How the young scientist exhibition came to Tanzania

06Jan 2020
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
How the young scientist exhibition came to Tanzania

THE BT YOUNG SCIENTIST and technology exhibition, in its various forms, has been a fixture on school calendars around Ireland for the last 56 years – but since 2011 students in Tanzania have also been noting the date of their local competition in their diaries.

Editha Barde and Nasra Mpochi recently took home last year’s top prize at the 8th Young Scientists Tanzania (YST) competition for their project based on cultivating beehives and encouraging bee colonies in arid regions of the east African country using plants native to the island of Unguja, in Zanzibar.

 

Students in Tanzania have taken the Irish model of the event and run with it, according to the competition’s co-founder Joseph Clowry, a former secondary school science teacher from St Mary’s Academy, Carlow

“If you look at the projects that are presented in Tanzania, they’re all about issues around inequality around climate change, agriculture, access to education,” Clowry told TheJournal.ie.

Climate change is also a dominant theme for Irish students, featuring heavily among the 1,800 projects entered in the 56th BT Young Scientist, set to take place in the coming week.

The Young Scientists competition was tailored for Ireland by its founders Rev Dr Burke and Dr Tony Scott who believed Irish students would benefit from experiences similar to entrants to US science fairs. 

They launched the first Irish competition in 1965 at the Mansion House Round Room in Dublin with 230 participants. The success of the first year was such that the exhibition then moved to the much larger venue of the RDS, where it has remained there ever since.

Joseph Clowry was present at the 1968 competition, an experience he describes as “inspirational”.

He credits the competition with popularising science and technology among secondary school students since his schools days rural Ireland in the 1950s and 60s.

It’s a long way from Dublin 4 – so how did the competition end up as a fixture on the educational calendar all the way over in Tanzania?

In 2008, Clowry was offered a position as an education officer with the Combat Diseases of Poverty Consortium (CDPC) at Maynooth University. The key objective was to develop the concept of Science for Development and continue to introduce Development Education to secondary schools by linking and highlighting the work of the CDPC.

The following year, Clowry hosted some 40 East African researchers on a training programme in Ireland and “they couldn’t believe the level of research being done by children at second level”.

Clowry then went to Tanzania to explore the possibilities of transferring the Science for Development programme to one of the CDPC’s partner countries.

At one of my presentations, a government official cleared his desk and said his country was a fertile ground for such a project. He asked me to support him to plant the seeds for the project and he would ensure it was cultivated.

“I knew that the proposed Science for Development Outreach Programme in Tanzania would need a high profile exhibition if it were to succeed. I could think of nothing better than the Young Scientist in Ireland model to showcase this synergy.

“I suppose the idea of what we’re doing is we put a focus on the need for science teachers in every region [of Tanzania],” Clowry said, adding that he even received the blessing of Tony Scott to use the Irish template.

In 2018, Joseph was presented with the Inaugural Founders Award Scott at the BT Young Scientist Awards in recognition of his work.

PastedImage-832Joseph Clowry with Dr Tony Scott

Getting the concept off the ground was a “tough time” as Ireland was in a recession, but Clowry’s persistence paid off.

“So, I suppose from 2009 to 2011, I worked on getting all of the types of elements together like government support for the projects, but I had to get this project off the ground in Tanzania without the government there getting their hands on it. It had to be an independent organisation.

The Tanzanian government has put its support behind the project but it remains an independent NGO, meaning it runs “more efficiently”, according to Clowry.

After running a pilot of the competition in 2011 with just four schools, a visit from some highly impressed potential sponsors secured future funding for the competition to expand.

The 2011 YST started out with a presence in just two regions. In 2015, schools from all 30 regions in Tanzania participated in the annual exhibition. 2019′s competition received 550 applications.

“Don’t forget, Tanzania is about 11 times bigger than Ireland. So when you’re talking about expanding this nationwide, you’re talking about huge logistics,” said Clowry, explaining that the expansion has been aided by recruiting “local charismatic teachers” as regional coordinators.

Clowry credits the teachers for making the competition a staple on the academic calendar in Tanzania and for helping it to continue to grow “exponentially”.

“From the moments the kids leave their school, to the time they go home, we take care of everything. We take care of the buses, the food, we put them up in great accommodation. We treat them like kings,” Clowry said.

In 2019, over 600 schools from all over Tanzania sent in their projects to participate at the YST 2019 exhibition. The top 100 schools were then selected to showcase their research at the national exhibition.

The most recent winners travelled to South Africa in October representing Tanzania at the Eskom ExpoScience Science Fair where they won a Gold Medal in the Agriculture Category.

Clowry’s end goal is to have an exhibition in each region of the country to give more students a chance to participate, the winners of which would still compete at the grand final in the capital.