Behind the scenes

If you have been reading recent blog posts on this site you will know that I have been writing about the third annual Young Scientists Tanzania competition … coming to you en direct from Dar es Salaam! You’ll find my tweets (@arickard) and those of YST (@ystanzania) and others on Twitter. You can also search for tweets with #yst2014.

Behind the scenes: Dylan & Johannes at work

Behind the scenes: Dylan & Johannes at work

I’ve had a fantastic journey, both literally and metaphorically, for the past two weeks. One of the reasons behind the trip is for us to work out ways for teachers and student teachers from Ireland to come here in the future to work with YST and to enable Tanzanian teachers to spend time in Ireland. I felt there could be a role for us in supporting the Young Scientists and an opportunity to learn from our Tanzanian sisters and brothers through exchange. I feel that all the more strongly now and I am returning to Ireland with the aim of developing this idea further. Stay tuned!

Writing this blog has helped me to process some of my impressions from the trip and of course to inform people about YST2014. I’ve tried to reflect on the role and significance of this event as I see it, though I am aware that I am only scratching the surface.

Before I return home I would also like to mention the supports that have not only made the YST event happen, but have enabled me to get here this summer. I’ve been able to afford this fantastic trip thanks to the support of Irish Aid (under the auspices of the Ubuntu Network, which is the organisation that promotes and supports Development Education in Initial Teacher Education).

The work of Irish Aid is seldom flaunted but this branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been very important in supporting development projects overseas and in promoting Development Education at home and have been doing so for decades. It seems to me that Irish Aid  tends not to brag too much about its own work, perhaps preferring the discreet ‘behind the scenes’ position, which might be the best of all vantage points. But I do think it is worth boasting about their work – and not just because I’ve been so jammy as to spend a fortnight in Tanzania!

In the case of Irish Aid’s support to Young Scientists Tanzania I am struck by the close relationship that has been created with British Gas who are the lead sponsors of YST. These two entities have enabled something very special to happen in Tanzania and their cooperation is a great testament to the increasingly friendly relationship between Ireland and the UK. It is a wonderful example of international cooperation, development and educational innovation. Put simply: I think it is very nice that both Britain and Ireland have reasons to feel proud of YST.

On Monday Salma and Dhariha, the YST 2014 winners, will be honoured at a reception hosted by the government of Unguja and Pemba. Dylan and Johannes (some of whose fabulous photographs I’ve supplemented with my own on this blog) have travelled with the Zanzibari delegation this weekend to record the reception and document these happy and proud moments for posterity. They have been documenting all of this year’s event … on a voluntary basis I might add! Two more superheroes who’ve been behind YST scenes (or perhaps more accurately in front of them!) these past few weeks. We will begin to see some videos and more photos about YST2014 online in the next few weeks. Another reason to stay tuned!

Superheroes

Winners of YST2014

Winners of YST2014

Emotions were close the surface at the third Young Scientists’ Awards ceremony in Dar es Salaam yesterday afternoon. Anticipation was building all day and the sense of occasion was enhanced by the light-hearted banter between the two MCs on stage. Bobby and Vanessa are both well-known Tanzanian TV personalities and they created an appropriately celebratory ambiance. A measure of the importance the event has gained in the few short years since it was introduced is that this year it was attended by the Vice President of Tanzania. A nuclear physicist himself, Mohamed Ghairb Bilal cut a graceful and benevolent figure at the ceremony. His presence also attracted considerable media attention and YST2014 was broadcast live on national television. Indeed the choreography in the hall between bodyguards, photographers and TV crew was entertainment in itself!

When he addressed the gathering yesterday the Vice President spoke movingly about the relationship between Ireland and Tanzania and recognized the importance of Irish Aid’s sponsorship of Young Scientists in his country. Also officiating were the representatives of the key sponsors, namely Adam Prince of BG Tanzania and H.E. Irish Ambassador to Tanzania, Fionnuala Gilsenan. The main part of the Ambassador’s speech was delivered in Swahili – not the easiest of languages to master at that level – and audibly appreciated by the audience. In my opinion the atmosphere of mutual respect was beautifully conjured up in these gestures and acknowledgements. British Gas is also committed to continuing as the lead sponsor of YST next year. The company’s corporate social responsibility comes across as a genuine effort to invest in Tanzania, and when extraction of the natural gas does eventually begin, their aspiration is to create a legacy of innovation and economic prosperity for Tanzania. This will be a long process, undoubtedly, but it is wise to begin by igniting curiosity and passion for learning among school children.

The ceremony included a number of special awards from other sponsors and benefactors. One of these I had the honour of presenting on behalf of colleagues in the newly established Climate Justice Schools programme (CJSP). The brainchild of teachers Eleanor Lee and Aileen Tennant from Colaiste Bhride, Carnew and St. Mary’s Academy, Carlow respectively, this initiative is supported by Worldwide Global Schools and operates in conjunction with Young Scientists Tanzania. CJSP aims to raise environmental awareness through collaboration among and between Irish and Tanzanian students.

One of the classroom activities in the programme involves the idea of a group drawing a Superhero figure based on the collective skills within the group. Learning about the activity recently I thought about teachers as Superheroes too. Teaching in general, just like this activity in particular, is all about enabling students to identify their skills, encouraging them to work together to be a force for good and use their combined superpower to improve the conditions of life in the world around them. At the awards yesterday I also thought about a few other superheroes in YST. Indeed, to me YST seems to have a superpower in itself to symbolise wider social and educational transformation, promote Science and Innovation in Tanzania and importantly, in my opinion, to prompt the Tanzanian government to begin investing in teachers and schools again.

Tanzania also has many very wealthy individuals, some of whom see the merit of encouraging and actively supporting a future generation of university graduates. One such is Hatim Karimjee, Chairman of Toyota Tanzania Ltd. Mr Karimjee decided to add university scholarships to the YST winners’ prizes this year. Winning YST is clearly a great achievement in itself but it acknowledges potential as much as it does achievement. With so many of the Young Scientists being from extremely poor families many would struggle to pay the fees for university. The Karimjee Jivanjee Family Foundation scholarships enable these students to get to higher education without that worry. It also promotes philanthropy in a way that could well be emulated by other corporations and institutions. The generosity is as thoughtful as it is impressive. While the idea was mooted this year to give scholarships to the previous year’s winners as they prepare for university, the first winners of YST were not forgotten. Monica, Aisha and Nengai, who were unsuspecting guests at this year’s event, were each awarded a Karimjee scholarship. In total seven scholarships were awarded yesterday and each student along with future winners will be supported for the duration of their studies. So yes, I do believe Hatim Karimjee is quite the YST superhero.

Another surprise award (at least a very big surprise to the recipient!) was given by the Vice President to Co-Director and Co-founder of YST, Joe Clowry. A discreet and unassuming sort of Superhero Mr Joseph, as he is known here, never looks for kudos for his considerable achievement. But it has been thanks to his unstinting generosity with his time and energy as well as his insight into people and his tenacity over the last five years that YST has come to pass at all. Equally quietly exercising his superpowers of mentoring the Young Scientists, coordinating the judging and generally being upbeat and encouraging to everyone is Dr Brendan Doggett. Brendan has also committed his personal time and energy to YST without fuss or fanfare: he’s another phenomenal character in the story of YST. These two Irishmen are joined on an entirely equal footing by Dr Kamugisha Gozibert who has also clocked up the days and the long journeys across Tanzania to broaden the scope of YST which in just three years has grown from four schools to one hundred and now has an outreach programme in 20 regions of Tanzania.

I would like to add however that this expansion was also only made possible by the appointment of the incredibly dynamic Ms Archana Kakad, the YST administrator. I am certain that Joe, Brendan and Kamugisha would agree, that among her many qualities and skills Archana has is her capacity to motivate and inspire as superheroes are wont to do. Archana also leads the team of volunteers who support the YST management. And from what I have seen over the past ten days or so these include two dozen other committed and generous people who work untold hours of the day (and night!) to ensure the Young Scientists’ comfort and security throughout their journey to and from Dar es Salaam.

Really quite magical!

Rehema and Lisa with H.E. Ambassador Fionnuala Gilsenan

Rehema and Lisa with H.E. Ambassador Fionnuala Gilsenan

“It is really quite magical” these are the words of Rahema, as she and her fellow Young Scientist, Lisa explain to H.E. Ambassador Fionnuala Gilsnean how it is possible to grow three different citrus fruits from one single tree. The girls from Suya school and whom I met last week, spent all day yesterday explaining the magic of science and its potential to address the question of malnutrition and poor life expectancy in Tanzania. Throughout the day 198 other students engaged judges in the outcomes of their research. They did so at least four times over the course of the day. As one of these judges, it was my great privilege to hear in detail the rationale for a batch of projects. While it would not be possible to do justice to all of them I will highlight a few that caught my attention in particular.

Kiembe Samski school in Zanzibar is among the very few in Tanzania that has a newly installed Science lab. Proper work spaces for students, sinks and storage areas, even instruments and glassware, the lab nonetheless has no gas supply. A pipe, yes but no gas. Two girls from the school, Rashida and Yussra decided that the way to address this was to make their own biogas using kitchen waste. They have successfully produced the gas and even had some of it in a bicycle tyre for the exhibition. They offered to light it to demonstrate. I’m no scientist but I did think there might be a slight health and safety issue with this, so I demurred! That a team of school girls have to produce gas themselves for science class would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. And though biogas may indeed be the way to go, I can’t help noting the irony that there is an estimated 15 trillion cubic feet gas field off the coast of East Africa.

Other tragic ironies also struck me as I discussed projects in the different categories. In the Social & Behavioural category I learned about the concerns of one school at the lingering beliefs in witchcraft that are used to justify the brutal murder of elderly women in the Shinyanga region. Grace and Michael from Ngokolo school explored views on the factors that lead to the killing of elderly women. In Shinyanga (and elsewhere too) when women develop red eyes they are often accused of being witches. According to Grace and Michael’s presentation, young men, usually between 18 and 30 years of age, kill them in them in the most brutal way. These Young Scientists wanted to know more about their community’s attitudes to this issue. A high proportion of the respondents attributed the killings to beliefs in witchcraft while around 20% thought it may have something to do with disputes over land. Hmmm…. Meanwhile in the category of Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences two boys, Andrea and Tobias, have successfully designed and built an animal dung-briquette burning stove aimed at reducing smoke and soot emissions from household cooking fires. And the irony alert? It is a lifetime of cooking at charcoal and firewood open fires that gives women red eyes in the first place!

Another project I was blown away by (in Biological & Ecological Science category) was an investigation into the health risks of traditional brews. Mwanaid and Amina had lined up an impressive array of ‘hooch’ made from anything from cassava to banana skins and I don’t know what else! The girls noted the less than hygienic conditions in which the alcohol is produced, the imbalance in the chemical components and the devastating health implications for those who consume this rocket-fuel. I was deeply impressed with the girls’ proposal that the manufacturers should not be deprived of the income that comes from their brewing, but that they be discouraged from selling it for human consumption. Instead, given the high ethanol content in some if it, the girls propose that producers be given scope to sell it as bio-fuel. When I asked what prompted the research Amina’s response was “I live in a house with a man who drinks this. It has made him blind. Sometimes he rapes the girls.” … The matter of fact way she explains it is a reminder of the daily reality for girls and women in Tanzania. The beauty of their research is that they have managed to explain to ‘the man’ that the brews are bad for his health (not to mention everyone else’s in the household) and he has gradually been weaned off the stuff.

Girls and boys across Tanzania are making a profound difference to science education and to the quality of life in this extraordinary country. And that is indeed really quite magical!

Fare well Zanzibar!

YST Teacher and students from Pemba Island

YST Teacher and students from Pemba Island

As final preparations are being made for the Young Scientists exhibition by the YST core team and the extended network of diligent volunteers, I have a welcome day to myself at the hotel. Located on the beach I have a magnificent view out onto the bay area of Dar es Salaam. From early morning you catch sight of a stream of fishing boats heading out for the day. These elongated solid wood craft are propelled by a combination of oarsmen and gondoliers (for want of a better term – though I am sure there is one!). Suffice it to say it is very picturesque!

Yesterday, I flew back from Zanzibar in the rather wonderful 12-seater plane that does not fly high so you have the most spectacular aerial view of the coral reefs, white sands and limpid waters between the Spice Islands and mainland Tanzania. Before I left I was among the panel of speakers at a gathering in Haile Saleisse School that included the twenty Young Scientists from Unguja and Pemba, their teachers and many of their parents. It is unusual for schools on the two islands to come together. This may indeed be true in any country but by all accounts it is almost unheard of in Zanzibar. Although I wasn’t able to stay to hear her comments, the Commissioner with responsibility for Education in Unguja and Pemba (Maryam A. Yusuf) began her speech by saying “I am first and foremost a Science Teacher and then Education Commissioner”: a very nice statement about her sense of the importance of Science Education and her role as a supporter of Young Scientists Tanzania.

Although I had to leave the meeting early for my flight I was present for most of the students’ presentations. For the sake of keeping good time and perhaps also for the parents’ sakes, Ame asked students to present their research in Swahili rather than in English. It was interesting to experience this: while I understood not a word I can also say that I learnt a lot! As I watched the students I could see their enthusiasm for their projects, their commitment to addressing issues of development and innovation in their communities and most importantly, perhaps for being in the students’ first language, their excitement and passion for learning was even more strongly evident. When you also consider the fact that many of them are doing this for the first time and have the added pressure of not only the presence of a high ranking politician but multiple cameras (Local TV, print media journalists etc.) in addition to Dylan and Johannes’ documentary filming… it all adds up to a great achievement for these young students. But more than that, I think the brining together of students in the region has the additional merit of consolidating what has been achieved in Zanzibar in relation to the Young Scientists competition and is a testament to the determination of the YST Regional Coordinator Ame Vuai.

Students from Pemba and Unguja arrive in Dsr es Salaam

Students from Pemba and Unguja arrive in Dsr es Salaam

I have been here for a little over a week, so I am far from qualified to comment on regional or national issues so I won’t! But I can communicate what I have observed: in the case in particular of Zanzibar, whose population is around 95% Muslim, is the fact that so many of the Young Scientists here are girls. They and the handful of boys working with them are remarkably confident, competent and committed to making changes in Zanzibari and Tanzanian society. I sincerely hope that they continue to be supported to do so.

I will be involved in the judging process tomorrow. Time permitting I will try to add another blog about the projects that capture my attention. Thursday is the main event when the public have access to the exhibition.

Young Scientists and their teachers continue to steam in from all across Tanzania mostly on busses having travelled through the night in some cases. You can follow updates on Twitter (@ystanzania) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ystanzania). Go ahead and ‘like’ them on Facebook and send in your messages of encouragement and congratulations. I have told them that the world is interested in what they have achieved, your comments will add weight to that. Thanks!

Zanzibar Young Scientists

Or Young Scientists Zanzibar… either way it has a nice ring to it! Following our stay in Arusha we have come to the almost mythical Zanzibar, a place where it is easy to conjure up Djinns from magic lanterns or to imagine Sinbad sailing in one of the many fishing boats that saunter across the horizon. An archipelago off the coast of Dar es Salaam and otherwise known as the Spice Islands, Zanzibar consists of two main islands: Unguja and Pemba. Ten of Zanzibar’s two hundred schools have successful entries in Young Scientists Tanzania this year. Although today is Sunday two schools very kindly opened their doors to us so we could meet the Young Scientists from Haile Saleissie and Lumumba secondary schools.

Shemsa and Salha in Haile Saleissie School Zanzibar

Shemsa and Salha in Haile Saleissie School Zanzibar

In Haile Saleissie Form Four students Shemsa and Salha spoke to us about their research on the recent and worrying instances of acid attacks in Zanzibar. While there have been none in 2014 there was a spate of acid attacks in 2012 and 2013, the perpetrators of which remain “persons unknown”. The girls feel strongly that not enough is being done to bring these people to justice. Both Muslim and Christian community leaders as well as two German Aid workers were attacked in 2013. In addition to the obvious trauma such attacks have on the victims and their families, the girls are concerned about the image of Zanzibar in the eyes of the rest of the world, particularly when this region depends so heavily on tourism. Like many of the students we have met over the past few days Salha and Shemsa spoke with confidence and conviction and they have, as part of their work, presented their findings from interviews and research to the police in Zanzibar.
Shemsa and Salha were overall runners up in YST 2013 for their project about the phenomenon of Kupagawa (the Swahili word meaning “to be possessed”) which refers to mass hysteria, collective fainting and self-harm among teenage girls; the source of which these two teenagers attribute to sexual frustration. They speculated about the belief that some people in Zanzibar hold that Kupagawa is the work of the Devil. But they question why the Devil would target only girls. (An equal opportunities Devil we might say!) Seriously though, they wanted to look at the behavioural science behind the experience which has affected Haile Saleissie school in recent years and has resulted in injuries among their peers.

Ame Vuai with his students Dhariha and Salma

Ame Vuai with his students Dhariha and Salma

The regional coordinator for YST based in Unguja (Zanzibar) is soft-spoken Ame H. Vuai who has been teaching Maths and Science in Lumumba Secondary school for the past ten years. The Young Scientists in his school this year are Dhariha and Salma, two girls who have a strong interest in environmental science and who have looked for natural methods to reduce the very serious menace of mosquitoes and house flies in Tanzania. They demonstrated for us a number of solutions to the problem including the use of lemongrass (from which is derived the very effective citronella oil), whole cloves inserted in a lemon, as well as diffusing clove oil in a burner or pump spray – combined with garlic. These ingredients are all very abundant here, especially cloves for which Pemba is renowned. As the girls pointed out cloves and clove oil could be distributed to other regions in Tanzania with the very desirable outcome of reducing the instances of malaria, typhoid and dengue fever that debilitate so many people here every day.
Tomorrow we will have the honour of meeting all of the Zanzibari Young Scientists, their teachers and their parents. Haile Saleissie School will host the gathering that will include Ame as the Regional coordinator as well as the Commissioner for Education in Zanzibar among other dignitaries.
Following the meeting I fly back to Dar es Salaam to catch up with preparations for the exhibition taking place in just three days’ time! Dylan and Johannes will accompany the Young Scientists and their ‘entourage’ on the ferry on Tuesday. I’m looking forward to seeing all the students I’ve met over the past week as well as seeing as many as possible of the two hundred students from all across Tanzania who will be taking part in this incredible and inspiring event…. And I can’t wait to meet the rest of the YST team whom I have not yet had the chance to say ‘Sjambo’ to!!

More YST projects in Arusha

Lusajo and Caroline from El Shamma

Lusajo and Caroline from El Shamma

Day two of school visits in Arusha and we went to three schools and saw four presentations. First we met the manager and teachers in El Shamma School. A newly opened private school with only 54 students so far, most of whom live on campus. Five El Shamma students from Form One (13 or 14 year old students) have taken part in the Young Scientists workshops. Two of them, Lusajo and Caroline, will travel to the Young Scientists Exhibition next week. Their project looks at the level of awareness in their community of the benefits of breastfeeding. They interviewed mothers, fathers and unmarried teenage girls to explore what they thought about breastfeeding, how long a child should be breastfed and how often. In spite of the number of mothers who said they enjoyed breastfeeding, most had not continued to do so for as long as would be recommended nor as frequently. The significance of this project according to the Young Scientists lies in the simple fact that if more women were to breast feed their babies for up to two years and for between 9 and 12 times a day there would be a vast reduction in the instances of stunting (at present Tanzania has over two million children whose physical and cognitive development is stymied by poor nutrition). The Young Scientists in El Shamma are being very well supported in a school that boasts three teachers who have previously taken part in the YST project in their former schools. Lusajo and Caroline’s project has prompted the school manager to think about opening a centre in the school to cater for teenage mothers who most often are expelled from school if they get pregnant.

Sarah and Nadine from Notre Dame School, Arusha

Sarah and Nadine from Notre Dame School, Arusha

The second school we visited was Notre Dame where we heard from Nadine and Sarah who did a project on the use natural pesticides, and very cleverly set up their presentation in the garden where they had done the research on spinach plants. Most if not all the girls here are boarders many of them coming from very far to attend the school.

On then to Il Boru, which is a large state school that has been in operation since 1946. Michael and Robin, two boys in Form 6, have previously been involved in YST and this time are presenting a project where they have found a simple and cost effect solution to the problem of the high levels of naturally occurring fluoride in the water in the region which leaves many people with damaged teeth and bones (dental and skeletal fluorosis). In addition their work also explores ways to minimise bacterial content in the water using a solar oven that they have developed. In Il Boru we were also joined by Hasim and Ntekaniwa from St. Jude’s School who very kindly came to Il Boru for our convenience. The boys are Young Computer Scientists and have programmed a voting system using Python computing language. St. Jude’s is a school for the poor and is funded by Australian philanthropists. Again, the boys from St. Jude’s are very well supported by dedicated teachers and volunteers. Between them they hope to introduce a computer club to encourage more students to learn programming. A Coder Dojo Tanzania may well be starting up very soon in Arusha.

Travels with Young Scientists Tanzania

Joe Clowry and Sarah Mulunga at Suya School Arusha.

Joe Clowry and Sarah Mulunga at Suya School Arusha.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel to Tanzania this summer to participate in the Young Scientists Tanzania exhibition later this month. In the meantime I have the opportunity to visit a number of schools in different parts of the country. Not only do I have the chance to meet some of Tanzania’s finest and most dedicated teachers, and some of the Young Scientists themselves, but I also get to experience and understand the work that the YST team are doing to make this extraordinary project happen. More about that anon.

Day one of visits involved first flying to the north of this vast country – a fifty minute flight that has recently become affordable enough to justify opting for it over the 14 to 16 hour car journey from Dar es Salaam to Arusha. Even so our journeys to and from the airports took a total of 3 hours in a car … admittedly most of that was not moving through the rather chaotic early morning traffic in the country’s largest city or bumping our way over unpaved streets as our driver Said sought out short cuts to avoid the worst of the traffic.

After dropping off our bags in Tumaini Cottages and being offered THE most delicious glass of ice cold mango juice ever tasted we headed out to visit to our first school on the schedule.

Suya secondary school is located in a former brick factory in a set of buildings that had been abandoned for over a decade before the government decided that it could be converted into a school. Boasting a very solid (but woefully neglected) modernist building on the site the premises were in need of major restoration in order to accommodate the 750 or so pupils in forms one to four. (13 or 14 years old to 16/17). They hope they can expand to cater for forms five and six in the next few years and offer A level exams. If anyone is likely to succeed in this it is the phenomenal headmistress Sarah Mulunga. A Science teacher herself, Sarah also has a degree in Gender and Development from Dar es Salaam University. In addition to being the regional coordinator for Young Scientists Tanzania, she is also National Coordinator for Tanzania’s Girl Guide and Scouting organisation and she has warmth and kindness to match her extraordinary energy and dedication. It is my very sincere hope that I will be able to introduce this amazing woman in person to students in Maynooth. Two girls from Suya school did a brilliantly well-prepared presentation for us about their project which is aimed at reducing malnutrition in their area by propagating fruit plants to encourage people to grow their own fruit.

The next school we visited, Mosshomo School, is much larger with 1,800 or so pupils and here a boy and girl team presented their findings of a survey about students’ awareness of global issues especially of social media and the prevalence among their age group of sexting and accessing pornography. The findings show a worrying trend among the 100 or so respondents from four schools in the area and a distinct lack of awareness of the consequences for them of the circulation of inappropriate images of themselves. Their teacher Hazinael Mnzava has done a great job in helping the pupils make sense of their findings and work towards recommendations for an Internet Safety programme for their school.

I am travelling with Joe Clowry and a two-man video production team. Dylan and Johannes are taking footage and photos of the students and teachers to make a video documenting YST. There is a beauty and dignity among these students that is inspiring. In spite of the limited resources there are in schools there is no limit to the imagination, passion and ability of the students we have met. The programme is opening teachers’ eyes to their students’ abilities as well and you can’t help feeling optimism for the future of Tanzania and Science for Development here.

DevEd Day Inforgraphic

A visual summary of the 2013 DevEd week in NUI Maynooth. We want to claim that we’re being good with numbers!

Thanks to all who participated in making DevEd Week a memorable and worthwhile experience. To the NGOs, teachers, pupils, NUI Maynooth staff and students as well as recent graduates and friends of the Education Department, NUI Maynooth.

Special thanks to the Ubuntu Network for the funding and to Niamh Parkinson for producing this lovely infographic!

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First Development Education Day for BScEd Students

devedday14aJust before Easter this year Fourth year BScEds co-organised a Development Education Day for their class. Held in Renehan Hall, it was a very full day consisting of three main sections, namely: An Introduction to Development Education; the Nurture Africa Ambassador Project in association with NUI Maynooth Access office and finally a ‘Science for Development’ session facilitated by colleagues Joe Clowry, Dr. Brendan Doggett and fifth year boys from St. Mary’s Academy, CBS, Carlow.

The introduction to DevEd was facilitated by Vicky Donnelly from One World Centre, Galway. Vicky is a leader on the Global Teachers Award which is a programme that covers a range of issues concernig social justice. It is a highly active and discursive programme and was well received by teh BScEd students.

The second part of the day took place during lunch, when we held a public presentation about Nurture Africa’s Ambassador programme which is very well represented by NUI Maynooth students including no fewer than five Year 4 BScEds!

Brian Iredale, CEO of Nurture Africa, spoke about the origins and overview of the Healthcare and Educational activities of this dynamic NGO that is based in Ireland and Uganda. Then Gavin Hennessy, Coordinator of the Ambassador Programme, spoke about the vision for this programme and reflected on his own journey in the area of Development Education. Finally, three of the five students heading to Uganda this summer spoke briefly about the story so far in becoming Ambassadors and volunteers with Nurture Africa and the links with the Access Office.

For the afternoon session the focus was on Science for Development which was lead by Science Teacher, Joe Clowry, formerly Education Officer with the CDPC and Coordinator of the Young Scientist Tanzania Exhibition. YST is an Irish Aid funded project that emerged from the work of the Combat Diseases of Poverty Consortium (CDPC) in recent years.

The BScEd students also heard from Keane Nolan and DJ Hanley from St Mary’s Academy, CBS, Carlow. Keane Nolan and DJ Hanley were the 2012 winners of the ‘Science for Development’ Award at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. The aim of their project was to look at the use of honey and propolis to preserve raw milk in rural parts of Africa where refrigeration and pasteurisation facilities are not available. You can hear the lads talk about their project here.

As part of their prize, sponsored by Irish Aid and Self Help Africa, the boys travelled to Ethiopia to meet with farmers and cooperative managers, who, it was clear took a very keen interest in their project. BScEd students also praised the Keane and DJ’s work very enthusiastically. They commented that it gave them an insight into ways they, as teachers, can contribute to Science for Development.

Finally, the group spent some time exploring possibilities for curricular links to DevEd in Science and Maths lessons and ideas for projects that might work well for the Young Scientists in Tanzania. Well done and thank you to everyone involved!

Econowha? (dot ie)

Yes “it’s the economy, stupid” and Clinton’s 1992 campaign catchphrase reminds us that although economics is everything it also literally dumb-founds most of us. Figures that are mind-bendingly complex and dreary: how often do we simply switch off? I know I do. And yet when you do stop to think about it isn’t the economy exactly what we need to know more about if we are not to be hoodwinked further: ignorance is not bliss!

Debt and Development Coalition Ireland (DDCI) have created the new web-based resource Econowha? in collaboration with the School of Social Justice in UCD. The site is aimed at people interested in knowing more, understanding issues and making critical and informed judgments about how the economy affects us and how it and vested interests determine so much about our freedom and the quality of our lives.

Econowha? takes its cue from a UK campaign of a similar name where accessible texts, videos and blog posts etc. are presented to help ordinary people engage with economic discourse. Econowha? adapts and extends this idea for an Irish context. Most significantly, in my view, it adopts a critical pedagogical perspective and the resource will work best in groups or learning circles where people come together to discuss and explore the material it contains. It is aimed at adult audiences but I also think second level teachers will find useful material here, if only to inform themselves, if not also to use in class. It will certainly help Business and Economics teachers to integrate a DevEd perspective in a well informed, critical way that looks at how local and global economic inequalities are reproduced and how the dominant media narratives both shape and limit critical understanding of economic decisions that are taken in our name.

I attended the launch of the resource yesterday, first because I wanted to support Mark Malone who, with Sian Crowley from DDCI, curated the resources that can be found on the site. Mark facilitated one of the multi-media workshops in DevEd week this year and he has recently completed a Masters in the Dept. of Adult and Community Education, NUIM. Being commissioned by DDCI I also knew Econowha? would be both interesting and challenging (in a good way!).

I have heard over the years how teachers feel that they don’t know enough about the global economy to engage with economic issues and prefer not to take a too critical approach when it comes to DevEd for lack of information and lack of confidence around these issues. There no longer a reason to claim ignorance of economic discourse and the exciting thing about Econowha? is that you don’t have to take it on all on your own. Why not form a group to explore this site, draw out of it ideas that could be adapted for the second level classroom and explore how it might be introduced to say senior cycle pupils? What discussion points, methodologies and activities would work best? You stand to learn a lot yourself – I know I did from simply attending the launch!

I would like to invite current or recent graduates from the Education Department or indeed any second level teachers in Ireland to contact me if you’d be interested in having a dedicated workshop run by DDCI about Econowha?

And finally…. I’d ask you to comment on and share Econowha? too. It is a dynamic and progressive resource that will be added to in the coming weeks and months and it will be adapted according to what people using it suggest. Be among those who suggest ways it could serve a DevEd purpose in second level too and help us all to feel less stupid when it comes to discussions about the economy!

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