Science communication draws in 15 fellows from Africa to ANU
May 31, 2017

Australia Awards fellowship recipients with members of the ANU’s Australian Centre for Public Awareness of Science. Image: Stuart Hay, ANU.

To fits of giggles from a group of Canberra school children, the Australian National University’s (ANU) Dr Graham Walker demonstrated the use of a ‘vacuum-powered marshmallow bazooka’ as part of a pop-up interactive science exhibit at the Botswana High Commission in May.

The pop-up exhibit formed part of an educational experience for science communicators from eight African countries. They were in Australia for a six-week training program run by the ANU’s Australian National Centre for Public Awareness of Science under the Australia Awards Fellowships.

The 15 fellows from Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Mauritius, Tanzania, Kenya and Zimbabwe, undertook training to build the skills, knowledge and inspiration to create and further develop interactive science centres in Africa—similar to Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre, Questacon, in Canberra. The training focused on developing an understanding of key concepts including sponsorship and engagement; how to run a sustainable science centre; how to implement science outreach programs; how to assess and evalute the effect of programs; how to develop interactive exhibits, science shows and teacher workshops; and how to develop programs to address relevant socio-scientific problems facing their countries.

In visiting big and small science centres in Australia—including Questacon, Sydney Powerhouse Museum, Bendigo Discovery Science and Technology Centre, and the Wollongong Science Centre and Planetarium—the fellows experienced world-class science centres and museums, inspiring immediate and aspiriational models for Africa.

Mrs Leapotswe Bantsi from Botswana has always worked in science. She was a science teacher for many years with the Ministry of Education, before starting at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology. In this role, Mrs Bantsi coordinates science outreach programs to primary and secondary school students, and was interesetd in further developing her skills through this training opportunity.

`The program in Australia has been very inspiring and informative,’ she said. `It has consolidated and directed our knowledge and provided an opportunity to learn to make science exhibits ourselves using cheap household items.’

Mr Knowledge Chikundi from Zimbabwe is also very passionate about science. `Growing up, I felt there were no programs to promote science in schools,’ he said. `Now I want to play my part, promoting science as way to help find solutions and solve challenges facing my country now and in the future.’ And he is doing just that. As Director of the Zimbabwe Science Fair, he has worked tirelessly to build up the program from reaching two schools in 2013, to engaging with over 14,600 students in 2016, spreading knowledge, excitement and interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

`The whole fellowship experience has been life changing,’ Mr Chikundi said. `I can now make interactive exhibits, have been trained in more science show skills, and gained many skills for teacher workshops. All these skills and the networks I’ve built will help me start a science communication revolution in Zimbabwe.’

This Australia Awards Fellowship builds on the Science Circus Africa program, an ANU initiative that has reached over 68,000 across seven countries in Africa, and trained more than 350 African staff.

Last updated: May 31, 2017