SCIENCE

Mobile Labs To Help Kids In Rural Areas Reach the Stars

SANTIAGO—Minister of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation, Andrés Couve, launched mobile astronomy labs that will tour the country’s most vulnerable areas to help teach impoverished children as well as those suffering from impaired vision.

On May 13, right in the middle of Santiago’s Plaza de la Constitución, the newly-assigned minister launched an astronomy education initiative that focuses on children from rural and vulnerable areas as well as those with visual impairment.

This is in preparation for the solar eclipse that will be visible from Chile on July 2. The point of these mobile labs is to share astronomical knowledge, let children enjoy the eclipse to its fullest extent, and, hopefully, spark interest in science that will help Chile gain more of a foothold in the scientific community.

Upcoming Solar Eclipse in Chile: A Match Made in Heaven

Helping The Kids Learning By Doing

Not only is this initiative meant to help children learn about space and astronomy, but it also implements a new system to help blind children called “the universe of all senses,” which allows teachers to teach astronomical concepts in ways that can be felt with the hands. This program was a huge success when it debuted last year in the Spanish Cultural Center in Santiago.

The initiative, officials promise, will help combat the growing inequality that hampers rural schools and the more vulnerable areas of the country. It also seeks to help lift Chile from its current, relatively low spot on the innovation scale—one of the biggest objectives of the newly-created Science Ministry.

The initiative was created by a coalition of companies and public institutions, including the Ecoscience Foundation, the Giant Magellan Telescope, and the United States Embassy, which gifted a state-of-the-art planetarium and an inflatable dome that will be used in the presentations.

This is Ecoscience’s most ambitious project to date. The first time the foundation realized a campaign like this was in 2012 with the “Bus ConCiencia,” through which the foundation helped children explore STEM research. In 2017, the foundation followed up with ConCiencia Magallanes, which focused on helping children in the south of Chile. Through these two initiatives, Ecoscience reached around 40,000 students, a number it hopes to surpass with the new mobile astronomy labs.

The mobile labs are already off to a good start with approximately 3,000 students, in the municipalities of Paine, Conchalí, Lampa, and Til Til.

The Future Of Science In Chile

This new initiative is seen as a way of sparking interest in science for children who will hopefully go on to help Chile in the future. Thus, even though the country is becoming a hub for tech companies like Google, government contribution is severely lacking, with reports stating that only 0.39% of Chile’s GDP are being invested in developing new ideas in science.

That is not to say that Chile is completely lacking in scientific research. At the moment, Chile has about 40% of the world’s astronomical observatories, with more on the way. It has the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in the north and it is currently working on the Giant Magellan Telescope in the south, a telescope that will even dwarf the mighty hubble telescope.

Chile – The World’s Astronomy Capital: “What Else Is Out There?”

Chile also has numerous foundations and medical societies that have made huge strides in scientific research. Not only that, but even though Chile spends less money on research than Argentina and Brazil, Chilean scientists still file more patents.

However, as Couve has pointed out, Chile needs more interconnectivity among its scientific institutions. It also needs to get more Chilean scientists involved in different projects across the country. For example, Chile should have more of its own scientists working on the country’s mines and telescopes.

The minister is therefore making the next generation a priority and trying to open up the country’s scientific field to a range of possibilities. If he succeeds, Chile should then be able to think about its own plans for the world’s next Silicon Valley.

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