The destructive cyclones that swept through the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu in April have brought into sharp focus the need for small island states to develop capability in science and technology in the face of climate change and the need to compete in a global economy.

With this in sight, a young doctoral student at the Australian National University in Canberra, Emily Standen, conscious of cultural barriers which can impede science education, has designed a project aimed at equipping teachers in Fiji and Tonga with skills in cross-cultural science communication through the use of a Pacific-based conversation-type method called Talanoa.

Highly-regarded as a culturally-appropriate way of building knowledge with participants, Talanoa allows for in-depth exploration of a topic by a group of individuals to build knowledge while consolidating relationships with each other, in this case, centred on traditional knowledge and western science.

The ultimate aim of the project – now under way­ - is to develop a shared vision for science education, involving government, educational institutions and community voices, so that a platform for working with trainee teachers can be developed and sustained into the future.

Emily is aiming to find out whether principles of co-development theory (where the researcher and participants have equality in their contribution to a process of knowledge production) can be used to create culturally-appropriate learning workshops for this purpose.

By improving the way science is communicated in the region, she hopes that local people will feel empowered to take ownership of the research happening around them and ensure outcomes are of greater benefit to their communities.

Science education and STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are seen by a number of South Pacific Island nations as imperative to their development.  Not only problems associated with climate change are dependent on Science and Technology, but also frontline issues such as sustainable fishing, diet and obesity. To tackle these, inspired, effective science teachers are needed.

Emily is no newcomer to science communication. After taking a degree in medical science, she then qualified in science communication and has worked at Questacon, Australia’s National Science and technology Centre in Canberra, where she has been designing, delivering and evaluating professional learning projects for teachers for eight years.

For her project in cross-cultural science communication, she was awarded the RCS ACT Branch Phyllis Montgomerie Award of for 2020, named for a former president and life member of the branch who left a bequest to the Society for research and education.

Find out more or contact RCS ACT Branch the RCS Australian Capital Territory Branch.