Sophisticated but inexpensive experimental modules in Biology for rural schools in developing countries

Leaders

  • Prof. Eric Warrant, Department of Biology, University of Lund, Sweden
  • Prof. Marie Dacke, Department of Biology, University of Lund, Sweden
  • Dr. Hema Somanathan, School of Biology, Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research Maruthamala PO, Vithura, Thiruvannanthapuram, 695551 Kerala, India

The three applicants have a long experience of performing non-invasive behavioural experiments to investigate the sensory capacities of insects.

Introduction

Due to their limited economic capacities, developing nations frequently face significant budgetary restraints on education funding. While this is usually a problem in all parts of the country, the problem tends to escalate in poorer rural areas. Rural schools in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America are often severely under-funded, and this takes its toll on both the teachers and their pupils. Teachers in under-funded schools face greater challenges to maintain a high quality of education and to help their pupils to reach their full potential. This is particularly true in the scientific disciplines of Biology, Chemistry and Physics which traditionally rely on a significant component of costly laboratory work to teach children the basic principles of science and the scientific method. Without meaningful laboratory time, children miss out on one of the most engaging and enlightening parts of a school education in science, and one which is essential for any child that dreams of the world beyond their own village and who dares to imagine a career in science, medicine or engineering.

One of the greatest assets of a rural life is its proximity to the natural world. Often without realising it, rural schools are surrounded by wonderful natural laboratories filled with plants and animals, many of which lend themselves directly to the creation of simple, but nonetheless sophisticated, laboratory classes in Biology. As an example, rural settings are often rich in insect life, and these insects are often well-known to children. Indeed, some may even have insects as pets. Decades of scientific investigations on insects have revealed many aspects of their behaviour and general biology that can easily be exploited in a classroom laboratory setting to teach children fundamental biological principles. Apart from the obvious educational benefits, an immediate positive by-product is that children can gain a much greater appreciation for the living world around them, to realise its beauty and its fragility and to understand that we are only one of a myriad of species that share our Earth. Sir David Attenborough once remarked that he feared for the future of our planet when more and more people are losing touch with the natural world – those who have never been overwhelmed by the beauty of a wild forest, or felt the spiritual lift of a remote wilderness or the thrill in experiencing a wild animal in its natural habitat for the first time are also unlikely to see the need to protect them from the relentless march of human progress. By directly having contact with their local plants and animals in school laboratory classes is a marvellous way to build a child’s appreciation – and love – of the natural world around them, and to instil a passion to protect it. 

This proposal aims to bring together biologists and educators from various parts of the world to discuss the practical issues of creating laboratory modules for use in rural high schools in developing countries.

Work Plan

The work plan involves four steps:

  1. A two-day meeting in Lund (Sweden) in late 2017 or early 2018 with selected key biologists and schools contacts from Africa and India to discuss and design 1-3 laboratory modules to be tested and evaluated in selected “test schools”.
  2. Testing and evaluation of the laboratory modules in test schools (in an African, a Brazilian and an Indian school)
  3. A four-day meeting at the African test school in Spring 2019 (with those present at the first meeting) to discuss the success (or otherwise) of the laboratory modules and to discuss the logistics of expanding the initiative to other schools.
  4. Incorporation of approved modules into the national school curriculum (long term goal).