Making science and inquiry interesting to a younger generation

One of the challenges that we have to deal with when trying to Universities to work closer with industries in South Africa is a general lack of “inquisitiveness” by younger students. They want management jobs, not jobs in factories, research labs or out there. Well, I guess the problem start at a younger age. But just before you call me a stereotypical or a racist, consider this: Its not only happening here in South Africa. Other countries have the same problem.

So how do we make children more intrigued in science? Well, good teachers sounds obvious. Interesting school projects is another. But how about the media, television and all the other signals that a society broadcast? Here in South Africa, the air is thick with politics and bad news. Our family cannot even listen to the radio on our way to school.

So with all of this said, lets give credit to NASA for this parody on Gangnam Style (for older readers, Gangnam Style is a song that has become one of the most watched videos of Youtube). It explains the work of NASA and several science principles.


Last year in November I had the privilege to take my family to Washington DC. After 6 days of visiting mostly free museums, like the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, I have 2 eight year old scientists in my house. I confess I also bought several books and gadgets, but hey. THE KIDS want to investigate things. Everything. They want to understand things. They argue about how to solve problems. Although they are in a good school and we try to raise them to be inquisitive, nothing prepared us for this excellent exposure in Washington DC.

So perhaps we should make funny video clips like this one too, targeted at younger people. Lets get younger people to WANT to visit factories, research institutions, universities and labs. Lets get cameras in there and get the message out that we too are working not just on social problems, but also on scientific problems! Science is not just a subject or a project in school, a scientific approach opens up the beautiful mysteries of our world.

Published by

Shawn Cunningham

I am passionate about how organisations and institutions change in developing and transitioning countries. I essentially work between organisations, communities, industries and experts.

0 thoughts on “Making science and inquiry interesting to a younger generation”

  1. You’re very right. There’s a real trend in science and physics events for youngsters. Kids are crying out to be able to hands-on experiment, even if the theoretical stuff has to come later. It’s very very different to the way it’s taught in schools. I worked on an interesting project ( in Germany, where kids engaged in tough dialogues at Junior Science Cafés and elsewhere. There’s no limit to the amount of (tried and tested) methodologies and formats out there to make science part of our lives. However, until schools start teaching science differently and connecting science to other subjects, such as art, music and the social sciences, kids are going to be put off. And then there’s the parents. How many of us really have a clue? Are we able (or willing) to encourage young scientists to probe and experiment, when we’re allergic to all things bio-chem-phys? I love Chief Scientific Advisor to the EU, Anne Glover’s approach to getting science into our community lives: she goes to her local Scottish Women’s Institute about once a year and talks to them, with sparkling eyes and passion. Those are the grannies who will be pushing their grandchildren to get more acquainted with science. Don’t just focus on the kids and the schools, but include all parts of society, so children don’t get demotivated by their near and dear ones.

  2. Hi Shawn, this is a great post and of great relevance. I appreciate that you are leaving your ‘comfort zone’ of industrial development, innovation, and market systems development for a moment – in a way at least, as essentially education must be part of an innovation system. For me, science was always fun, but it is true that the way it is taught in schools nowadays can put kids off. And worse, since kids don’t want to take those classes anymore, the tendency is to reduce them. More and more kids apparently want to learn things like psychology, pedagogics or philosophy – which isn’t bad in principle but there should be a balance. The question is why, what are the drivers there?

  3. Thanks for that, dear Shawn!!

    I love the link you draw to the NASA Gangnam video.

    Sounds like you are well – which is fabous! Warm regards, Christiane

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