Last month, an IAEA initiative aimed at secondary school science teachers took off in Indonesia. The aim? To equip teachers to inspire a new generation of nuclear scientists and engineers by engaging students and enhancing their understanding of nuclear science and technology. This is the first time that the IAEA formally engages with the secondary education teaching community.
A course for 26 educators from 17 countries leading this initiative has initiated them into diverse methods of teaching nuclear science to children aged 12-18. The attendees will be mentors to other teachers in their countries. This way, the project aims to reach a million students by 2021.
"Over my lifetime, I will get to teach over 3000 students, so I can make a positive impact," said Saichon Sukkho, a high school teacher from Thailand involved in the programme.
The development challenges faced today are well known: population growth, increased energy needs, the need to achieve food security and universal healthcare — while protecting the environment. Nuclear science and technology are playing an important part in addressing many of these challenges, positively impacting people's lives.
Nuclear technology has significantly contributed to enhancing prosperity and quality of life in many parts of the world, including in Asia and the Pacific. But in order for these efforts to continue, there need to be nuclear professionals in every generation. It is therefore vital to reach out to young students, who can become the next generation of scientists and engineers. This is the aim of the initiative.
"The idea is to introduce teachers to the link between the key role being played by nuclear science in enhancing the quality of our everyday life and the simple nuclear concepts being taught in schools as well as to provide them with innovative methods to deliver this knowledge to students through academic as well as extra-curricular approaches," said Sunil Sabharwal, radiation processing specialist at the IAEA.
During the two-week training course, the first in a series of six, the secondary-school science teachers learned about teaching nuclear science and technology to students in an effective and engaging manner, said Jane Gerardo-Abaya, the Section Head at the IAEA's Technical Cooperation Department managing the project. They developed a deeper understanding of nuclear science and ways to convey it through innovative approaches inside as well as outside the classroom, she added.
The presentations, laboratory work and other activities were targeted to middle school and secondary school teachers of physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and earth sciences with a focus on dispelling possible negative perceptions associated with nuclear technology. The training course also served as a good opportunity for teachers from different countries to network and exchange experiences in teaching.
"The training course provided me with the necessary confidence, courage and knowledge to talk about the real facts of nuclear science with students," said Amal Al-Khassawneh, a teacher from Jordan. With empowered teachers, students in the region will benefit from this new knowledge, she added.
From 2012 to 2016, IAEA and experts from Australia, India, Israel, Japan, South Korea and the United States developed a compendium that collects unique teaching strategies and materials to introduce science and technology in education systems across Asian countries. The compendium was piloted in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates and reached 24 000 students. The compendium provides a guide to latest teaching resources and tips, and a list of classroom and afterschool activities that teachers and students can use to teach and learn about science in a more engaging, interesting and easy-to-understand way
The pilot demonstrated that students were more receptive to learning about nuclear science and technology when teachers used a diverse set of methods, which also increased their problem solving skills.
In coming years, educators will draw on the experience and prepare an updated version of the compendium and a guidebook that will offer an assortment of resources, programmes and activities to enrich scientific learning in an engaging manner.
The course in Indonesia follows a first Regional Workshop on Curriculum Development and Launching of Nuclear Science and Technology for Secondary Schools that took place in February this year in the Philippines. During an earlier workshop in Japan, a regional nuclear science and technology competency framework was established that serves as reference for national educational curriculums. The competency framework was crucial in the preparation of this latest two-week regional training course.
The next regional training course for teachers will take place at the Argonne National Laboratory in the United States in August 2018. The following four will take place in Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Australia in 2018 and 2019.