In June, Dr Yalda Javadi, postdoctoral scientist at the University of Cambridge and Editor for Ionic Magazine, spent two weeks in Ghana with a team of volunteers from the Lightyear Foundation, developing practical science classes in Ghanaian schools.
The aim of Lightyear is to make science come alive through engaging, hands-on experiments using materials easily available in the developing world. During the two weeks we visited private and state schools in both large cities and rural villages ‘illuminating science and igniting curiosity’ to hundreds of students and teachers.
We started off in Accra, the capital city. Our first lesson was sport science, where we taught respiration using a model lung made from a plastic bottle, balloon and some tape, as well as heart rates, fitness, reaction speed and hand-eye coordination. We finished off by showing students how to create seams on plastic footballs using elastic bands to make them go further.
The next two days were spent in another Accra school, the Street Academy. The academy was founded in 1986 as a sports and cultural academy to help seek untapped talent within the city; however, it soon became apparent that many of its students were living on the streets and working as porters or sweepers to feed themselves. In light of this, in 1993, the academy refocused its efforts on caring for deprived children.
Here we first worked with a group of more able kids, fetched swamp water, and – with the help of one of the teachers as an interpreter – showed them the principles of water purification using sand, stones and pebbles, and they explored what combination of cloth, sand and stones made the best filter. The teachers loved this, and asked us to teach it to the whole school!
At a third school, again in Accra, the lessons introduced the ideas of forces, bridges and engineering, with the kids split into groups and asked to build a bridge across a 50 cm gap. They had to use sticks, rope, metal, paper and tape – all of which had a price – to build the strongest, cheapest bridge they could.
For the final week, we headed up country to Bedomase, a rural village near Kumasi. The next few days were spent running classes at two local schools, all leading up to the last day of the trip, the local community show, where the children had the opportunity to show what they’d learnt in the Lightyear classes. One school group explained about the importance of clean water, and performed a dance to show how alum is used for coagulation and sedimentation in water purification, and a second group showed what they’d learnt in the sport science classes. It was so rewarding to see the students, and the whole community, get excited about science.
It was a truly fulfilling time in Ghana. Some of the kids even told us they wanted careers in science and technology when they were older. It is amazing to think that we helped to inspire children in this way.
You can find out more about the Lightyear Foundation at www.lightyearfoundation.org.