In the words of Keith L. Moore, a renowned professor of Clinical Anatomy at the University of Toronto, “You will remember some of what you hear; much of what you read; more of what you see, and almost all of what you experience and understand fully.” This quote is one of our “anchor points/watchwords” at Science Advocacy for Youngsters Initiatives (SAFYI).
At exactly 10:00 am, December 13, 2019, 40 secondary school students (age 13 to 16), 8 science teachers, 12 volunteers, and 32 non-science members of the community, including parents and guardians, gathered together in the school hall of Ataoja School of Science in Osogbo, Nigeria, to learn about science in a simple, beautiful, and unconventional way.
The goal of this program was to increase awareness about basic issues in the field of science by supplementing practical-based science education, enhance scientific teaching, and inspire science careers through exposure to scientific research and career opportunities in cell biology and allied sciences.
To ensure that this program reached a diverse student population, we involved “hard-to-reach” students and minorities, preferably coming from remote and rural areas of the state. Girls were highly involved and attended, and we were glad we were able to contribute and ignite scientific passion in young girls, too. The event was highly publicized and advertised in the news media across the state, leaving many with high hopes and expectations for scientific outreach.
Mr. K.A Alabi, a Director in the Ministry of Education, and Dotun Adeyinka, the organizer, kick-started the event. Adeyinka anchored the events with the assistance of Bamgbose Timothy and Oluwafemi Adeyinka. The sessions were quite diverse, covering topics such as: What is a University? What is Research? Introduction to Cell Biology, Genes and Gene Regulation; What are Cancer Cells? and basic routine research techniques such as cell staining and microscopy.
Talks included themes on Drosophila research (from Adeyinka) (Photos 2 and 3) and “Foldscope: A paper microscope” and we had a “do-it-yourself” session, where each student had to assemble the foldscope from scratch, though with necessary guidance and support. (Photos 4, 5, and 6)
We also talked about career opportunities in biological and allied sciences. This session was anchored by Richard Omole; it was well discussed, and we had intriguing questions from the students. The expert participants came from a variety of backgrounds. There was diversity in terms of experts: people from academia, industry, science communication, as well as the health and education sectors of the country. The facilitators and organizers talked about their research and why it is important to them and the society at large.
This session really showed us that the audience was interested and curious about what the world holds for them, how they could delve into scientific research, and also how to use it as an entry point to benefit society.
The mentoring session allowed for small group discussion as we split the students into five groups each of which was chaired by a career specialist.
We wanted to provide hands-on experiences. We did this with the students by repeated demonstration on how to use a pipette, examining cells under the microscope, a short movie on micro-dissection (Drosophila Larva Brain), and antibody/immunofluorescence staining. We did some simple experiments on gram staining of bacteria, and we explained the details of the science behind every experiment. The guided laboratory tour and the exhibition session allowed students a glimpse into scientific equipment including the autoclave, weighing balance, micropipette, microscope, and pH meter. (Photo 1)
We had a game/fun session with a group scientific puzzle game. This further introduced and emphasized the need for teamwork among students. This exercise further emphasized the point for the need for collaboration in the scientific world, in order to be an achiever and widens one’s intellectual horizon. (Photos 7, 8, 9, 11)
We maximized exposure to science by also showing some science-related TED talks during lunchtime.
To gather feedback, we had a suggestion box at the back of the hall, and students were given the opportunity to provide suggestions for future improvement. At the end of the event, questionnaires were administered to get structured feedback. We also gave them the opportunity to write about the challenges they are facing in their schools with respect to science education and how we could be of help to them. We were very glad to hear from them on what and how they feel about the program and how they’d want us to improve.
We had some comments /feedback that really touched us as an organization, such as:
-“I am very happy to see, touch, and use these instruments, this is my first time, we don’t have these in our school, and please when will you do the next outreach? I will like to come again”
-“I am happy to see Drosophila, I have never seen it before and now I will like to understand many processes in biology using this model organism”
-“I will be so glad to work with Drosophila in the nearest future”
-“I will like to pursue a career in cell biology, how can you help me?”
-“I am happy to see equipment in real life, as against what I do see in text-books as diagrams”
Indeed, this outreach event created a support system that ensured learning in a beautiful and simple way. The event encouraged students to think critically, solve challenging problems, and develop skills such as oral communication, public speaking, research, teamwork, planning, self-sufficiency, and goal setting.
At the end of the event, one student-participant from each group demonstrated the skills and knowledge gained from the event. They did so by picking scientific equipment, talking about its uses and how to use it. They assembled the foldscope this time with no support from the instructors.
Personally, I had the opportunity to show and give people (students, researchers, non-science people, and the community) the happiness and excitement that comes along with teaching, mentoring, volunteering, and outreach work. I am glad I was able to design and use learning materials and methods at a level people can easily understand.
I would like to acknowledge and thank my PI, Dr. Boris Egger, Prof. Dr. Simon Sprecher, and also Mr. Moyinoluwa (from RUWESA) for their encouragement, immense support, and valuable contributions on this outreach program.
We at SAFYI are very grateful to our sponsor (ASCB COMPASS) for giving us this wonderful opportunity (ASCB Compass Outreach Grant), and to the Osun State Ministry of Education, Nigeria, for its assistance and support in the organization of the outreach.
All photos by Olawumi Stephen.
About the Author:
Dotun Adeleye Adeyinka is a PhD student in the field of neuro and developmental biology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He is also the founder and convener of Science Advocacy for Youngster initiatives (SAFYI), a registered non-governmental and nonprofit organization in Nigeria, whose interest is to create science awareness and run community-based science outreaches in Nigeria.
Richard Omole is a PhD student at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. He is a writer and science communicator.
Timothy Bamgbose is a PhD student at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in Nigeria, who is a WARC, DBT & TWAS fellow working on probiotics for malaria treatment and loves cycling.