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Inspiring Tomorrow's Scientists: The IAEA Presents a New Nuclear Science and Technology Educational Resource Package for Secondary Schools

(Photo: J. Krickl/IAEA)

Tomorrow's scientists are today's students, and how can we inspire the next generation to choose science as a career? That's the question that a new educational resource package developed by the IAEA in partnership with education and communication experts from around the world aims to answer. The Compendium of Resources and Activities on Nuclear Science and Technology for Secondary School Teachers and Students, presented this week at a side event entitled 'Introducing Nuclear Science and Technology in Secondary Schools' on the margins of the 60th IAEA General Conference, aims to make nuclear science more interesting and attractive to students, and to encourage young people to enter the fields of nuclear science and technology.

"We need innovative techniques to address the challenges of the future, and we need to ensure that the nuclear knowledge is passed on to the next generations. This project is an opportunity for the youth, for developing countries, for women!" said Ms Najat Mokhtar, Director of the IAEA's Division for Asia and the Pacific in her opening statement to the side event.

Retaining and developing nuclear knowledge and capacity is essential for sustainability and future development. Scientists and researchers, including in the nuclear field, are urgently needed to respond to the needs of a rising global population, urbanization, industrialization, and the challenges of climate change. Today's students can be tomorrow's scientists – the generation that will take over from the scientists who will be retiring within the next decade – and engaging their interest while still in high school is key to ensuring a cohort of students and graduates interested in pursuing careers as scientists, and ready to take on the challenge of developing nuclear knowledge and capacity in their countries.

The Compendium is one of the outputs of a pilot IAEA technical cooperation project in the Asia and the Pacific region that was designed to support information, education and communication about nuclear science and technology among secondary school students and teachers in the region. It offers an assortment of resources, programmes and activities that have proven to enrich scientific learning in an engaging manner in secondary schools. It is a guide to the latest teaching resources and tips, and it provides a list of classroom and afterschool activities that teachers and students can use to teach science in a more engaging, interesting and easy to understand way. These include activities like Science on Saturday (SOS), essay competitions, workshops for teachers and students, field trips, hands on experiments and POWER SET (Powerful Opportunities for Women Eager and Ready for Science, Engineering and Technology).

(Photo: J. Krickl/IAEA)

During the side event, representatives from two of the four countries in Asia and the Pacific that participated in a one-year trial to use tools and activities from the IAEA Compendium in secondary education syllabuses shared their experiences and reflected on best practices and successes, but also on limitations and challenges.

"In the Philippines, 46 Science Department Heads and around 200 teachers were trained by IAEA experts. The teachers from the two pilot schools now serve as teachers and trainers on different activities from the Compendium," said Ms. Micah Pacheco, Head of the Science Department at the San Francisco High School in the Philippines. "As a next step, the compendium will be adapted to the education strategies of secondary schools in five additional cities of the national capital region," Ms Pacheco added.

"In Malaysia we followed the Japanese module from the Compendium, since […it] fitted best with Malaysia's syllabus," explained Ms Habibah Adnan, Director of the Information Management Division at the Malaysian Nuclear Energy Agency. The activities selected by Malaysia included a radiation workshop for science teachers, a radiation education programme for secondary school students, visits to nuclear facilities and a national nuclear science and technology essay writing competition. Ms Adnan presented a video of the students carrying out these activities. (View video →)

Over 900 high school teachers and 10,000 high-school students benefitted from the pilot project. Many of the teachers who received training from IAEA experts in turn trained other teachers back in their countries. They will continue serving as teachers and trainers on different activities of the Compendium, thus supporting the creation of a pool of trained educators in the Asia and the Pacific region.

Dr Adrian Paterson, Chief Executive Officer at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Dr Takeshi Iimoto, Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo, who had both provided expert advice to the preparation of the Compendium, shared their experience and talked about some of the ideas that they had contributed. Dr Paterson highlighted the importance of changing the conversation around nuclear issues through both outreach and education to address the knowledge gap and a lack of understanding that exists in society.

"People's awareness has to be raised about the benefits of nuclear technology for health, the environment and important research," said Dr Paterson. Dr Iimoto focused on their efforts to insert 'WOW factors' into education modules, by offering hands-on classes and making videos of lectures and virtual tours available online to motivate and support teachers as well as students.

Dr Zerwas, a member of the Texas Legislature, spoke about the creation of POWER SET and his experience with the programme since its introduction in 2007. "POWER SET provides the tools that are necessary to orient young women into science. These tools include companion programmes in the private industry, exchange programmes in schools and mentoring aimed to addressing a tremendous gap in the workforce in nuclear sciences," said Dr Zerwas. He added "83% of the women who participate in the programme do pursue scientific careers."

Ms Elizabeth Castanon, who is the first graduate of POWER SET, spoke about her experience with the programme. "I was not really sure what I wanted to do. POWER SET piqued my interest in science and engineering. POWER SET allowed us to see different facilities, such as power plants, and talk to engineers. I now work in the South Texas Nuclear Project Electric Generating Station in Texas. Today I have the opportunity to apply all the things that I have learned and would like to act as a mentor for other students enrolled in POWER SET."

All participants emphasized the importance of teachers and the need for the timely introduction of measures to inspire young students and spark interest in scientific fields at school. The Compendium is targeted for adaptation to secondary school education syllabuses.

(Photo: J. Krickl/IAEA)


The pilot Compendium initiative was successfully completed under a regional technical cooperation project RAS0065 supported by the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications and the Department of Technical Cooperation. A follow-up regional project for Asia and the Pacific is being prepared for 2018–2020 to expand and sustain nuclear science and technology information, education and communication among secondary school students and teachers in the region.

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