Tipping science on its head

first_imgShirley Tilghman vividly remembers the science experiment that changed her life. As a child, the distinguished molecular biologist and Princeton University president loved math and solving puzzles, but it was in college that she had her “aha” moment in a lab.For months, Tilghman, a second-year chemistry concentrator, had tried to convert a biologically inert molecule into penicillin. One morning she checked her experiment, expecting to see “happily growing E. coli,” as she had countless times before. Instead, she found she had successfully synthesized the famous antibiotic in her test tube.“Rockets went off in my head,” recalled Tilghman. “It would have been impossible for me not to be a scientist after that euphoric moment.”Undergraduates need those “aha” moments early in their college careers so that they become engaged with the sciences, Tilghman told a crowd of faculty, administrators, and students who gathered at Harvard’s Science Center for the Dudley Herschbach Lecture, an annual event that honors Herschbach, the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science Emeritus.Harvard President Drew Faust introduced Tilghman and praised her for her efforts, as both an administrator and a teacher, to elevate and redefine science education.Science education, Tilghman said, “is also about instilling a comprehension of the scientific method in those who will never see a laboratory and giving them a full appreciation of the transformative role that scientific and technological innovation plays in daily life.”“Making science and making careers devoted to science more accessible to more people is a hallmark of Shirley’s leadership,” said Faust.Tilghman, who will step down at the end of the academic year, argued that exposing students early to groundbreaking scientific inquiry, eliminating disciplinary boundaries, offering students hands-on approaches to the sciences and engineering, adopting innovative teaching techniques, and encouraging committed teachers are all critical parts of the effort to improve science pedagogy.A leader in molecular biology and a founding member of the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project for the National Institutes of Health, Tilghman outlined her “inverted pyramid” approach to science education during her talk. University students, she argued, should be exposed to big scientific ideas as a first step in their learning, rather than a last step. Then, said Tilghman, “We need to connect the facts and theories and hypotheses and theorems we teach to the great task of solving the questions behind the big ideas.”Tilghman uses that approach in her freshman seminars, where she delves into the complicated world of epigenetics with her students by having them read the latest papers on heady topics such as genomic imprinting and X chromosome inactivation in mammals. Such reading, she said, helps her students “understand the concepts and, most importantly, the ways in which scientists go about exploring big ideas. Furthermore, students learn that scientists do not have all the answers.”Tilghman said that Princeton offers students the “opportunity to actually be scientists and engineers.” “The earlier undergraduates enter our research labs, the greater the likelihood that they will have a transformative experience,” said Tilghman, who cited studies that link early research experiences to the prospect of persisting with a scientific career, and her own early experience with scientific discovery.But in addition to reworking their science curriculums to inspire science concentrators, universities need to offer classes that help to demystify the sciences for future policymakers and a discriminating public, she said.Science education, Tilghman said, “is also about instilling a comprehension of the scientific method in those who will never see a laboratory and giving them a full appreciation of the transformative role that scientific and technological innovation plays in daily life.”Tilghman said innovative teaching practices, such as the use of interactive clickers, case studies, and cooperative student learning, are all “challenging the traditional lecture format.” She noted that although experiments in online education are still in their early days, such efforts are “bringing to our teaching the same innovative spirit that we bring to our scholarship.” She praised the $40 million gift from Rita E. and Gustave M. Hauser to Harvard that established an initiative to support innovative teaching and learning across the University.Harvard President Drew Faust praised Tilghman for her efforts, as both an administrator and a teacher, to elevate and redefine science education.Tilghman echoed the sentiments of analysts who fear that America is on the verge of losing its global influence, in part because of its inability to produce and keep a workforce of talented scientists and engineers.“Whether the measure is patents issued or papers published or degrees awarded, the United States is losing its historic market share of scientific and technological activity. Against this backdrop, it has become imperative that we renew our commitment to producing graduates capable of fundamental research and technological innovation.”last_img read more

Children’s Futures impacted Due to Ebola School Closures

first_imgChildren in Ebola-stricken Liberia are playing, working or begging to fill their time while schools remain closed, according to children’s charity Plan International.The virus has kept schools shut for more than four months, in a country which already suffers from limited learning facilities and trained teachers, as well as a high illiteracy rate.New research from Plan shows that many children and youth will lose half a year or more of education, which is expected to affect their prospects in life, as well as dent their confidence and self esteem.The report, entitled “Young Lives on Lockdown: The impact of Ebola on children and communities in Liberia,” says that while teachers and older children are continuing to teach their children and siblings at home, the majority of parents are themselves uneducated and thus cannot give their children home schooling.“Most parents cannot read or write so they cannot help their children at home.  At the same time, they don’t let other people come to their houses to conduct lessons for them or let their children out for even 30 minutes,” said one community leader interviewed for the research.  Remember, there is the constant fear of Ebola.Once schools do re-open, parents worry they will not have the money to pay their children’s fees as well as fees for other activities.“Schools will soon reopen, but no money to put kids in school on time owning to limited vehicles,” said another community leader, who spoke to researchers.In Joseph Town, Bomi, western Liberia, and any other parts of the country, hundreds of children can be seen playing at street corners or in empty market stalls.The children play aimlessly without any form of learning or care provided.“I miss school so badly,’ says Archie, 13. “I never thought I would be out of school all these months. All I do every day is play football and run around the community with my friends.”Liberian school systems were slowly recovering after the civil war eleven years ago. Now, such progress has taken a step backward.“The Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a serious threat to mankind, and it has affected and hugely impacted negatively every sector of Liberia, particularly education,” said Felecia Sackie Doe-Suma, Liberia’s Assistant Minister of Education for Early Childhood Development.According to the research, the Ebola crisis is having a particular impact on older children’s education – with the risk that they will not return to education particularly at the high level.This is most obviously the case in households who have lost parents or carers, where older children – almost exclusively girls – talk about their need to take over the parenting role.More generally, dwindling (declining) family incomes and a rise in poverty can be expected to increase the pressure on youth to leave education permanently.For these children and youths, the possibilities offered by education are replaced by the prospect of a lifetime of unskilled work or early motherhood.Alphan Kabba, Plan Liberia Programme Manager in Bomi, added: “Children are left to play while some have turned to becoming bread winners in this Ebola period, due to the closure of schools across the country.“This will have far-reaching consequences in the not-too-distant future.”Plan plans to create learning spaces, safe home schools and radio listening clubs in 15 counties across Liberia beginning where Plan has program units.According to Kabba, this will give children access to radio and provide the right atmosphere to listen to the government’s newly introduced radio program entitled Teaching by Radio.Liberia’s Education Ministry launched the Teaching by Radio program in October 2014 on three national radio stations based in Monrovia.The program brings together education specialists, classroom teachers and volunteer educators to teach children and keep them busy whilst schools remain closed.“We teach five subjects – Language Arts,   which include grammar usage; basic and everyday Math, Science for life, including nutrition in the Ebola context, and hygiene,” said Doe-Suma.“We also teach history and social studies,” she added.However, in Bomi, Archie says he has not heard the program, as Bomi County – which has a population of over 150,000 – has only one radio station.“I do not have a radio for myself but I have not heard a program like that on any radio station in Bomi. I know Radio Bomi sometimes relays programs from national radio stations in Monrovia, but this has not been the case,” Archie said.Nigel Chapman, CEO of Plan International, said the closure of schools will have long-term effects on children.“The closure of all schools, colleges and universities means that children and youth are having their long-term futures impacted by the virus.“This will affect their prospects, their confidence and their self esteem. It is very worrying that even when schools re-open, many parents will not be able to afford the fees. Older children will likely remain in work rather than complete their education. We must make getting children back to lessons a priority in our Ebola response work.”NoteIn total, 6388 have died in West Africa of Ebola. As of 10 December, over 3100[1] people have died in Liberia alone as the deadly disease continues to ravage the country with over 7700 reported cases so far, and the numbers still rising.Founded 77 years ago, Plan is one of the oldest and largest child rights organisations in the world that works in 51 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations. www.plan-international.orgPlan started working in Liberia in 1982. The organization works in partnership with the communities and the government to ensure poor children have access to quality education, good health and adequate sanitation, and that they are well protected. The organization has 12,250 sponsored children spread over 176 communities in its programmed areas. 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