In Madagascar, science travels on 4 wheels

In Madagascar, science travels on 4 wheels

Rano” means water, the kind every family should have available, clean, as taken from the source. “Sakafo” means food, but here it is mainly about sugar and its bittersweet effect on people’s health. “Rivotra” stands for air, the one too often polluted both in big cities and in rural areas. “Bitika” means micro, but suggests that we are talking about harmful microorganisms and how to protect oneself from their presence. And finally, there is Tech, a term that encompasses an entire universe but here focuses on biomimicry.

The young students who are devoting themselves to these five topics love them all; it is difficult to know, for now, which one they prefer. They are enthusiastic, perhaps thanks to the people who propose it and the approach with which they do it.

Students during an educational activity. Photo credit: Ramihangihajason Tolotra Niaina.

On the road to science: 150 passengers

We are in Madagascar and the current project is called SciTia, another new word, this time a neologism that merges ‘Sci’, like science, and ‘Tia’, which means ‘to love’ in the Malagasy language.

Loosely inspired by the highly successful science popularization and education program ‘The magic school bus’, this initiative, led by NGO ExplorerHome Madagascar and funded by the National Geographic Society Education grant, is a collaboration with SeedScience, which marks our debut in the country, at least in such a widespread, organized and official way, and is an opportunity to bring an interactive and participatory approach to places where there are no particularly well-equipped facilities.

Scientists and educators pilot test the educational activities with a few students. Photo credit : Ramihangihajason Tolotra Niaina.

They ‘only’ need curiosity and passion, two elements that are not lacking in Madagascar: the young students have them, but also the teachers and scientists involved. To tell how science can be fun, simple and accessible, they will travel around in 3 different regions (Analamanga, Vakinankaratra and Alaotra Mangoro) to reach more than 150 students aged 12 to 18 and improve their interest and scientific literacy through high quality content seasoned with many hands-on activities.

Scientists and teachers: 2 mindsets, 1 dream

The idea is to bring science and scientific research closer to young people, in this case Malagasy, in the form of a traveling laboratory. And this is not just an idea, but what is happening, particularly in areas where schools do not have science lab facilities or trained teachers to perform basic science experiments.

This curious and fun wandering laboratory that brings interactive science programs out of the school is called SciTiaLab and has been an interesting challenge for Dr. Tsiory Andrianavalona, paleontologist and co-founder of the ExplorerHome Madagascar Science Center.

“The most challenging aspect was to get scientists and teachers to make the same contribution. Scientists are used to academic rigor and often forget that the audience is made up of secondary school students,’ she explains. ‘Teachers are too focused on how to transmit knowledge and forget that the curriculum is about scientific research and should include new ideas and incorporate specific scientific methods.

A difference in mindset that also emerged in SciTiaSquad, the other pillar of the project, the one that allows the design of practical and theoretical activities to be proposed to young students with SciTiaLab. “They come from two very different worlds and have their own skills. They had to get creative,” explains Tsiory, “but in the end it worked very well: some of them developed a special bond and continue to work together to improve the program.

A scientist and an educator working to set up an educational activity for the SciTia program. Photo credit : Ramihangihajason Tolotra Niaina.

Also part of the project is SciTiaMag, a science magazine that will present the ‘SciTiaLab’ journey and curriculum to children and families, including news from the field and suggesting practical activities that children can do at home with their families.

“This publication is the link between the project and the community, it conveys the students’ experience to their family,” Tsiory points out. “We can only involve a maximum of 15 students per session of the program, but we aim to have an impact on at least one member of each student’s family, thanks to SciTiaMag.

After two years, more SciTiaLab and more young people

If this already sounds ambitious, SciTia is not finished. Still within its two-year life span, this project aims to develop a structured platform and training in Sciencetelling for scientists, so that they can then effectively share their research with a young audience. And then there is to continue to cultivate that network of scientists and educators formed by the ‘SciTiaSquad’ and which needs continuous energy to remain alive and involved and become a permanent collaboration between a network of university scholars and teachers, for the benefit of students.

At the end of the project, SciTiaLab will be run by ExplorerHome and will be open to the public in urban areas with an entrance fee, but will remain free for children in remote areas. SciTiaMag will instead be produced as a science communication and education magazine and will be sold to ensure the sustainability of the SciTia program and grow the number of traveling SciTiaLabs, roaming the country, to more and more boys and girls.

For now, there are equal numbers of female students.

According to Tsiory, “boys and girls participate equally in practical activities. The problem for Malagasy women in general is not that they are not able to have a career (whether in science or in other fields), but that they have other duties that society expects them to fulfill first (performing female tasks such as taking care of the home, children, etc.) and the belief that they will not have the opportunity to manage both (career/study and duties). This is a very interesting aspect of the program: there are evaluations we are carrying out with the students, their answers can reveal to us what is really going on”.

ExplorerHome Madagascar was created with the mission to instill curiosity and interest in STEM fields, inspire people to explore, discover and learn how science is an integral part of all aspects of life and have a positive impact on Madagascar.
ExplorerHome invites people to explore the wonders of the world through the eyes of scientists and specifically targets children and their families. ExplorerHome’s online and field programs provides a platform for STEM fields, scientists and science outreach, education and entertainment

Article by Marta Abbà with the contribution of Tsiory Andrianavalona.

Follow SciTia’s adventures on Instagram: @explorerhomemada.

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