This is a guest post from Jarrod Lewis, a 2nd year undergraduate Physics MSci student at the University of Nottingham and a member of the ENTHUSE project team.
Right now it is raining, it is cold, and it is quiet.
Shockingly, I am no longer in Addis Ababa.
I am typing this post after returning from Africa on the 9th of April. I am now many thousands of miles away from my former hotel room, back in my hometown in South Wales.
My evening has consisted of many attempts to succinctly explain my ENTHUSE Project experiences which, coupled with a neurological twitch to subtract six hours off the clock when asked what time it is (entirely independent of any time zone difference), reinforces my belief that a Western twenty-something could spend a lifetime in Ethiopia and still be quietly amazed by it.
But if the good Prof could meet his conflict with the local microbes of Ethiopia with such resilience, I suppose I should give this blog thing a go.
If the dream of a fully developed Ethiopian state is to be realised, its people will have to be fed, employed, housed and provided for with new and accessible infrastructure. In short, Ethiopia is going to need a lot of problem solvers. (Read: Physicists)
The ENTHUSE course was our contribution to this effort.
In our course we covered the specific methods for various practical physics demonstrations, the basics of the scientific principle and an introduction to the proper treatment of data obtained from empirical investigation. The beauty of the course was that it is based on scientific experiments, which produce quantitative results that are directly indicative of the learners progress.
We had roughly twenty eight hours of contact time. Our achievements within this still baffle me.
People who had never plotted a graph before could do so perfectly. The basics of experimental design were instilled to such a degree that the teachers could identify potential sources of systematic error and adapt their methodology accordingly without a single raised eyebrow of prompting from yours truly. We covered the basics of circuit building, breadboard function and demonstrated specific classroom demonstrations that used only locally sourced equipment. We even had time to talk about our own areas of interest, and how they are studied about the wider academic world.
We discussed everything and dictated nothing. We covered both experimental theory and the physical limitations of what can be achieved in a lab. Ours was a course that encouraged questioning and skepticism, and for me the most rewarding part was sitting down with these teachers, many of whom had travelled for days on end to reach the venue of this course from far flong corners of their country, and to have a good old fashioned scientific disagreement.
Makbil if you’re reading this, never change.
Our task was to improve the group’s understanding of practical physics so that they could bring this into their own classrooms, ‘enthusing’ themselves and their students and hopefully instilling some grassroot level vigour to the Ethiopian STEM sector.
Our teachers left Adama better problem solvers, more skilled in the evaluation and the analysis of empirical data. They left us bright eyed with smiles on their faces, proud at not only their achievements but their potential to achieve so much more for both their students and their country.
I left Adama a better student, a happier human and with new friends from both home and abroad. It was harder than I ever imagined, but if the chance arose, I would be back in that classroom in a heartbeat. Mosquitoes, chalkdust, blistering heat and all.
If I had to summarize my thoughts on this crazy week, which I suppose would be useful, then it would go a little like this;
Like happiness, we do not diminish our knowledge by sharing it with others. We exhaust nothing but our own need to sit around and talk about a subject that we already live for, yet in doing so we gain for ourselves a greater pool of future colleagues and innovators.
We cannot leave a generation of budding scientists, mathematicians and engineers fumbling in the dark, unable to apply their exemplary theoretical knowledge to practical problems; not when it costs us so little to share what we have already cultivated for ourselves.
I can only hope the triumph of the first ENTHUSE project will inspire others to give their time and abilities to such a vital education program, and in doing so contribute to the global scientific community that is the foundation of our (in my case, future) lives as physicists.
It’s wonderful to be able to give back to the community that has already given me so much, and I loved every minute of it.
As you’re reading Phil Moriarty’s blog; I think you would love it too.