Since last June, Lyudmyla Kokorina is part of the “Communities for Sciences – Towards promoting an inclusive approach in science education” (C4S) project as a research assistant through the European Commission’s Horizon for Ukraine programme. Lyudmyla has a PhD in “General Pedagogy and History of Pedagogy” and worked in Horlivka Institute for Foreign Languages of State Higher Educational Institution Donbas State Pedagogical University since 2007.
How and why were you incorporated in the “Communities for Sciences – Towards promoting an inclusive approach in science education” (C4S) project? I wish I knew the exact answer. Probably, it’s just the very moment when everything centred and focused on the project and me forming a part of it. The situation in Ukraine forced me to leave home for the second time and go abroad searching for safety. And thus, become one of the millions of Ukrainian job-seekers. Later, the project coordinators read my CV, appointed an interview, and made their decision. And now I’m being interviewed as a new member of the C4S team. I think that my professional competencies and work experience can add to the project and bring a view from a new perspective. All C4S members have proved to be a great team in creating, supporting, and promoting tools for successful Inclusive Science education at all social levels.
Did you know about the C4S project before? Frankly speaking, I didn’t know about the project before. But now I’m glad to be a part of it since I had some experience with non-discrimination education and inclusiveness. Together with the students, we practised research tools on the social attitude towards inclusion in Ukrainian schools.
What do you do as a research assistant at C4S? Is it like what you did in your country? The tasks are rather different but very interesting. First, I had to learn some more about the idea and details of the project by studying articles and opinion essays about the research area. And then I naturally joined the observations and further activities of data collecting and processing. Considering my work in Ukraine I was more involved in the daily routine of institutional administrating and teaching classes. And my research area was mainly from the perspective of foreign language teaching and comparative pedagogy.
You are an expert in Pedagogy. How do you think we can contribute to the improvement of educational inclusion processes in the classroom? I never considered myself to be an expert, but what I believe is that a person should never cease doing good things. Therefore, the best way to contribute to enhancing inclusive education is to continue rolling out inclusive education at all stages of education and involving more people in its implementation. Luckily, I had the possibility to observe inclusive science education “in action”. Now I’m sure that it really functions because when a teacher inspires his/her pupils, they strive for knowledge and discoveries. Just like in my favourite quote from William Arthur Ward: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
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.
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.
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) 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.
In fact, according to Stainbak (2001), 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.”
 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.