Travelling to East Timor to inspire teachers in science

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A partnership between a plant scientist and a teacher has resulted in a trip to the impoverished rural region of Maliana in East Timor, to deliver a three-day workshop to 40 teachers aimed to explore new ways of thinking about science.

The idea of the program, called Process by Design, is to promote independent thinking, provide training in the use of scientific equipment and deliver a kit of educational resources.

“Through this program we want to inspire teachers in poor rural areas and challenge them to teach kids to explore and inquire about the world around them. This can be quite confronting in areas where the teacher is seen as the one that knows everything,” said David Johns, Assistant Principal of Pastoral Care at MacKillop College in Canberra.

This is the second time that David Johns is taking the program to East Timor. “One of the things teachers asked for during our last visit was that they needed a very practical experimental approach; more hand-on activities, training in the use of the limited scientific equipment they currently have, and exposure to real scientific problems,” he said.

Dr Rob Sharwood, one of our Associate Investigators, is the scientific side of the partnership. “I was very excited when David asked me if I wanted to be involved in this project. I have been always interested in outreach and working in tertiary education you don’t get many opportunities like this. It is all about educating the educator and getting these educators enthused in teaching science,” he said.

Despite the proximity of East Timor to Australia, there is an abysmal gap between the two countries in terms of the resources available to teach science in the classroom. Many of the teachers have to get up at 4 am, walk long hours to the school and teach using facilities that in many cases do not have running water.

The activities will focus on working outdoors and using household materials available, but also in the use of microscopes, the scientific method and hand-on activities for the kids.

“We are bringing some of the teacher resources developed by the ARC Centre of Excellence, the expertise in plant science and use of the technologies that Rob has to offer and my experience applying the student based learning inquiry method,” says Johns.

The pair will travel at the end of September and spend a week in the Dioceses of Maliana, region, three hours from Dili.

“Each participant in our workshops themselves teach groups of more than 50 children, so the impact of the program is considerable. We would like to show that science can reach everyone,” Dr Sharwood said.