future of the fourth-generation economy, it requires employees with STEM skills and this programme helps so that we can change the children’s attitude towards these subjects,” he says.

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He says mathematics and science are considered to be difficult subjects, but exposing children to programmes like what they offer can change their attitude and help them create passion and the will to work hard at school.

The challenges to his business have been affordability and that most parents, specifically in townships, don’t realise the importance of why STEM education enrichment is linked to a bright future in the workplace.

He says they are planning to work with corporate social investment programmes and educate their market about STEM education.

“Our programmes empower children with life and leadership skills, perseverance and the ability to deal with failures and work as part of a team,” he says.

He says that growing the business is challenging, but he is planning to expand through a franchise system.

Aerobuddies has won various first prize awards, including the 702 Sage Small Business Award, 2016 ATNS Avi Award, 2016 eGov eKasi ICT Summit Award, 2016 City of Joburg SBS Award and they are the finalist of the 2017 Eduweek Inspiration Award.