Was the Apollo 11 moon landing a hoax? – UNESCO and the International Year of Astronomy

earthMoon

Was the Apollo 11 moon landing a hoax? Of course, it matters whether it is true or not.

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But in some ways  it does not. What is important, now, is that young people learn about scientific method and process (which has links to legal process and human rights) and how to search for and interrogate different  forms of evidence. Using the arguments and evidence (including a lot of visual evidence, which can be manipulated) of the issues around the moon  landings brings into sharper focus not only a need for skills of presenting , analysing and interpreting  evidence but also an understanding about bias and prejudice within the media, and how people’s views and understandings can be manipulated.

Bigarmstrongmoon

Training teachers to provide real opportunities for students to explore sensitive and sometimes even provocative issues can help their students  become more ‘human’ . Teachers not only have to have the skills, knowledge and attitudes to provide learning opportunities  but also the freedom and with it the responsibility  to extend the curriculum to meet students’ future needs and interests.

If you want more opportunities to explore the ‘moon landings hoax’ – try these:

conspiracy theories

hollywood studio?
hollywood studio?

and this is good for a laugh

moon-landing-hoax-2

and for NASA’s rebuttals

hasselblad-miniMoon

If scientific methods are understood and practiced and which lead to reduced prejudice and improved tolerance then we will have made a giant leap….

For a virtual tour of the moon try: http://www.google.com/moon/


UNESCO is leading the International Year of Astronomy

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Just like prejudice  ‘the essential is invisible to our eyes‘, which is the compelling title of theories of the universe – Cosmologists believe that about 70 percent of the universe consists of dark energy, 25 percent of dark matter, and only 5% of ‘normal matter’ (known elements such as stars, planets, etc.).

What is dark matter and what is dark energy? Our understanding of the physical world will be revolutionized the day we discover the answers to these two questions, which will be central to the “Invisible Universe” programme presented at UNESCO from 29 June to 10 July, as part of the International Year of Astronomy celebration.

The exhibition “Exploring the Invisible Universe” will show how modern astronomy and more generally modern science has converged toward a vision of our reality based on the invisible, in the sense of not directly detectable.

UNESCO

The exhibition is organized with the support of the Natural Sciences Sector of UNESCO.

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Discover all levels of the Cosmos – the closest to the farthest – a trip that starts with the solar system and ends at the confines of the most distant known galaxies and structures.

“Palais de la Découverte” – Paris, France

From 23 June to 22 November 2009

In the IYA there are global programmes of activities centred on a specific theme and are some of the projects that will help to achieve the IYA2009’s main goals.

  1. 100 Hours of Astronomy
  2. Cosmic Diary
  3. Portal to the Universe
  4. She is an Astronomer
  5. Dark Skies Awareness
  6. Astronomy and World Heritage (Universal treasures)
  7. Galileo Teacher Training Programme
  8. Universe Awareness (One place in the Universe)
  9. From Earth to the Universe (The beauty of science)
  10. Developing Astronomy Globally (Astronomy for all)

HandsOnOpticsLogo

And for discovering for yourself why not invest in the new  Galileoscope (only a few dollars!)

Galileoscope-CAD-Side

Galileo’s Classroom

Astronomy is an ideal vehicle to interest kids in science and to teach the basics of chemistry, physics, math, and even biology to elementary and middle-school kids. For high school it’s the perfect science since it uses biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and environmental science to study the universe and our place in it.

Galileos-Classroom

Astronomy is also ideally suited to teaching the scientific process — how observations and evidence lead to sensible explanations about how the world works.

It is no exaggeration to say that the telescope changed everything: Galileo’s discoveries literally revolutionized our perception of the universe and Earth’s place in it.

The Galileoscope™ is a high-quality, low-cost telescope kit developed for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 by a team of leading astronomers, optical engineers, and science educators. No matter where you live, with this easy-to-assemble, 50-mm (2-inch) diameter, 25- to 50-power achromatic refractor, you can see the celestial wonders that Galileo Galilei first glimpsed 400 years ago and that still delight stargazers today. These include lunar craters and mountains, four moons circling Jupiter, the phases of Venus, Saturn’s rings, and countless stars invisible to the unaided eye.

sunandearthfrommoon

Space studies bring a new dimension to science education. They introduce new knowledge, values and perspectives on the planet Earth and develop better understanding of the universe and beyond. Space studies, based on the rational arguments of physics and mathematics, help the development of the critical thinking process, participatory problem solving and decision making skills of students, which are central to quality education, the priority goal of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).

essential is invisible

And don’t forget the range of images from the edge of the known universe taken by the Hubble telescope

image from Hubble
image from Hubble

The  ideas represented above including ‘the essential is in the invisible’ mean that for  young people there is still plenty of scope for discovery, enquiry, exploration and creativity – the stuff that real education is made of , which allows students to make giant leaps in their learning.

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Education for All? …Reaching and Teaching… the most marginalised and least included (example:Chad)

Education for All?

According to UNESCO there are still 75 million children out of school ( more than half of these being girls)  and millions more leave school, early, without acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills. Who are these unreached that do not have access to quality  schooling and learning opportunities?

They are the most disadvantaged and excluded, such as learners from remote and rural communities; learners from religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities/indigenous peoples; girls and women; children from migrant/nomadic  families; learners with disabilities; street children; working children,orphans; children and young people affected (and discriminated against ) through contracting  HIV / AIDS.

2MigWaterislife

Even these figures may be an understatement of the real situation as there are a number of children/young people who start school, find it difficult to attend school regularly, repeat grades and finally drop out. We may know the official number enrolled but not the number who just don’t /can’t turn up to school regularly and therefore do not complete even the most basic education program.

I will focus on just a few countries where I have been working – Chad, Guyana, Mauritius, Madagascar and Azerbaijan, to consider what can be done to ‘teach the unreached’ . I have already looked at  Timor Leste and Vietnam1 and Vietnam 2.

Let’s continue with Chad.

CHAD
CHAD

Chad (French: Tchad, Arabic: تشاد‎ Tshād), officially known as the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country in central Africa. It is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west.

Chad is home to over 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups. Arabic and French are the official languages. Islam and Christianity are the most widely practiced religions.

The country is one of the poorest countries in the world; most Chadians live in poverty as subsistence herders and farmers. Since 2003 crude oil has become the country’s primary source of export earnings, superseding the traditional cotton industry.

I started working with UNICEF Chad helping to establish a small project to provide some form of quality education of children from Nomadic and semi nomadic families. The representative, Daniele Brady,  worked with  enthusiasm and vision  to make things happen under very difficult conditions.

Unfortunately, recent changes in the politics of the region,particularly the situation in Darfur, Sudan , has destabilised the country , encouraged two coups and left the country dealing with thousands of refugees. UNICEF has had to change from providing support to the government for long term education provision for all , to shorter term emergency support for children’s health, education and most importantly, safety. For emergency education services UNICEF has provided

  • In addition to erecting 350 school tents, UNICEF and its partners have financed construction of 250 semi-permanent classrooms. Each classroom can handle 80 children and will withstand eastern Chad’s harsh climate.
Refugee girls learning outdoors
Refugee girls learning outdoors
  • More than 600 school-in-a-box kits allowed 45,000 Sudanese refugee children to attend school, some for the very first time.
outdoor classroom
outdoor classroom
  • Thirty child-friendly areas in the refugee camps have given 27,000 children an opportunity to play, learn, and recover from their physical and psychological scars.

ibc_11_CHD_cwalthUNICEF

Although UNICEF is used to working on emergencies, the recent refugee influx from Darfur, has taken resources away from longer term goals for those Chadian children who do not have access to education.

I was working with UNICEF on the education of children from nomadic families.

nomadic community
nomadic community

There are thought to be over a quarter of a million nomads in the east of Chad. During the dry season the nomads are in the south of the country, the cattle herders generally going further south than the camel herders, and then during the rainy season they move north, again the camel herders going further north than the cattle.

chief
                                                                                                                                   chief

Nomads survive because of their:

Mobility Because nomads live in areas of climatic extremes they’ve had to be flexible and opportunistic. Mobility allows them to profit from widely-dispersed resources, such as water, whose availability varies from year to year.

water is life
water is life

Mixed Economies Pastoral nomads raise several kinds of animals: usually one large prestigious species,such as cattle or camels and several smaller animals like goats and sheep. Disease or drought affects each species differently, thus increasing the nomads’ chances of survival.

Chadcamels

Tribal Sharing Most nomadic peoples are organized into tribes or clans which have a customary claim over a specific territory and can support each other.

Nomadic peoples face many threats today, but the most serious is the attempt to stop them moving around  (‘sedenterization’)

nomadic architectue
nomadic architectue

Nomads  don’t fit neatly into national boundaries and they tend to look and behave differently from majority  populations,.


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They need to be brought together for their ‘own good’, government officials claim – so they can be educated,  taxed and given proper health care, electricity and roads.

State planners claim that wandering pastoralists are inefficient and that they are ignorant of modern animal  husbandry.


Major constraints to their participation in formal  education are:

i) their constant migrations/movements in search of water and pasture in the case of the nomadic pastoralists;

Precious water sources
Precious water sources

ii) the centrality of child labour in their production system, thus making it extremely difficult to allow their children to  participate in formal schooling,if in a fixed school;

Centrality of child labour
Centrality of child labour – providing water for the animals

ii) the irrelevance of the school curriculum which is tailored to meet the needs of sedentary groups and thus ignores the educational needs of nomadic peoples;

iv) their physical isolation, since they operate in largely inaccessible physical environments; and

v) a land-tenure system that makes it difficult for the nomads to acquire land and settle in one place.

Of course the main difficulty in providing education to children of nomadic families is that the children move and schools tend to be static. One solution, started in the 1970’s was to use an extra camel to carry the extra equipment (chalkboard and tent) for a mobile school.

schoolCamel

Civil war disrupted this system and nomadic children have had little access to education since. Other reasons include the mistrust of the ‘French’ system of education which nomads feel does not  respect their culture/language/way of life. So for Chadian Arabic speakers only Koranic schools provided some sort of education.

2MigKoranicKoranic schools provide some education,though limited, to children of nomadic families.

Some NGOs have been able to build some schools for ‘semi-nomadic’ communities where children and old people stay in one place and teenage boys and parents move with the animals.

Bringing the school to the children
Bringing the school to the children

When parents were asked ‘What do you want from education?” They answered that their children needed to know how to look after their animals, and they needed to know their rights. Police and military often tried to extort money from them because of some infringements that they could not understand, due to their lack of French language. So as an education consultant you were faced with re-thinking education completely – taking away a static school and all its teaching resources. The  needs of the families unfortunately seemed a long way from the  objectives from the national education system, which was still rooted in the French colonial era.

How often do we find in different countries that a ‘classical’ approach to education exported with colonial rule does not meet the present day needs of many families. Even in Western countries life saving and life enhancing knowledge about our own health is relegated to a slot on a Friday afternoon and taught by a teacher who is not well trained in the demands of an active and participatory approach to health education. These nomadic families were saying that the health of their animals would be the only thing that helped them survive – without that knowledge education would be worthless.

fatherChad

We started by talking with representatives of nomadic families. What do they need and how to cooperate together to reach such objectives?

The nomadic communities offered one community member to be trained as a teacher by UNICEF as they had had earlier experience of urban teachers being sent to teach the children who had no understanding of nomadic life and culture. Providing the teacher was a sacrifice for the community as young people in the community would normally be needed for looking after the animals.

The second aspect was the curriculum and learning materials. It was decided that UNICEF and the Ministry of Education would start by developing some themes around animal and child health. It was also decided to utilise the idea of self learning materials so that students of different ages could learn together. Escuala Nueva based in Colombia, have had a lot of experience of developing ‘self -learning’ guides  and it was this model that was used as a basis for developing the learning materials for the themes.

Workshops were held with writers, teachers, animal and child health experts as well as an artist who would cooperate together to produce  learning guides which were trialed with students in nearby schools, to gauge the readability and understanding of the materials.

Teachers and writers
Teachers and writers

The self learning guide includes all the instructions that a teacher might normally give as well as  basic information , activities and research, extending the use and understanding of that information as well as formative assessment activities. Students are encouraged to work together to solve problems and increase their mastery by interaction in pairs and small groups .

2MigchildrenSchool

In this new understanding of what education could offer children of nomadic families, girls were particularly needing and wanting education.

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On a Saturday morning I went to visit a school,hoping to talk to the teacher. I could not find the teacher and the school was locked but a group of girls were patiently waiting outside in the vain hope that the teacher may turn up. In the mean time they were educating themselves and doing a good job of it.

Waiting for the teacher
Waiting for the teacher

In other makeshift classrooms  in semi nomadic communities children and their mothers were eager students ready to explore a hitherto unknown world of open education.

2MiadultSchool

The situation shown below illustrates something about the traditional view of ‘French’ education. In the village everyone lives in round houses and sits on mats on the floor. However, when they wanted a site for the school they used the model of the school that has been presented to them -a square concrete box with desks and benches  – colonialisation of the mind!

3CollEFAChd

When you send your daughter to school you have to find ways of making up for the lost labour source otherwise the family cannot cook and eat  because they have no water or firewood. UNICEF and women’s organizations helped to ease this situation by supporting families with energy efficient stoves, tools and donkeys so that girls did not have to spend so long on their tasks and could go to school.

2MigDonkeygirl

Unfortunately, even with all this hard work and progress there are setbacks. Children thought that civil war was over and they would benefit from the new oil revenues :

2Migrattak

But with the instability caused by the  situation in Darfur and the increased hostility against nomadic peoples due to the competition for water and grazing land then the future for these children is far from rosy…..

Children of the Perl
Children of the Perl

The brain, human evolution, the universe and beyond our insignificance

I wanted to write about conflict management but came across some other interesting ideas which will lead me towards conflict management and even resolution.

First if war starts in the mind then we should first understand the brain and then work on its adaptation:

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Check out a new animation from New Scientist

brain interactive

And Stephen Hawking  has been ruminating on human evolution

We are now entering a new phase, of what Hawking calls “self designed evolution,” in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. “At first,” he continues “these changes will be confined to the repair of genetic defects, like cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy. These are controlled by single genes, and so are fairly easy to identify, and correct. Other qualities, such as intelligence, are probably controlled by a large number of genes. It will be much more difficult to find them, and work out the relations between them. Nevertheless, I am sure that during the next century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence, and instincts like aggression.”

hawking

If the human race manages to redesign itself, to reduce or eliminate the risk of self-destruction, we will probably reach out to the stars and colonize other planets. But this will be done, Hawking believes, with intelligent machines based on mechanical and electronic components, rather than macromolecules, which could eventually replace DNA based life, just as DNA may have replaced an earlier form of life.

Casey Kazan

And while we are considering reaching out to the stars, anyone who has a rather inflated view of him/herself  should take a look through the Hubble telescope and consider how insignificant they are in comparison to the ‘big picture’

Next post on issues around conflict, conflict management and training

FREE training guide -Post Conflict Educational Reconstruction and Development in Africa

You can find this free training guide and other resources from Inter – Agency Network for Education in Emergencies INEE

Professional Training Course Syllabi

Post Conflict Educational Reconstruction and Development in AfricaTraining Guide, Workbook, Presentations 1-11 and Presentations 12-22. 27 February – 5 March, 2009, Osaka International Centre of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) with UNESCO and IIEP.

Mise en page 1

This Training Guide and accompanying PowerPoint presentations and workbook was designed as a resource to help facilitate the workshop ‘Educational reconstruction in post-conflict situations: access and inclusion.’ The Training Guide provides guidance and material for a workshop lasting up to six days.

The content has been divided into six themes:

1. Setting the stage
2. Rapid response
3. Access and inclusion
4. Quality issues in early post-conflict
5. Curriculum issues
6. Lessons learned

The materials are modular and have been designed so that sessions can be extracted and used in various combinations, or as stand-alone learning activities.


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This course is built on the principles of a rights-based approach. As a result, the activities and sessions reflect this by being participatory and inter-active and they provide a ‘safe space’ for the analysis of situations which we regularly face when working in education in early reconstruction settings.