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Universe Awareness - Inspiring young children with the beautiful Universe Dr. Carolina Ă–dman, Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands. odman@strw.leidenuniv.nl Abstract Universe Awareness (UNAWE) is an international programme for a worldwide scientific culture. UNAWE is designed to expose economically disadvantaged young children, aged between 4 and 10 years, to inspirational aspects of astronomy. By conveying a feeling for the scale and beauty of the Universe the main goal of UNAWE is to broaden the minds of young children, thereby helping to form tolerant and peace-minded adults. Additional goals of UNAWE are to enhance the children's understanding of the world and to demonstrate the power of rational thought. UNAWE is motivated by the premises that access to simple knowledge about the Universe is a birth right and that the formative ages of 4 to 10 years play an important role in the development of a human value system. Astronomy is an ancient and multidisciplinary field, an ambassador for all sciences and a driver for technology that the UNAWE initiative hopes to use to broaden children's perspectives. The development of UNAWE is driven by the needs of the children and of the people delivering the programme in each participating country. Target regions for the full programme will include diverse environments from inner cities in Europe to rural areas in developing countries. Ingredients of the programme include the development of country-specific materials, the provision of training for programme coordinators and the initiation of an international network for communication by teachers and others involved in the programme. Successful Venezuela, developed projects in Astronomy.

pilot activities have already been implemented in Tunisia, Colombia, South Africa, Indonesia and India. UNAWE is being as a bottom-up programme that will carry out or participate in several countries starting in 2009, the International Year of

Introduction From the dawn of history, the beauty of the sky and its intimate connection with the development of human civilisation has inspired countless generations with a sense of wonderment. In the modern day, astronomy plays a unique role in conveying the excitement of science to the general public. This is due in part to the extraordinary images and discoveries that are conveyed almost on a daily basis from satellites, telescopes and all modern astronomical facilities. Why Astronomy?


Astronomy and Space sciences are ambassadors for all sciences. They involve all disciplines from mathematics to medicine and drive the development of new technologies. As such astronomy and space are a topic ideally suited to convey the excitement of science to the general public, even to the very young. Astronomy is also one of the oldest human activities, with roots in many ancient civilisations and a presence in all cultures. It is a source of rich tales and legends, appealing to children’s imagination. This is the privilege of astronomy: unlike other scientific fields, the availability, cultural dimension and history of astronomy enables children to connect emotionally to it. The sky and its wonders is a unique topic for motivating and forming young children and imbuing them with an appreciation of both science and culture. The UNAWE programme builds on this opportunity to inspire young children. Astronomy for Peace One of the may ways in which UNAWE hopes to offer children a perspective on our place in the Universe is for example showing them the Earth from space. For the first time in human history we are table to take pictures of the earth from space. In a world where maps are drawn according to political borders, children, particularly those who do not have access to extensive formal education, are not given the chance to realise that those borders are human inventions. Beyond illustrating the Earth as a spherical planet in space, seeing the Earth from space is in itself revealing of the non-visible nature of borders. When children around the world communicate through UNAWE programmes and activities, they share the same sky. They discover that no matter what our culture, there is commonality in our quest for understanding the mysteries of the universe. Rather than being suspicious of difference, children are amused by the different views of something equally familiar to them all. The realisation of our place in the universe can broaden children’s minds beyond the boundaries of their familiar environment. Universe Awareness The motivation behind the programme is multiple. We assume that awareness of the scale and beauty of the universe is exciting for children. The premise that basic knowledge about the Universe is a birthright is an acknowledgement that the present remarkable achievements in astronomy and space science are the result of thousands of years of human endeavour. The outcomes (knowledge, images, technology, etc.) of astronomy and space sciences belong to our global heritage. All children should have the right to access this knowledge equally. UNAWE targets so young and specifically underprivileged children mainly because they are less likely than their more privileged peers to be exposed in any other way to the great beauty of the universe. The ages of 4 to 10 are decisive in the formation of a human value system [3] and knowledge about the universe can broaden the mind. Moreover, the youngest are the most


similar. Four year-old children are very much the same across the whole world. At the age of say 14, they are already very dissimilar: cultural and cognitive differences are much more pronounced. The principles at the heart of the programme are as follows; the materials and activities being developed are made to inspire rather than educate dryly through the transmission of facts. This means entertaining materials but also delivery. Internationally, it is crucial that we adopt a bottom-up approach so that the programme can suit the environmental and cultural needs of all communities. Ingredients of the programme The programme itself is composed of three main ingredients: materials, training and an international network. Two types of materials are being developed. Firstly, each national group develops its own material that is often very localised. In India for example, the musical tradition is strong and songs are written to tell tales of the beautiful Universe. In Venezuela, carnival costumes on astronomical themes are designed and sewn. Secondly, as an international programme, we are developing ambitious high-tech materials, such as animation films, that any national group would not be able to develop independently. It is important that these are developed professionally to compete with the most appealing commercial materials available. Training is an important component of the programme. It offers a crucial platform for dialogue between the implementers of the programme and the producers of the materials. The level and form of training is adapted to each country and community. This is complemented by regular international workshops. Finally, UNAWE is an international network of astronomy and space enthusiasts, outreach professionals and volunteers who subscribe to the principles of UNAWE. This network offers the possibility for its members to dialogue, exchange materials and benefit from each other’s experience. Pilot activities and Implementation We have just entered the development phase of the programme and we aim to start implementing it in a streamlined manner in 2009, the International Year of Astronomy. Pilot activities have already taken place in a number of countries as well as internationally. In Venezuela, the programme was developed in collaboration with the astronomical community (MÊrida Centre for Astronomy) and the ASPNet, the UNESCO school network. The programme is supported by the ministries of Science and of Education. Annual teacher training workshops are organised for all primary school teachers of ASPNet schools and an activity booklet following the format of ASPNet documentation is being developed in collaboration with a specialist in multicultural education. There is a strong


component of indigenous astronomy, highlighting in particular the folkloric astronomical tradition and calendars of the Amazonian communities of the country. In Tunisia, the Science City, the country’s large science museum in Tunis has taken on the task of developing a national UNAWE programme with the support of the ministries of Family affairs and of Education and Skills. The Science museum itself has been opened to the children younger than 6, which was not the case before 2005. Astronomy workshops for young children are held daily and special events such as observing nights are organised monthly and offered to communities in and around the city of Tunis. In addition to that, teacher-training workshops are proposed. The Science City provides transport and accommodation to enable teachers from remote areas in the country to take part. As part of a Science Caravan, an “AstroBus” has been designed and tours the country annually. It offers a number of astronomy activities to very young children in a coordinated effort with the Children’s Clubs, a government structure of informal education available to all children nationwide. In India, UNAWE is being developed and implemented in the state of Tamil Nadu with the Tamil Nadu Science Forum. This is a science popularisation organisation with 30 years of experience in the field. They have a very strong network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. Their holistic approach (science communication, education, women’s education and welfare, literacy campaigns, micro credit, etc.) enables UNAWE to be implemented in diverse forms. There are activities with children directly in their schools, but also dialogues about e.g. eclipses among women’s self-help groups, etc. In South Africa, the astronomical community is strongly involved through the SALT Collateral Benefits Programme. This is an innovative approach to benefit communities through the presence of large scientific facilities and covers aspects from scientific outreach to local capacity building to ensuring community benefit of infrastructures. South Africa has a strong body for scientific outreach in SAASTA, the South African Association for Science and Technology Advancement, a branch of the Department of Science and Technology. The governmental science and technology agency has an acute awareness of the interface between science and culture and promotes indigenous and folkloric knowledge actively. The programme in Colombia is led by a private entrepreneur who has built up a national structure for UNAWE based at MALOKA, the largest science museum in South America. UNAWE Colombia benefits from their expertise in devising materials and from their infrastructure for teacher training. They are working closely with a number of social government programmes for street children, orphans, etc. In Indonesia, it is mostly university astronomy students who, out of term, return home from campus and start Universe Awareness activities in their local communities. They are also collaborating with a children’s magazine that features fun monthly astronomy articles. Open days at facilities such as the Bosscha Observatory are also used to try out activities with the very young.


This is a novelty as these days are often targeted at older children and the general public. In addition to national pilot activities, UNAWE provides the opportunity to interact internationally through Internet exchanges. In March 2007 a Skypecast event was organised during the total lunar eclipse that was visible in Europe and Africa. School pupils in Germany were put in touch with learners in South Africa and shared their experiences of the eclipse. Events like these are true live astronomy; by comparing their observations, e.g. that the moon darkened from the bottom left in Germany but from the top right in South Africa, they experienced the geometry of the Earth first hand. The event was open to the public and there was a large spontaneous participation from about 15 countries across 4 continents with members of the public sending in photographs and contributing to the discussion. This enlivened the experience and only required moderation. Other such exchanges have taken place since and the most innovative aspect of it is that children get to talk to each other directly. It is well known that children talk differently to other children than to teachers or other figures of authority and it appeared that not only do they learn a lot but they also feel appreciated for having taught someone else about their own world. Conclusions Universe Awareness is a global programme with collaborators and contacts in over 20 countries. Materials are being developed internationally and nationally in view of a first large-scale implementation in 2009, the International Year of Astronomy. UNAWE is in the process of raising funds for this implementation, for the production of materials and to support national activities in the various partner countries. The target audience, very young and underprivileged children, has proved very receptive and the impact of UNAWE goes well beyond just knowledge acquisition. Ultimately, exposure to the grandeur of the Universe stimulates tolerance among children. For more information we invite you to browse the Universe Awareness website at http://www.unawe.org/. If you would like to know more about UNAWE feel free to send an email to Carolina Ă–dman at odman@strw.leidenuniv.nl. References [1] George Miley, Claus Madsen, Cecilia Scorza. Universe Awareness for Young Children, ESO Messenger 121, p. 66, September 2005. [2] Andrew Fraknoi, Astronomy and Poetry: A Resource Guide, The Astronomy Education Review, Issue 1, Volume 1:114-116, 2002. [3] Seeds for peace, the role of pre-school education in international understanding and education for peace, UNESCO, Paris, France 1985, reprinted 1989.


Universe Awareness - Inspiring Young Children with the Beautiful Universe