Brussels hosts the Communities for Sciences project General Assembly

Brussels hosts the Communities for Sciences project General Assembly

The launch of the “Community Living Labs” focused much of the work of the group of the Communities for Sciences (C4S) – Towards Promoting an Inclusive Approach in Science Education” project researchers during the General Assembly of its consortium, held in Brussels on 17th and 18th November 2021. Community living labs are pilot tests that different project organizations promote in their local environment with the aim of using science as an integrative tool for people from communities at risk of vulnerability. Participants took advantage of the international meeting to agree on issues such as tools for collecting data from research fieldwork, compliance with ethical and legal requirements, communication of results, the real impact of inclusive science initiatives at the local level, critical self-questioning, and the review of one’s own practices and institutional roles to consistently promote the values of inclusion or coordination between different initiatives.

The Kanal campus of the ErasmusHogeschool Brussels hosted the assembly, which was held in the space of the “Wonderlab”, a science laboratory of the Belgian university specifically designed for the training of future teachers and educators in the teaching of science in the early ages. This is a facility like that managed by other institutions involved in the project, such as Lab 0_6, located on the Manresa campus of UVic-UCC, the Giocheria in the Italian municipality of Sesto San Giovanni or Galileo Progetti Kft.
The science spaces managed by the entities participating in the C4S share the desire to encourage a positive experience of science among children aged 0 to 16 and to entrust them with the habit of asking questions about the environment, raise hypotheses to answer them and test them from direct experimentation with materials and natural phenomena. In all cases, they go beyond strictly academic work and carry out activities specifically aimed at groups of schoolchildren and, in some cases, also children accompanied by their families, in a balanced combination of research, university teaching and pedagogical practice.

The C4S project allows these science laboratories, linked or not to university institutions, to consolidate their role as spaces for research on inclusive science education. In addition, the collaboration within the framework of the European Horizon 2020 program allows them to generate positive synergies with universities that train teachers and educators and/or that have research groups in Education in different European countries. It is hoped that this joint work will lead to conclusions and guidelines for a more inclusive science education to be incorporated both into an academic plan by universities and, from an organizational and strategic point of view, by the technical and political leaders of the public authorities. It is also a goal of the project to mobilize communities at risk of being vulnerable so that they can actively participate, while making visible their contribution to the scientific community.

In October 2020, C4S began its work and is expected to last until September 2023. During the first months, it has organized meetings, workshops, and online training days, both aimed at its members and open to educators interested in inclusive science education as well as interviews with experts of diverse profiles in science and opinion articles or analysis for different media. He has also carried out a thorough review of the scientific literature and of existing children’s books on the subject, as a prelude to local experiences or Community Living Labs that should become the groundwork for the fieldwork of shared research.

Successful “Pictures and Stories of collaboration” workshop held online

Successful “Pictures and Stories of collaboration” workshop held online

About fifty people from various countries and linked to the fields of research, science and education participated last September in the workshop “Pictures and Stories of collaboration”, as an activity of the project “Communities for Sciences – Towards project promoting an inclusive approach in science education” (C4S). The workshop was organized by C4S project partners and consisted of two different sessions with the goal of fostering initiatives aimed at co-participation and cooperation with social actors within contexts of diversity and community-engagement.

The first part of the session was led by Kaat Verhaeghe and Bert Wastijn, from Erasmus Brussels University of Applied Sciences and Arts, who presented a workshop on “NICCO”, an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and narrative coaching method to support professionals to embrace the multiple perspectives that influence their work and organisation. This way of coaching aims to enable professionals to work in contexts of diversity and to enhance the preconditions needed to do so.

The second part, with a more dynamic format, consisted of an open discussion in which the panelists Eric Asaba and Margarita Mondaca, from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm (Sweden), shared experiences, lessons learned, and recommendations on “Photovoice”, a visual method to engage communities in own local context. The Photovoice workshop was coordinated and planned from IB University of Applied Health and Social Sciences and the Department of Health Sciences (Lund University).

In conclusion, and as a final balance, the participants highlighted a recommendation and a lesson learned, and positively valued the possibility of establishing a collaboration framework with the “Communities for Sciences – Towards project promoting an inclusive approach in science education”.

To close the workshop, the project’s coordinators Lluïsa Sort and Gabriel Lemkow of the Manresa campus of University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia, thanked the panelists and attendees for their participation and their work in their respective projects, hoping to hold a new face-to-face session in autumn.

Talking with the C4S team in Milan

Talking with the C4S team in Milan

To begin with, could you tell us a bit about your C4S team in Milan? Who you are, what your team members expect to provide, expertise, interests…

Our team consists of professors, researchers, pedagogists and educators with long experience in the field of ECEC, inclusive education, especially with children and adolescents with disabilities, special educational needs, or disadvantages of different natures and extent. The scientific coordination, as regards the University of Milano-Bicocca, is held by Luisa Zecca (who is the scientific head for the Hub), full professor in the field of Didactics and Educational design research, Roberta Garbo, researcher in the Inclusive Education field and delegate of the Rector for disability and specific learning disorders, and Valeria Cotza, assistant researcher and PhD student in Education; as regards the other Hub component, the Municipality of Sesto San Giovanni, this coordination is held by Alessandro Porcheddu, psycho-pedagogist and socio-educational specialist, and Simonetta Vimercati, educator, who both work in the service of GiocheriaLaboratori. The team expects to provide an extensive network of different skills, expertise and interests: for this reason, it also relies on a large number of collaborators and experts in the core areas of the C4S Project. The main expert collaborators, as regards the University of Milano-Bicocca, are Matteo Schianchi, researcher in pedagogy and special education, Monica Roncen, pedagogist expert in ECEC and Socio-Educational Services Management , and Edoardo Datteri, associate professor and philosopher of science. As regards Sesto San Giovanni, they are Laura Plebani, Alessandra Barbanti and Anna Cuccu, educators at the same service of GiocheriaLaboratori. Furthermore, the team also started a collaboration with Enrica Giordano, former professor of didactic of physics at the University of Milano-Bicocca, and Alessandra Bai, responsible for disability in school education of the Municipality of Sesto San Giovanni.

In one sentence, what do you think that the plurality and diversity of actors (from different backgrounds) participating in the project can provide to your settings and to the C4S project?

First of all, the plurality and diversity of actors involved will consolidate the circularity between research-training and public engagement. We imagine an impact on the network of services involved, especially in the way taking charge of students is finalised, also in order to develop prevention activities. Furthermore, we imagine that the project can have an impact on processes of integration of work between institutions, which we think has a direct implication on the life of communities. In addition, the training of educators, teachers and more generally practitioners should lead to an increase of competence in designing inclusive science environments and conducting workshops in this field.

How do you expect to implement the C4S project and activities in your territory? How do you expect to develop them considering your specific context/population/local needs?

Our team has embraced the perspective of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) and the Universal Design for Learning, based on the ICF model. Our Hub is organised in working groups according to 3 directions: 1. networking; 2. teacher education; and 3. participative action-research. The first objective is to interview stakeholders in order to reconstruct both best practices and life stories; indeed, for this purpose, the UNIMIB team designed an interview outline. The second objective is to co-design and co-evaluate playground experiences and scientific laboratories, also by involving teachers and stakeholders in training paths, with the additional aim to develop multi-professional and multidisciplinary tables of professionals who look after children with disabilities. The third objective is to consolidate the network with the Directorate of the 0-6 Toddler and Infant School “Bambini Bicocca” Pole, which is provided with scientific ateliers for biological, ecological and environmental education within the nursery school and kindergarten. To develop these objectives, we are considering three levels of needs: 1. social cohesion needs of the territories (i.e. identifying the critical points in the system of services, work, schools, health, public administration and communication that do not allow children and adolescents and their families to be supported in a coherent way); 2. needs within organisations (i.e. being sure that organisations have material resources and competences to promote inclusive education); 3. needs of individuals (i.e. bringing together the assessments of individuals and families who care for children in conditions of vulnerability). People’s needs are outlined in individual portfolios, where specific indicators are defined on the basis of the ICF; instead, organisational needs are identified by the top management. The Hub team supports the processes of building specific development and learning objectives.

How do you think that an inclusive approach to science education can change societies? How do you think can make people more critical and empowered?

First of all, one of our specific objectives is to develop a research model that improves the competences of professionals involved in educational interventions, combining research and professional development and analysing teaching and learning practices and experiences, also to raise critical thinking and awareness on inclusive science education models in different environments. This model will allow the establishment of working groups and the co-design of pilot activities for a real equity and inclusion, through a workshop approach that allows collaborative small groups and peer-to-peer knowledge exchange. To make this, our team adopt a systemic and inclusive approach that cares about gross injustices and other sources of social disadvantages, through which to recognize the multi-problematic and multi-faceted nature of dimensions and situations; by assuming this perspective, people might be able to redesigning learning environments in their manifold aspects (physical, relational, social, and cultural), in order to grant accessibility, activities and participation. Within this framework, we will pay attention not only to severe disabilities, but also to learning difficulties and disadvantages, that lead to enormous inequalities in educational contexts.


Bambini Bicocca is a spin-off of UNIMIB, an innovative Toddler and Infant School. It is an experimental school, which promotes the active participation of parents and families and stimulate children to take part in sensory, cognitive (like in science) and expressive (like in music) experiences and activities. It experiments innovative approaches to the educational robotics and technologies for the inclusion and to the linguistic and musical learning. Moreover, it carries out research on multimedia tools for didactic planning and documentation.

The B.Inclusion Service, which is the Disability and DSA Service of UNIMIB, is addressed to freshmen and students with disabilities and specific learning disorders. The Service provides support for the university admissions tests and distributes different services, such as: accompanying within the university campus, coaching during the exams, equivalent tests, compensation tools, etc.

The Laboratory of Robotics for the Cognitive and Social Sciences (RobotiCSS Lab) of UNIMIB is a multidisciplinary research laboratory dedicated to analyse the roles that the robotic technologies play outside the robotics, with particular reference to educational robots as tools for the scientific research and to their social applications.

The “Antonia Vita” Association in Monza (Carrobiolo) offers multiple educational services, including a Popular School, to contrast the socio-cultural disadvantage among young people by tackling early school leaving. It provides educational work for adolescents and also support for families, networking with the schools and other educational and social services.

Farfalla Project is an open source application, which allows to personalize the reading and the navigation of the web pages (

Living labs

Bambini Bicocca Scientific Atelier. Bambini Bicocca is an innovative Toddler and Infant School (3 months – 6 years), which experiments innovative teaching and learning approach through the Scientific Atelier (especially on biology and educational robot) and welcomes children with Charge syndrome and autism spectrum. The school is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

GiocheriaLaboratori Kids Center. GiocheriaLaboratori is an educational service of the Municipality of Sesto San Giovanni, which designs and implements inclusive and non-formal scientific learning laboratories for and together with children aged 3-11 years.

“Antonia Vita” Popular School. “Antonia Vita” Association in Monza offers multiple educational services, including a Popular School to contrast discomfort and early school leaving of students aged 13-17 years, helping them to achieve the middle school diploma.

Kaysara Khatun, expert in land use answers some questions to C4S

Kaysara Khatun, expert in land use answers some questions to C4S

Kaysara Kkhatun has nearly two decades of working in the academic, NGO and private sectors. In that time, she has gained substantial experience on tropical land use and forestry alongside sustainable development and poverty alleviation more broadly.

Her work to date involves two main activities; one is to undertake interdisciplinary social and environmental research on the impacts of land use and land use change on climate/environment, food security and natural resource management and conflict. The second aspect is to develop sustainable strategies in the sector with NGOs, national governments, and other stakeholders. Both include working – in an inclusive manner- with indigenous peoples and local communities towards improving national and local development whilst attempting to maintain environmental integrity. A strong aspect of her work is understanding national/international policies and economic activities, that act as indirect and direct drivers of land use change and deforestation. In that vein, she has obtained several fellowships, where she has developed projects with case studies in a number of tropical regions e.g., Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, India and several sub–Saharan African (SSA) countries. Examples of case studies include oil palm in Ghana and Indonesia, cocoa production in Ghana, avoided deforestation in Tanzania, Biofuels in SSA, to name a few. Many have a focus on research and yet at the same time are policy driven.

These have on occasion provided input in real time to policymakers and continue to make a positive and lasting difference to communities, and broader regional/national priorities. In one project, findings acted as direct input to Ecuadorian environmental legislation in 2016 on the implementation of equitable payment for ecosystem services schemes, and water, land and food management in the Guayas region. Additional work experience includes transdisciplinary projects in Tanzania, Peru, Costa Rica, as well as several consultancies in land use, with strong agroforestry and climate change themes and their impact on the environment, local governance, and poverty alleviation. These involved continuous facilitation skills, capacity-building and multi-stakeholder engagement. The above projects have a strong outreach and inclusion components (with business, government, community etc).

She has also been active in science outreach to schoolchildren, worked with students from the gifted and talented program, and been involved in various bi-national learning exchange and engagement institutes. She also sits on a few advisory panels on socio-economic issues around conservation and land use.


Do you think that there is a lack of science education in our societies? Do we need a more day to day approach to science?

That depends on what kind of science and where you are. The UK is quite good in some citizen science initiatives in including the public, for example in terms of flora and some wildlife.

High profile scientific issues such as climate change, deforestation, and human rights are visible in education and beyond. However, there is also a great deal of misinformation surrounding these. In the former for example, different views are presented on TV and many other media, and these can appear to have equal weighting in accuracy, as they are given airtime alongside scientific findings.

It also seems there is a generational knowledge gap. In my field, younger people are more likely to be knowledgeable about climate change, human rights, and unethical food/clothes production. These issues are also included in school, which were not to the same degree in the past.


Do you think that science education can change societies? Can it make people more critical and empowered?

 Yes- absolutely. Carl Sagan wrote in his book“The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, that by understanding one’s environment, people develop the ability to question it and by default their leaders- hence education broadly is seen as a threat. I have also seen this growing up. The relationship people have with nature, is very much dependant on their knowledge of it, and what kind of interactions they have or have had with it, whether it was one of superstition and fear or something more positive.

In my work on reducing deforestation and sustainable forest management, communities who were actively engaged in conservation, agroforestry, and other initiatives, and saw benefits for their long-term livelihoods, felt a sense of ownership and took pride in their ecosystem and its surroundings.



Do you think that science is an exclusive field? Have you ever felt that science was something strange to you? As an Asian descendant, have you missed science role models?

I do indeed feel that science is exclusive – particularly working in the field or being able to in the first instance. There is the gender issue, which is well documented, but also issues of class, and race. Very few working-class people are visible in research in Universities anywhere. When you look at the hierarchy in academia and perhaps science more broadly you will certainly see fewer women than men, and even fewer people from ethnic minorities further up the ‘food chain’. Obviously, different disciplines will impact the gender issue, however class, and race – not so much! In developing countries, it can be even more profound, as scientists are very often from the elite classes, and very few are from indigenous groups, who are from the areas that much of my research themes take place in. Surprisingly, the gender issue is of course an issue but does not appear to be any bigger than in the European context.

I have not particularly focussed on role models with similar ethnic backgrounds as myself. My science role models have been the likes of Carl Sagan, Benoit Mandelbrot, and Albert Einstein- clearly male and white – and are superstar scientist, opposed to a regular scientist like myself. I have admired them for more than their scientific abilities. The race aspect is something I have only reflected on in hindsight- so to your question, the answer is probably yes.  I have had more diverse role models growing up but more from the humanitarian, art, and literature side than science I would say- perhaps this is telling in itself.






Inspiring young scientists through STEAM Education − Interview with Brussels Hub partners

Inspiring young scientists through STEAM Education − Interview with Brussels Hub partners

We talked to the Brussels Hub members, Bram Malisse​, Annick Biesmans, Inge Laenen and Leen Rosiers​, about the main pillars of their research area, within the framework of the C4S project.

To begin with, could you tell us a bit about your C4S team in Brussels?

The key persons involved in the project all participate or are involved in educational research programs. The assembled team is comprised of members of all formation programs involved (teacher training pre-primary and primary education).

Leen Rosiers is the course director of the Bachelor of Education: pre-primary education (Teacher Training of Preschool Teachers) and also teaches on Pedagogy and Didactics. Annick Biesmans is also a lecturer of Pedagogy and Didactics at the Erasmus University College. Bram Malisse is lecturer of Arts and Aesthetics at EhB for the program of pre-primary and primary education. He is, like the other two participants, involved in the thinktank at the department on teaching teachers-to-be to deal with open ended materials and how to develop arts-based teaching skills. For her part, Inge Laenen is part of the Erasmus University College-team since September 2020 as lecturer of Pedagogy and Didactics.

What do you think the plurality and diversity of actors (from different backgrounds) participating in the project, can provide to your settings and to the C4S project?

We believe we can enhance pedagogical practice on different levels (micro-, meso-, macro) by establishing a culture of critical reflection, cooperation, appreciation, and openness. Our experience in the creation of strong pedagogical networks with multidisciplinary participants allows us to see practice through different perspectives. This holistic multitude becomes a synergy in which the sum is more than its parts. We trust that our capacity for (ex) change of perspective can help denaturalize prejudices and presumptions, and in doing so can value each participant as a knowledgeable and skilful expert.

How do you expect to implement the C4S project and activities in your territory? How do you expect to apply it considering your specific context/population/local needs?

In Brussels research, pilot design and implementation find common ground in the new campus building of the Erasmus Community College. The new hub is set in a very diverse and vibrant part of the Belgian capital. Neighbourhood schools will come to play, but also caretakers (mothers) that live nearby will be invited to come and play with their children.

In conceptualising the new campus, EhB has chosen to create a building that reflects innovative ideas on education. There are rooms dedicated to certain transversal skills like developing, creating, presenting, investigating and exchanging. On the other hand, there will also be rooms for special activities and areas of expertise like a theatre room, a dance studio and a creative arts atelier. The Experimental Play Area Brussels is one of those specialised spaces.

How do you think that science education can change societies? How do you think can make people more critical and empowered?

The EPA Brussels will be part of the teacher training program for preschool teachers at the Erasmus University College. The teacher program is focused on pre-service training but is also invested in the shared training in collaboration with the field of educational professionals (education, socio-cultural, welfare). As a third pillar we aim to stay connected to in-service preschool teachers, to keep innovation top of mind. In working with students and visiting schools and teachers, the ideas and methodology of the C4S-project and -pilots will be replicated. The accompanied visits and joined workshop will establish a multiplier effect that will foster innovative and sustainable science education in formal pedagogical settings.

Through working with children (from migrant backgrounds), we will also be able to reach families and especially mothers and women. When students take the C4S-box to the streets, families from the neighbourhood can take part in playful science activities and watch students mediate exploration, experimentation and discovery in a low-tech environment. These families can also be invited to the Experimental Play Area and discover fun ways of interacting with every day materials in a playful and scientific way. Here we focus on a multiplier effect in a non-formal pedagogical setting.

Science and how to do science with children, key themes for the 2nd workshop of the C4S project

Science and how to do science with children, key themes for the 2nd workshop of the C4S project

The members of the “Communities for Sciences – Project towards promoting an inclusive approach in science education” (C4S) met for its second online meeting on 24 February 2021. The session was conducted by Edoardo Datteri, Associate Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the University of Milano-Bicocca, and Montserrat Pedreira, the director of Early Childhood Education at the Faculty of Social Sciences at UManresa (Campus of UVic-UCC).

Associate Professor Edoardo Datteri kicked off the session by talking about the concept of science and the difference between of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences. The aim was to dispel stereotypical and reductionist concepts of science and to promote a more down-to-earth understanding of science based more on epistemological issues involved in enquiry processes.

For her part, Montserrat Pedreira focused on the endless possibilities for learning and interaction that inclusive science brings. Among other topics, she reflected on the design of free choice science spaces (as in the UManresa’s Lab 0_6 Discovery, Research and Documentation Centre for Science Education in Early Childhood) stimulating and respectful with the learners’ ideas, based on the initiative of the children’s initiative and based on in the promotion of dialogue.

The next workshop of the C4S consortium will be in March 2021 and will be based on exploring further issues on and dimensions of inclusion.

Jerry Tchadie, chemist and science educator, answers some questions to C4S

Jerry Tchadie, chemist and science educator, answers some questions to C4S

Jerry Tchadie

has a degree in Chemistry from the Autónoma University of Madrid in 2000 and since then he has always worked in education and popularization of science. He began his career in the Department of Education of the National Museum of Science and Technology (MUNCYT), where he had his first contact with science didactics, the history of science, and museology. Later he had the opportunity to lead the Education Department of the Archaeological Park of Pinto, Arqueopinto. There, he learned the keys of Experimental Archeology.

For the following four years, he worked as a Secondary School teacher at Colegio del Pilar, teaching Technology and as head of the school laboratory. In 2008 he decided to start his own business in the educational sector creating Historiactiva, in association with the history teacher Ignacio Soriano. They aimed to transform the teaching of Social Sciences into a living, experimental, and reflective activity. And they have managed to bring this vision to hundreds of Spanish schools, museums, and cultural spaces, until today.

Historiactiva has allowed him to break down barriers between disciplines. He says that the projects that he has enjoyed the most “are those in which science, arts and humanities were confluent”. All these projects were focused on experimentation and participation. Some of those that he remember most fondly were: Mathematics through African Designs and The Science of Sorolla. Both projects had quite an impact and remained in museum programming for years.

At the same time that Historiactiva started running, he began to collaborate as a regular teacher trainer at the CTIF (Territorial Center for Innovation and Training) of the Community of Madrid. All his courses were focused on the Didactics of Experimental Sciences for Primary School and Early Childhood Education. After many years dedicated to teacher training in the early stages of the educational system, he created his own moveable science space dedicated to Early Childhood Education, named Investigactiva. In its short life, this project has been very well received, and it has allowed thousands of children to experience, share, and enjoy science with their families.

Jerry Tchadie in Investigactiva

You are the director of Investigactiva, an initiative to promote an active role of children up to 6 years old in science. What is your point of view about making science in early childhood?

I agree with the notion that “Science” is an inseparable part of the human experience. We must continually evaluate our environment and seek survival solutions in an ever-changing world. Understanding our environment and acting on it, is not an academic or curricular option, but a matter of self-preservation. The recent pandemic has highlighted this principle: “Without science, there is no future.” Asking whether science should be a core element in the academic curricula, from early childhood, or not, is not an enlightened society whim, but it is to give to the exploration and understanding of nature the relevance it deserves.

I believe that for this reason an enormous effort is being made worldwide in the development of didactics, materials, and curricula that guarantee the presence of science in schools and the children’s daily life. It has been possible to reach a good consensus about school-science as a planned, collective, and branched process connected with technology and other disciplines. And even STEAM principles or methodologies such as IBSE (Inquiry-Based Science Education) are applied. However, these approaches are usually too abstract or require some communication skills (verbal or written), or a precise manipulation of different materials. All of them out of the reach of the littlest ones. So, is it impossible to do science with children who cannot understand abstract messages, or follow precise instructions, or even build objects? Ten years ago I didn’t think it was possible either. I would say that I became interested in bringing science to early childhood education when I had my firstborn, and I realized that there were no suitable scientific activities for him, either in school or outside of it. During this period of my life, I investigated different pedagogical approaches in nursery schools, such as Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, or Pikler. These ways of understanding childhood and education were very revealing and necessary to me, to transfer science to early childhood.

Among other experiences, I visited, in this period, national and international science exhibits oriented to Early Childhood Education. Most of them installed in museums, such as, “El desván de la Ciencia” at the “Parque de las Ciencias de Granada” or The Discovery Room at the American Museum of Natural, and, of course, Lab 06, in the Manresa campus of UVic-UCC, the main resource in this area. I greatly appreciate its transparency and its willingness to communicate and share the results of its research and experiences, Which is so useful for my purpose.

All the experience accumulated in this research process gave me the keys to do actual science with the littlest ones. It wasn’t about making science funnier, more eye-catching, or surprising, it was about tuning in to children’s natural curiosity. As long as we understand science, as a way to explore our environment and not just as a set of magical phenomena, it will be easy to build scientific proposals to encourage the investigative nature, within every child. No flashy garnishes or extravagant conductors are necessary, just pave the way for their natural gameplay to turn it into Science. My experience with Investigactiva shows me how satisfying a science space can be for children, but how surprising and exciting can be for adults, too. Perhaps, this kind of educational activity will be able to engage, not only to children but to the adults who accompany them.

You have worked on a project of ethnographic-maths. Can you tell us about it?

From the beginning of my career, in science education, I was interested in ​​finding a way to connect science education with Africa. Working at the MUNCYT, I was fascinated by the great scientists of non-European origins in Western history, but above all, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a good part of the Greek scientists had African (Alexandria) origins or had studied in the continent. This fact didn’t seem to be very relevant to my colleges. But it seems to me like a way of linking Africa with the history of science.

In about 2011 I discovered a TED lecture by Dr. Ron Eglash about the connections between mathematics and African designs. The same week I was reading his book “African Fractals”. This quotation still has an echo in my head: ” When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn’t even discovered yet. ” Referring to the use of fractal geometry in these cultures. 

I was able to pull the thread and complete a bibliography that offered me a whole new perspective. A compendium of mathematical principles implicit in art, social organization, architecture or games, opened before me. Finding the principles of computation in a Yoruba divination system or sets of algorithms associated with Graph theory in a Sona game or all possible symmetry transformations in the plane in a Kuba cloth, was fascinating. So, without delay, I started to create a proposal with didactic materials oriented towards African Ethnomathematics.  In 2012, I proposed an interactive activity on Africa and mathematics to the National Museum of Anthropology. It was held during the Madrid Science Week and was called Mathematics Through African Designs. Hundreds of people visited the museum hall that weekend. It was beautiful to presence how other Afro-descendants could finally point their fingers and say with pride: “This is our African Mozart, the mathematics”. I was able to repeat this activity on many occasions and even on national television. Currently, I take it to schools throughout the Community of Madrid through my company Historiactiva.

Do you think that there is a lack of science education in our societies? Do we need a more day to day approach to science?

Of course. We need more education in science and it has to be more present in society’s daily life and be more mediatic. The day children dream of being scientists, politics will include science as one of its main programmatic goals.

I agree that science and technology are being included, more and more, in educational programs. But, I think that leisure science activities could be the key. Non-formal education has the virtue of not being part of a program, so we can choose the content which we are more engaged, and they have a very social side. The After School or weekend STEM activities, science clubs, community science fairs, or science summer camps are the way to enroll the youngest generations in science.

However, almost all of the Spanish cultural leisure focus on cinema, theater, music, exhibitions, and museums. That cultural activity is either highly contemplative or follows a set of instructions in the form of workshops and leave no room for intervention. Science is a perfect tool to learn to be critical and evaluate facts. For this reason, I started Investigactiva, to provide children a space of experience and intervention, from the perspective of science.

Do you think that science education can change societies? Can it make people more critical and empowered?

This is a capital and urgent task, the lack of scientific culture among the population has very harmful effects on our society. Nowadays thousands of fake news are reaching our electronic devices, encouraging our fear and anxieties and making us ignore where the real problems of our society are. A science-educated society is less manipulative and capable of making informed decisions.

Do you think that science is an exclusive field? Have you ever felt that science was something strange to you? As an afro-descendant, have you missed science role models?

Whether or not science is an exclusive sector depends on the strength of the public education system. In my case, I am sure that if Spain had not had a high-quality State Schools and Universities and a good scholarship system, we would not be having this conversation.

On the other hand, to expose my experience as an Afro-descendant during my period as a high school student, I need to explain its context. I spent my adolescence in Madrid in the 90s, and during this decade a strong xenophobic and racist feeling arose in our society, because of the rising number of African immigrants in Spain. Many of my high school classmates tuned in to that xenophobic and racist sentiment, which generated constant conflict.  In general, the teachers tried to reduce racist thoughts and give a more humanistic background to students. However, at the same time, we received history, economics, and science lessons that depicted a world in which Africans were underdeveloped, involved in wars and unable to manage their wealth, devoid of technology, and living in wild tribes, in remote places. Placing in our teenager’s heads this narrative: The origin of humanity had started in Africa, where ape-like individuals had evolved into a “white” and European Homo Sapiens.

With these claims, how could I refute the idea of the poor, incapable, and involved Africa? Even the most heroic attempts by teachers to modify the racist and xenophobic thoughts failed. And the most dramatic outcome was that in the deep down inside me, the idea, that this racialized and unfair vision of the world, should be true. This is why it is so important to me to change the narrative and I firmly believe that science can be the fulcrum for a change of perspective. If we could find a history of Africa including science, art, literature, or philosophy as a relevant fact, its descendants and inhabitants could feel empowered and “allowed” to access knowledge.

As a child, my school environment racialized me, so in games or classroom role-playing activities, I was always assigned to roles of “black” characters, such as King Baltasar, Pelé, or Michael Jackson. Likewise, my classmates and teachers attributed me the same virtues and defects as these characters, so they expected that I was a good athlete or dancer. Even today, when I introduce myself to somebody as a professional teacher, more times than I want to admit, It completes my sentence by saying: “ Music teacher? or Physical Education teacher? “. In this context, finding a role-model interested in any academic activity, which others would identify me was impossible. It’s sad, but I often thought I could be more successful if I spent more time playing basketball than thinking about robots, computers, and science fiction.

All these inconveniences that I expose, never stopped my interest in science, but perhaps they did with other people. I think that role-models are relevant to oneself if they are relevant to the rest of society. If my school environment had had more diverse models, no one would have assigned me specific characteristics because I was “black”. We need to make scientists, engineers, artists, and creators from multiple origins, more visible. If we do so, children with non-European origins will feel that they belong to the human race, but also children with European origins won’t lose sight of the humanity they belong to.

The C4S project was introduced in a seminar on Theory of Mind, robotics and autism spectrum disorder

The C4S project was introduced in a seminar on Theory of Mind, robotics and autism spectrum disorder

Luisa Zecca, professor at the Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, introduced the Communities for Sciences (C4S) project in a seminar on Theory of Mind, robotics and autism spectrum disorder organized by the Laboratory of Robotics for the Cognitive and Social Sciences, the Associazione Italiana di Scienze Cognitive, the Associazione Yunik aps, and the Communities for Science (C4S project. Zecca underlined the chance that C4S offers to explore an inclusive approach to science education.

The seminar was online and the participants were students and researchers of the philosophical, psychological and pedagogical field, educators, teachers, pedagogists and psyco-pedagogists.

C4S project member holds a seminar on inclusive science teaching

C4S project member holds a seminar on inclusive science teaching

Roberta Garbo, who is a teacher at the Università degli Studi di Milano – Bicocca and a member of the Communities for Sciences (C4S) project leading group, held an interactive seminar on “Inclusive science teaching”. It was on 4th December 2020 during the International Days organized by Erasmus Brussels University (EhB) on the subject “Transversal skills for the 21st Century”.

“Inclusive science is a science for, from and in favour of society”

“Inclusive science is a science for, from and in favour of society”

Interview with Salvador Simó, Berta Vila and Francesca Davoli from Vic Campus (UVic-UCC)

Science education is one of the essential tools for advancing the social and cultural inclusion of children and young people. This is the main pillar on which the project “Communities for Sciences – Towards promoting an inclusive approach in science education” (C4S) is based, whose principal aim is to make science education more inclusive.

.- In a few words, how can we define inclusive science?

This is a science for, from and in favour of society: a science which excludes nobody on the basis of gender, age, race, sexual orientation, etc.

Like any other fields of knowledge, science must be accessible to everyone. The idea that there are “scientific minds” or “artistic minds” or subjects that are impossible for some people, is not true. This has been shown by neuroscience in recent publications or as demonstrated by Gómez-Motilla, C. and Ruiz-Gallardo, J. R. (2016)[1] in their study regarding gender issues which affect the interest in science in early childhood education. Therefore, science must be considered as a tool of inclusion and equity, in the sense that it allows the mind, the person and their intellectual autonomy to be developed.

From the field of research, we must move forward to place science in an inclusive, two-way paradigm. The first way is to increase the access which everyone has to science. The second one is to give visibility to minority groups, which are sometimes excluded, and to consider them as relevant scientific references.

.-What is the scope of the UVic-UCC Hub within the Communities for Sciences? How will the knowledge generated positively affect the development of the project?

On the one hand, we will work to prepare primary school children (from 6 to 12 years old) for an Economy 4.0, a term that economists have also coined as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a period in which we are already immersed. This is based on new technologies such as 3D printing or virtual / augmented reality as well as robotics.

One of the consequences of Economy 4.0 is the disappearance of millions of traditional jobs and the emergence of new employment niches based on this new economy. In this sense, people who do not have technological skills will be excluded from this new job market and, therefore, will be in danger of social exclusion.

Our programme is based on generating knowledge on how to prepare school children in a situation of marginalization to meet the challenges of Economy 4.0 despite currently not having access to these skills.

In the field of early childhood education, it is a matter of taking a different approach to the current one. In some preschool classrooms, science is often a sporadic and residual activity, although it is known to develop very relevant cognitive activity.

Both in the first cycle (children aged 0-3 years old) and in the second one (children aged 3-6 years old) students, and especially their families, must perceive that they are perfectly capable of doing science and thinking scientifically.

Our programme seeks to develop the socio-cognitive skills of all girls and boys, and to share with their families this perspective concerning the possibilities of their children. Access to knowledge and a positive self-image guarantee equality.

The objective is to facilitate the development of critical, analytical, creative and autonomous thinking. This part of the project will serve as a scaffold for the first one, as they will be interconnected.

.- What are the greatest challenges you are facing?

There are many different challenges. On the one hand, the importance of raising awareness in the families of young children that working with them and their children is of paramount importance and that science can be a factor to foster inclusion and awareness.

On the other hand, the difficulty of reaching a large group. Luckily, the project covers many institutions, both national and international, and is three years long, which makes it transversal. However, research only makes sense if it is outreaching and has a positive effect on society. This part is covered in this project, but it is always a complex task to reach different schools and especially the families, some of whom are not at all close to academic fields.

Inclusion, a theoretically accepted concept, is a challenge in itself because we are in the process of implementing the idea of schools belonging to and aimed at everyone, as prescribed by the new Decree 150/2017, of 17th October, on education for students within the framework of an inclusive educational system [2].

In fact, according to Stainbak (2001)[3], inclusive education is a process through which all children, regardless of ability, race or any other difference, are offered the opportunity to become members of ordinary classrooms and learn from and with their peers, in the classroom, all together.

It also alludes to aspects of social exclusion concerning children who do not have the technological skills needed for an Economy 4.0. This reality condemns them to unemployment or precariousness in the context of an Economy 4.0.

.- This is the first time that the two UVic-UCC campuses, UVic and UManresa, have joined forces to take part in a European project of this nature. What are your expectations for this new experience?

We believe it will be a great two-way learning experience shared with all the participants, which will help strengthen our UVic-UCC University Federation.

Working closely for three years with many other international ‘partners’, who bring different perspectives and backgrounds, will allow us to delve deeper into some current educational issues at a European level, as well as being able to improve the educational level of various countries. It will be very advantageous to weave this network of collaborations, not only within our own territory, but also with very different realities which are geographically far away. The cooperation with UManresa, which is leading the project, is a way to consolidate the relationship between the two campuses and to be able to guarantee and share the specific characteristics of each one.

This collaborative relationship will accompany us in the different phases of research in order to extend this inclusive scientific approach to other contexts and communities.

.- Do you have the support of other institutions? What means do you have?

The schools are our great allies. Obviously, without the teaching staff and the complicity of teachers and children, research is not possible. The families are equally important in this aspect.

Town halls must also be able to participate in the changes, be informed, collaborate and be co-responsible because, after all, education forms a part of politics. For this project we have the support of Vic Town Hall and the collaboration with different schools in the city: the Santa Caterina/Dominiques-Vic School, the Dr. Salarich School and the El Remei Municipal Family Centre.

In addition, we also have a wide network of teachers, educators and professionals in the field of education interested in research and investigation, who will provide us with support in the different phases and programmes which take place during the three years of the project.

The team is made up of UVic-UCC researchers, experts in the fields of education and social inclusion: namely, Francesca Davoli, Berta Vila and Mireia Canals (Faculty of Education, Translation and Human Sciences) and Salvador Simó (Faculty of Health and Welfare Sciences). The team will also be made up of other professionals who will collaborate on the project.

.- How do you envisage that C4S can contribute to promoting social inclusion through new technological opportunities?

Mastery of new technological skills will be the key for accessing the future job market, therefore it is essential to focus on the way they can be acquired from the preschool stage. However, inclusion is not just fostered through technology. Education is constructed through contexts, people and relationships, knowledge, skills and competencies and, consequently, value must be given to the actions and thoughts of each child, and their ways of learning. It is understood that this is the way to contribute to their own construction and development as a person in relation to the rest of the group, children and adults, teachers and families. From early childhood education to the other formative stages, if girls and boys are recognized as capable beings and accompanied by educators who believe in their potential, they will be able to develop those attitudes and skills necessary to grow and act in contemporary and future society. As Dr. Echeita succinctly attests, “Dreaming of inclusive education for everyone is not a utopia but a path to follow.”

[1] Gómez-Motilla, C., & Ruiz-Gallardo, J. R. (2016). El rincón de la ciencia y la actitud hacia las ciencias en educación infantil. Revista Eureka sobre enseñanza y divulgación de las ciencias, 13(3), 643-666.


[3] BRAY STAINBACK, S. “L’educació inclusiva: definició, context i motius”. Suports, 2001, vol.5, núm.1, p. 18-25.