Teaching science with the ordinary | Political economics

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I have taught science for nearly 12 years in schools and kindergartens in Norway, at the 94 year old Science Museum in London, and for the past few years in communities and schools across Pakistan , from Skardu to Larkana. In my work across Pakistan over the past five years, if one thing has stood out strongly, it’s the importance of using the ordinary to engage communities with science.

This learning has come to the fore during the pandemic. For the first time since we started working in Pakistan, we had no choice but to pause and rethink how we interacted with children, families, teachers and schools. New ways to connect with them were needed. It wasn’t easy at all.

Eventually, despite the many limitations with digital connectivity in most parts of Pakistan, we took a leap of faith and started to digitally engage our partner schools and their students.

While the schools in Lahore and Karachi were fairly easy to hire, several challenges greeted us in Balochistan. Teachers at one of Khuzdar’s girls’ schools had limited digital literacy skills and were not allowed access to smartphones by their families due to prevailing gender norms.

This meant that we could not get in touch with the teachers in the schools who were our only means of reaching the students. There was also limited digital access in their area which compounded our issues. This issue would have remained unresolved had we not worked with a strong community leader like Sumera Mehboob who ran the school in question. Sumera used the trust she had built in her local community to convince families of the importance of equipping female teachers with digital devices and skills, especially at a time when children were facing losses. critical learning.

With that problem solved, we launched a two-month program called Scientists of Tomorrow. This program featured stories based on the lives of remarkable female scientists and intriguing questions (for example“Are viruses alive?”) designed to arouse the curiosity of children.

The stories of women scientists further helped students – and their teachers – appreciate the contributions of remarkable women from around the world, including Pakistan, who had shaped our understanding of the universe despite the gender barriers they faced. . In two years, this library of stories about scientists and scientific phenomena has grown to a total of 120.

These stories were scripted in Urdu and English, their podcasts recorded and accompanied by follow-up activities that empowered children to question, investigate, create and have meaningful conversations with their peers, family or community members. Once the scripts, recordings and activities were ready, we started sending them to teachers in Khuzdar and then we shared them with hundreds of low-cost public and private schools in small towns in Punjab.

We used WhatsApp as a tool to send these lessons, receive reflections and help teachers solve problems. They received training and were tasked with engaging students in their schools and communities each week using these stories as science lessons.

As we were engaging students through local teachers, it allowed us to develop ambassadors who, even after the program ended, would be well equipped to create learning resources themselves and pursue meaningful science engagements within their communities. communities.

Big telescopes and fancy robots can be appealing to kids and adults alike. However, these should not be the only points of reference that come to mind when key stakeholders consider ways to engage children from disadvantaged communities in science..

Related to this, we also designed Gul Rukh, a character playing a 10-year-old Pakistani science enthusiast who likes to do science using the ordinary wherever and whenever she goes. She puts on a mustard-colored print shalwar kameez with sneakers and is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

Gul Rukh encourages readers to explore the world around them. Title, Gul’s Scientific Adventures, we started writing recipes for experiments. This basically meant that instead of cooking instructions, thanks to Gul, readers learned how to design rockets using recycled materials, how to make instant ice cream using salt instead of a freezer, whipping up delicious candy on their pans, guessing anyone’s birthday using the power of math and so on. much more.

The Adventures of Gul Rukh were recipes that we then scripted and recorded on video to be used directly by children aged 7-14, as well as their parents and teachers. This meant we could now send teachers video lessons and scripted lesson plans with step-by-step instructions. These enabled them to teach science through playful, culturally relevant, and investigative hands-on experiences. These resources can also be used by parents who can act as facilitators to foster the process of discovery and cultivate wonder in children.

After a year of working closely with Sumera and her school, she told us that our intervention had helped transform science education in their school on a shoestring budget. They had always dreamed of building a science lab on their campus but did not have enough funds to do so. Previously, they had thought that improving the quality of science engagement for their community would have to wait until they could raise significant funds.

But after a year-long partnership with Science Fuse, they knew better. They now had the tools, expertise and educational resources to continue building a strong scientific identity among their students. And, more importantly, they knew it could be done with limited resources. Of course, with more more could be done, but now they knew they could introduce great science teaching practices even with less using the seemingly ordinary things found in their local environment.

When it comes to science education, you don’t always have to count on big, jaw-dropping moments that require fancy science labs and expensive materials. On the contrary, the use of these materials can sometimes be counterproductive and alienate children from marginalized groups and communities from STEM subjects.

Large telescopes and fancy robots can be very appealing to children and adults. However, these should not be the only points of reference that come to mind when key stakeholders (think educators, policy makers and government officials) think about ways to involve children from disadvantaged communities in the science.

Building on this important learning, earlier this year we partnered with the Federal Ministry of Education and Skills STEAM Pakistan project. Through this program, we have extended our regular school science education model to 10 public schools in the federal area.

While the pledges are still in their infancy, early observations reveal a distinct spike in interest among science and math students, now that they are being taught by giving the textbook a backseat.

We hope that with the introduction of this new pedagogical approach in public classrooms, we will be able to create a ripple effect that will make science and math learning accessible to students in a way that these subjects go beyond the classroom and become an integral part of students’ daily lives.


The author is the founder and CEO of social enterprise, Science Fuse, and a Malala Fund Education Champion. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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