Science literacy discussed in Bangkok

Tue, August 27, 2019

Members of the IAP Science Education Programme’s Global Council convened in Bangkok, Thailand, to hold their annual meeting. Taking advantage of the presence of the IAP experts, the hosts, the National Science Museum of Thailand, also organized a ‘Policy Forum on Science Literacy: Roles of science museums and science centres’.

The Policy Forum took place on 20-21 August 2019 and featured 16 speakers from some 13 countries. The opening address was presented by Rawin Raviwongse, president of the National Science Museums, who referenced the ongoing National Science and Technology Fair that would host more than 1.5 million children from all around Thailand, introducing them to scientific subjects such as biodiversity and space exploration – including a special exhibit to commemorate 50 years since the first manned space flight to the moon.

The keynote address by Wang Xiaoming, director general of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, China, focused on ‘Roles of a Science Museum in Raising Public Science Literacy: A global perspective’. He first introduced the idea of the ‘scientific spirit’ as the constant search for truth, and linked it to the ‘scientific culture’ which should shape the scientific spirit. He then reviewed the role of science museums in helping to shape a culture of science, highlighting that between 2000 and 2018 the number of science museums in China had risen from just 11 to 244 that now reach some 57 million visitors each year (more than 6 million alone for the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum). He then presented the main concepts behind the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum’ exhibits: ‘eyes on’, ‘hands on’, ‘minds on’. In other words, make the exhibit attracting to catch the eye, draw in the visitor by providing something to do – and this will engage the mind and help understanding. Wang concluded that the rapid advances in science and technology require science museums to stimulate a scientific culture. “The popularization of science is as important as innovation in science and technology,” he concluded.

The conference continued with a session on ‘Global and Regional Perspectives’, which was introduced by the chair, Manzoor Soomro, president of the ECO Science Foundation, Pakistan. Among the other speakers were:

Carol O’Donnell, director, Smithsonian Science Education Centre, who spoke on ‘Science Education and Literacy for Global Goals (SDGs)’; Daniel Rouan, chair, La main à la pâte (LAMAP), who spoke on ‘LAMAP: The next 10 years’, and Dato Lee Yee Cheong, interim chair of the IAP Global Council and member of the ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, who spoke on the multi-billion dollar ‘World Bank Africa Digital Infrastructure Moonshot’.

The day closed with a ‘Science Literacy Roundtable’ chaired by Norbert Hounkonnou, president of the Benin National Academy of Sciences. The session focused on the Asian experience in national science museums, national science centres, industry science centres and mobile thematic exhibitions. Among the discussants were Aphiya Hathayatham, National Museum of Thailand; R. Indarjani, deputy director, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO); and David Oh, operations director, Science Discoveries Sdn Bhd, Malaysia.

Day 2 began with a session that brought together other aspects of science literacy, including experiences from Colombia and across Africa. Peter McGrath, IAP coordinator, focused his presentation on ‘International Science Cooperation on Science Education and Science Literacy’, taking the IAP Science Education Programme as the point of reference. Benno Boer, chief of Natural Sciences at UNESCO Bangkok, spoke on ‘The Role of UNESCO in Science Education and Science Literacy’. Susan Stocklmayer, founding director of the UNESCO Centre for Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University, provided participants with her experiences of establishing and running science centres in Africa, while Jackie Kado, executive director, NASAC, provided additional information on Africa, especially how the academies of science are responding to the challenge of working together on science education and science literacy. The session was concluded by Edgar Gonzalez, director of the Nanoscale Science and Technology Centre, Colombia, and member of the Colombian Academy of Exact and Physical Sciences, who spoke on ‘Science Education and Science Literacy in Colombia’, focusing especially on a project that engaged children in making simple nanotech devices that can measure mecury in water. Using these devices, the children learned how to make decisions related to water quality in their local area based on evidence they collected.

The conference concluded with a review session chaired by Mohamed Hassan president of the Sudanese National Academy of Sciences, which aimed to pull together some conclusions from the various sessions and discussions. Among the topics brought forward was the idea that there is a clear need for more science centres and museums in Africa. (In her talk, Susan Stocklmayer noted that there were just 41 such resources on the continent, of which 33 were in South Africa). Participants discussed whether such science centres were nest situated in universities, national museums, or perhaps other locations such as shopping malls that are visited by people of all age groups.

In addition, it was proposed that IAP member academies should take responsibility for hosting public lectures on topical science issues, and that modern internet technology can help foster lifelong learning – perhaps through a digital museum featuring all the Nobel Prize laureates, an idea proposed by Dato Lee Cheong.

There was also the idea of sharing blueprints for particular exhibits that could be shared between countries so that each country’s science museum did not have to start from scratch when developing a display, but merely adapt it to local circumstances.

Finally, following the successful meeting Innovative Forum for ASEAN Museums towards Achieving Science and SDG Awareness in the Community hosted by the Thailand Young Science Academy on 18-19 August (co-funded by IAP), there was encouragement to the young scientists to continue and to expand their engagement with local science museums and science centres, and a call to the Global Young Academy (GYA) to harness the energy and expertise of its members to ensure that what has been initiated in Bangkok can roll out to other regions, perhaps via a global project supported by the GYA.

Presentations (click to download them):

Wang Xiaoming, director general of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, China: Communication of scientific culture: The important role of science and technology museum in the Internet Era.

Manzoor Soomro, president of the ECO Science Foundation, Pakistan: The Role of Science Centres and Museums in Public Literacy and the Status of ECO Region.

Carol O’Donnell, director, Smithsonian Science Education Centre, USA: Science Education and Literacy for Global Goals (SDGs).

Daniel Rouan, Chairman, La main à la pâte (LAMAP) Foundation, France: LAMAP: The next 10 years.

Dato Lee Yee Cheong, interim chair of the IAP Global Council and member of the ITU-UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development: World Bank Africa Digital Infrastructure Moonshot.

Norbert Hounkonnou, president of the Benin National Academy of Sciences, Benin: Science Literacy, the role of science museums and centres.

Aphiya Hathayatham, National Museum of Thailand, Thailand: The Story of the National Science Museum.

R. Indarjani, deputy director, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), Indonesia: Science Literacy in Indonesia: A brief picture of status, challenges and forward.

David Oh, operations director, Science Discoveries Sdn Bhd, Malaysia: Science Discoveries Sdn Bhd.

Peter McGrath, IAP coordinator: International cooperation on science education and science literacy.

Benno Boer, Chief of Natural Sciences, UNESCO Bangkok: The Role of UNESCO in science education and science literacy.

Susan Stocklmayer, Founder Director of the UNESCO Centre for Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University, Australia: Science Communication: Experience in Africa.

Jackie Olang Kado, Executive Director, Network of African Science Academies: Science Education and Literacy in Africa through NASAC.

Science Literacy

Keywords
science education