In August 2014 I had the immense privilege of spending around ten days in Tanzania and of attending the 2014 Young Scientists Tanzania exhibition in Dar es Salaam. Supported by a travel grant from the Ubuntu Network the purpose of my visit was to consolidate links between the Education Department in Maynooth University and the Young Scientists Project and to encourage further potential collaboration between educators in Ireland and Tanzania. While I was there I had the opportunity to act as a judge of some of the Social Science projects.
During the visit I also wrote about my travels around Tanzania and my experience of the exhibition. I felt then, and continue to feel now, that YST was unlike any other educational event I have ever attended and meeting Tanzania’s Young Scientists in Dar es Salaam last year made a profound impression on me. The stories of those students’ projects have stayed with me throughout the past year and I have tried to share them with others in different ways since then.
Although this year I could only attend the YST Exhibition via Twitter, the excitement and energy of the young people have once again been awe-inspiring! YST is decidedly student-centered, celebrating quality scientific research among second level students, and providing a meaningful outlet for their interests and ingenuity.
The pictures posted on social media reminded me of the efforts of preparation, coordination and the logistics that go into making the event happen. I continue to be flabbergasted at the monumental achievement of the YST team who gather teachers and pupils from across a country that is ten times the size of Ireland! Anyone with any experience of travelling in East Africa will appreciate how massive that achievement is in itself!
But educationally what YST achieves, with a relatively small core staff of mentors and organisers, is so much more compelling: instilling a love of Science among young people in a country where, to date, there has been a relatively low uptake up of Science and Technology subjects in higher education, is nothing short of phenomenal! A recent article for The Citizen newspaper by H.E. Irish Ambassador to Tanzania, Fionnuala Gilsenan, provides great insight into the significance of YST for Tanzanian education, development and society in general.
In the article Ambassador Gilsenan points out that “why?” (kwa nini in Swahili) is the most important word in any language. Reading it prompts me to ask why it is that YST makes such a profound impression. Why do the stories of the young scientists resonate so strongly? Why do I think it is so important that news about the achievements of these young people be known more widely?
One reason, among many, is that it contradicts the usual, and rather lazy narratives of despondence, dependency and outright desperation that are conveyed in the media regarding Africa. It is not often that stories of students’ working out ways to combat poverty make the headlines, although when you stop to think about it, these are precisely the stories that should! It was refreshing to see the reports aired this week by RTÉ’s Education Correspondent Emma O’Kelly who, along with cameraman Colm McCaughley travelled to Tanzania to meet the Young Scientists. Their reports give an insight to the projects and the motivations of these young Tanzanian scientists and convey also how articulate and sophisticated they are.
As I reflect back on last year’s trip, I think that, for me, the real value of my own trip to Tanzania will only fully come about when our hoped for links between teachers (and student teachers) in both countries are strengthened and developed. One way this can become a reality in 2016 will be through the addition of the Professional Master of Education (PME) course onto the Irish Aid Fellowship Training Programme. This programme is administered for Irish Aid by the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS). With Maynooth University’s PME now added to that register we hope to welcome candidates from Tanzania (and indeed from any of the seven countries eligible to apply for that fellowship).
So further opportunities for us to work together will ensue! In the meantime we look forward to welcoming Edwin Luguku and John Method, the winners of YST2015, to Ireland in January 2
016 for the BT Young Scientists Exhibition in Dublin and we wish Joe and Co-Director Dr. Kamugisha Gozibert and all the YST Team in Dar es Salaam the very best for next year’s exhibition and future plans for the initiative in other countries in East Africa.