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Dirty children make great scientists
American scientist, Dr Mae C Jemison, wants parents to allow their children to get dirty: “Preventing children from touching bugs, snails and dirt limits their ability to explore their world,” Dr Jemison believes. Dr Jemison is the first African woman to go into space. She served as a science mission specialist on NASA’s space shuttle, Endeavour, in 1992. During her space voyage, Dr Jemison conducted experiments in material science, life science and human adaptation to weightlessness. What was her favourite experiment? Frog embryology; on Earth, frogs’ eggs rotate with the dark hemisphere pointing up. If that rotation is inhibited, tadpoles are born malformed. Dr Jemison’s mission was to determine if weightlessness affected the migration of cells within the egg. The result: successful fertilisation in space. No malformed tadpoles out there!
Dr Jemison is a powerful advocate for science literacy; which explains her disdain for computer games and social networking. “Video games and social networking inhibit children from using the full scope of their imagination. Kids are too centred on themselves,” Jemison observed. Consequently, the high level of abstract thinking required for children to become successful scientists isn’t developed optimally. Her solution: “Take the toys and widgets away from children and let them go outside and play for a little while. Young people must go outside and experience the world in a different manner because one cannot understand the world from a computer.”
How will that help? Children are forced to expand and explore their universe while outdoors: “They focus on the answers to the problems of the world around them,” Jemison said Children exploring their world promote scientific literacy which is essential for increased innovation. “Innovation doesn’t just happen; innovation is based on basic scientific research which requires exploration and finding answers to problems in the real world,” according to Jemison. And, what is the role of parents in promoting scientific literacy among their children? First of all, according to Dr Jemison, “parents must not be uncomfortable with their children exploring their world.”
Additionally, given the fact that children make decisions about their life’s goals by the time they are 11, “parents must instill in their children, from an early age, that science and education are important,” Dr Jemison advised. She should know. Her father, from whom she gained much of her inspiration, was a construction worker who instilled in her the importance of hands-on work which, according to Jemison, is “much more important, in acquiring technological knowledge, than virtual networking.”
Emphasising her working-class background, Dr Jemison stressed that scientific literacy is not only necessary for the study of rocket science, medicine, nuclear physics or engineering but is also an imperative if a student desires to be “a carpenter, electrician, plumber, mechanic or bio-technician.” Back to space: “the space age did not begin with Sputnik or Apollo,” declared Dr Jemison. “The space age began when one of my ancestors looked up at the sky thousands of years ago and noticed that the stars were moving,” Jemison said, referring to the ancient Africans of Egypt who aligned their pyramids and other structures in accordance with the movement of astral bodies.
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