IOP Institute of Physics

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A new strategy for IOP for Africa

As IOP changes tack on its work supporting physics education in Africa, we look back at the projects’ successes so far – and explain our plans for the future.

IOP for Africa

(Jump to: The Existing Projects; FAQ)

IOP’s work to boost physics in developing countries began back in 2005 with the donation of experimental equipment to a school in Rwanda.

Over the years, it expanded into a full programme, with projects established in nine countries.

The intention behind it was to address a common issue: that the teaching of physics was only theoretical – often a blackboard-oriented rote-learning of facts and concepts, with no experimental work. While that can be successful in terms of getting students through their exams, it does little for ingraining a true understanding of physics.

A lack of resources with which to do experiments in lessons, and the will to put them to good use, was impeding some countries in the region from growing their own science and engineering bases – an essential step in economic development.

IOP’s coordinators have done a lot to help address that issue. They’ve trained teachers in how to give more effective lessons in experimental physics with limited equipment. They’ve provided experimental and IT equipment to schools, and set up resource centres. In some cases they’ve even trained local craftsmen in how to build practical physics kit and how to manage the resource centres. (For further detail, there are case studies of six of the nine projects below.)

Now, however, IOP’s Council has decided to change our approach to supporting physics education in Africa over the next five years.

After consulting with experts in the scientific and international-development communities, the decision was made to rework the programme into one that’s more self-sustaining, and in which we work collaboratively with the project-countries’ own efforts to build a science base.

IOP remains committed to building upon its support of physics in Africa by providing technical expertise and resources to support colleagues in the continent as they work to build the science capital and economic strength of their countries. To do so efficiently in what is an increasingly crowded international development space, and to respond to the messages given by political and scientific leaders within Africa, we know we must work with other partners – and particularly with those from other scientific disciplines.

During 2015–16 the Institute will look to transfer the running of existing projects to partner organisations based in the countries in which those projects take place, who are better-placed to react to changes on the ground. IOP will still provide funding during 2015, and will continue to fully support its coordinators during this transitional period.

IOP’s direct involvement in physics in Africa will be to build a new programme to support education and innovation in Tanzania, while continuing to support the pilot programme that has been initiated in South Africa.

The largest country in East Africa, Tanzania is also one of the poorest in the world – despite extensive natural-gas resources. There’s a clear and urgent need to train up a generation of innovators and entrepreneurs that can change the country’s fortunes, and IOP has familiarity with, and a solid reputation in, Tanzania from our previous work there, so it is an obvious choice for a new pilot. Experience in setting up and developing the new model will be invaluable – we’ll be able to adapt it and take it to other countries in the region later.

By focusing initial efforts on one or two countries, and allowing local organisations to build on what we began in the others, we hope to be able to create lasting change for physics in Africa.


The existing projects

Coordinators: Bill Poole and Christine Cleave

“On a first visit to Addis Ababa it was clear that Ethiopia faced significant challenges with education as a whole with large numbers of children (an estimated 20 million), inadequately trained teachers, a ‘chalk and talk’ system, little or no equipment and a lack of practical experience. A key connection was made on that visit through a VSO volunteer who had been working in the Ministry of Education, who made the introduction to one of two National Teacher Trainers who happened to have a physics background.

“In 2008 the first practical physics training session took place, with nine teachers representing five schools and one person from the Ministry of Education’s Institute of the Curriculum. This was vital in demonstrating the quality and high standards set by the IOP in delivering practical physics training

“Perhaps the most notable moments come from going into schools and meeting with the students who show a great interest in the training sessions often peering into the training room either through the window or an open door – and even joining in with the teachers on some occasions.  The setting up of practical physics teacher training centres will have a lasting effect throughout the country.

“The training session format has evolved over the past seven years and is now well established and accepted. Feedback from teachers, some with many years of experience, indicates that they have benefitted from the IOP courses – many of them urge repeat courses for colleagues throughout the country, showing that the training is successful.”

IOP for Africa

Coordinator: Roger Green

“I got involved with the IOP when I was a consultant with the Ghana Education Service as part of its contract between International Training and Education Consultants and the Ghana Government in 2010. It was during this consultancy that the IOP contacted me to help organise the official visit of the then-President of IOP, Prof. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, to Ghana.  It was during her visit in May 2010 that Prof. Bell Burnell opened the IOP Centre at Ada , which went on to host many courses for teachers over the next four years.

“A report written by Charles Appiah, for many years a senior officer at the Ghana Education Office and now the IOP representative in Ghana, clearly states the state of physics teaching in Ghana and the positive influence that the IOP has had: ‘Most science teachers in JHS have virtually no knowledge of most of the physics topics in the JHS syllabus and therefore do not teach them.  As a result the JHS final year science examination consists mainly of biology and chemistry questions. A similar situation exists in the SHS.’

“The coming of UK IOP into Ghana was very timely. They donated a lot of electronic equipment to the Centre. This has revolutionised the teaching of electronic in both Junior and Senior High in Ghana. Our biggest success has been the influence we have had on the rank and file science teachers to take a practical and investigative approach to science teaching.”

Coordinators: Joe Brock and Mike Branfield

“I [Joe] first got involved in Africa when a student of mine said she was going out to help train teachers in Gambia. IOP first approached us to start work in Tanzania after I had written an article for Physics Education in 2006 about the work in Gambia, and initially funded the project for £2,000 – once we had shown the model working this was increased to £10,000.

“In Tanzania, physics is taught in a didactic way with copious notes on the blackboard, copying of work and chanting to rote-learn facts for the exams. There is little scope for initiative and autonomous thinking. In the past eight years we have aimed to change that in the Morogoro region. We decided to concentrate our efforts on the teacher trainees at Morogoro Teacher’s College. Equipment is given to the teacher, rather than the school, which ensures that when they move on they take their equipment and training with them and the message is not lost. While the kit is simple, the physics that can be explained using it is not.

“The most notable moments are always when you come across the equipment or the ideas being used, or, even better, being used in a new way, by the Tanzanian teachers. We came across a class in 2012, unannounced, and found our idea of teaching radioactivity using dice being used in the classroom. Another teacher in a remote mountain village school had started to use the straws and cotton reels we had given him in a previous year to build atomic models and demonstrate bonding. In 2009 one poor rural school in Mvomero had entered a national science competition and won, beating many much more prestigious schools using the equipment and techniques we had taught them.”

South Africa
Coordinator: David Wolfe

 “We ran our first workshop in July 2013 at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Campus in Soweto, home to the Soweto Science Centre, which has a history of five years of outreach in the local community, running workshops for learners.

“The teachers I have met have been enthusiastic, dedicated and hard-working. The problem is that they have not been educated specifically in physics. It makes a great deal more sense to train teachers than to train students: for each teacher who learns more physics, several hundred students will benefit. The key question is whether the teachers who attend training workshops use what they’ve learned when they return to their own classroom. Teacher-training programmes have been run in the past (mostly in maths and English), but no measurement of outcomes has ever been made. Our programme was designed to change this.

“The addition of Gauteng Department of Education’s Central Division (GDE) to our group has led to an enormous change. In July 2014, we had 600 teachers come for three days of instruction. At the end of this course, extensive surveys were run. The results were overwhelmingly positive. Besides general gratitude for the material covered, there were requests to extend the work to chemistry and to spread it throughout the country. ‘We need this desperately,’ was the most common comment.  At the end of the workshop, the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, gave a speech to the 600 teachers and staff and was extremely enthusiastic about this work and its necessity.

“We have very ambitious plans for the future but they depend on what is most crucial in science: measurement. If we can demonstrate these workshops really do make an improvement in student outcomes, then we want to spread our ideas throughout all nine provinces in South Africa. This is not a rapid process but it is supported both in principle and financially by the Department for Science and Technology. We have been assured that serious data will result in greater funding. The situation has become so critical that GDE has promised teachers for training. With continued support and perseverance we can reach a point where we can test the success of these ideas.”

South Sudan
Coordinator: Gerry Blake

“In 2011 I was approached by an IOP colleague, David Richardson, on behalf of the Diocese of Salisbury to travel to South Sudan to help with practical physics teacher training. This first of five trips over the past few years took place the week after South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan following a five-year Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the North after more than 20 years of civil war.

“Few students have the opportunity to attend secondary schools, and very few of these in 2011 had the opportunity to study physics practically. Some government and mission schools had some physics apparatus, but that was more likely in towns near the Uganda border. Most apparatus that did exist was destroyed, looted or taken back to Sudan. Consequently we made it our aim to have basic apparatus constructed locally. Physics kits that were made were then used to train teachers from across the country. After the training courses the teachers each took a set of apparatus back to their schools to help their students better understand physics concepts.

“One teacher with 25 years’ experience burst into tears of joy on his first morning with us when he realised that he would be taking a kit bag of apparatus home with him. He hadn’t seen any science equipment since he did his own teacher training!

“Most South Sudanese physics teachers are in their twenties, and escaped the country and received an education in Uganda during the conflict. These highly motivated young men have returned home with the dream of building their new nation.”

Coordinator: Laurie Mansfield

“The project in Gambia started in 2011 following a chance encounter between an IOP member and the charity Jole Rider, which stimulated the idea that the country could be a deserving place for our input. In the past three years the project has developed further than we could ever have imagined.

“We were donated an unused laboratory by the governors of Sifoe Senior Secondary School, about 50km south of the capital, Banjul, which we began to equip at our first workshops in November 2011. Since then, the laboratory has been equipped with benches, stools and steel shelving for the prep room – all locally manufactured and fitted. Equipment has been imported by Steve Atyeo and me on our visits, but also using the services of Jole Rider, and equipment has also been obtained from LabAid.

“We have established a pattern of November/December workshops for both lower and higher secondary teachers, plus April workshops specifically focused on the A-level-equivalent physics practical exam. These have been incredibly popular, such that they each session now has teachers from every school that enters students for that exam. Data is difficult to gather, but, from those schools that do record it, success rates at the A-level-equivalent exam have improved significantly since our intervention.

“Our guiding strategy is to enhance science teaching and the uptake of science studies at A-level and university, to encourage an increase in Gambian science and maths teachers (more than 80% of whom are currently non-Gambian) so that the country can develop its own technical and engineering capacity.

“Our relationships with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MOBSE) are extremely good. The Permanent Secretary at MOBSE has given his verbal support to us a number of times; the Director of Science and Technology Education and his staff have been regular visitors to our workshops and report that the feedback they receive is excellent, supporting our own. We are working closely with one of the MOBSE staff who is currently in the UK studying for a Master’s degree, to extend and enhance our relationship with the Ministry.

“Our future plans include employing a laboratory manager so that the centre can be open to use by teachers all year, establishing satellite centres ‘up country’, and including workshops in basic chemistry and biology.”



Why the change in direction?

The development of a new IOP strategy for 2015–19 provided the opportunity to review the progress, and future ambitions, of the IOP for Africa projects. A detailed review was undertaken, following the appointment of the new Head of International, which included consultation with a number of UK and overseas stakeholders and partners. The overwhelming message was that the IOP should continue to have a presence in Africa. But to be more effective, we should respond to the needs that have been identified within Africa and be positioned within the broader STEM context, working, whenever possible, through a multi-partnership approach with other physical societies, universities, educators, businesses, local physicists and with those working in other areas of science and technology. The response to our review from within Africa is that whatever approach is taken we should look to reflect a country’s shifting priorities toward improving their own science and technology capabilities.

IOP for Africa

What will happen to the current projects in Africa and how will the coordinators be supported?

The projects will continue to be financially supported during 2015 with both IOP funds and income that we continue to receive from donors and members.

During 2015, we will provide whatever support we can to the project coordinators to continue the work that has been undertaken over the past few years on the teaching of practical physics. This will include support in developing new partnerships and in seeking funding for 2015.

If individual national projects plan to continue beyond 2015, and are able to do so without any financial support from the IOP and can demonstrate compliance to the principles and direction of the new strategy, then it is probable that IOP could continue to lend its name and provide support in some appropriate capacity.

What impact does this decision have on current in-country partners?

We will be liaising closely with our current partners that include schools, universities, national physical societies, and education ministries, to make certain they understand our future plans and how we can support them, for example by finding other partners or additional sources of funding. This will ensure that there is a legacy to the IOP’s current work in Africa, reflecting our initial plans to reach a stage where our work is sufficiently robust to handover to in-country partners.

How will the money donated by external donors and IOP members be used?

Currently, we gratefully receive support for the IOP for Africa project from Nature Publishing, and this year, from the David and Elaine Potter Foundation (just for South Africa). And, of course, following the successful fundraising campaign a few years ago, IOP members continue to support the project through regular direct debit gifts.

The money we receive is used to fund the travel and subsistence costs for the coordinators to spend time in-country providing dedicated training support for the teaching of practical classroom physics. Additional costs are attributed to maintaining the teacher-training and practical resource centres in-country in terms of both local staff costs and the purchase and subsequent maintenance of a wide variety of equipment.

Why Tanzania?

From our research, Tanzania is a strong contender for a pilot programme in Africa for many reasons. It’s the largest country in East Africa, but one of the poorest in the world. From a resource perspective, Tanzania sits on about 15 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, equivalent to approximately $150 billion at current prices – six times Tanzania's current GDP. These proved and potential reserves can be a game-changer for the country. 

The specific needs to be addressed in Tanzania could also relate to the broader East Africa region, with a pilot programme having broader regional implications and applicability. The East Africa Community (EAC), a regional organisation representing Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, declared a priority of theirs to be the harmonisation of secondary education curricula, standards and evaluation.

Tanzania also has the significant advantage of being one of the nine countries that IOP is working in as part of the current IOP for Africa project with experience and relationships to draw upon including the expertise of IOP’s coordinators.

What is the IOP planning in Tanzania during 2015?

We plan to undertake a detailed assessment to inform whether our support would be most usefully directed at the secondary and/or tertiary level within Tanzania. This is something we will look to do in tandem with local partners. For instance, if the outcomes of the review reveal that we have a significant role to play in supporting the teaching of physics related to Tanzania’s burgeoning oil industry, we will look to tailor our existing Supporting Physics Teachers resources based on energy and other topics to help provide local teachers, both specialists and non-specialists, with materials that are grounded in wide-ranging evidence and enriched with the wisdom of practicing classroom teachers of physics.

We will also be working with local partners to identify, as part of our plans for a Social Innovation Partnership, a number of Tanzanian entrepreneurial businesses with the aim to scale-up their capability, so that their social innovation solutions on, for example, renewable energy, health, etc, can be adopted across the country.

By focusing on one or two countries does this mean that the IOP is reducing its work in Africa?

We want to build upon our previous practical educational work and apply that to a broader set of partnerships that focus on the importance of building science, coupled with what we have learned from the capacity-building entrepreneurial workshops, in terms of supporting innovation as a means of addressing important development issues particularly around natural resources and health. So, we are of the view that we can best achieve these objectives by initially working in fewer countries and then taking that model to other African countries in due course.

What will be the name of the new project?

We will retain the name IOP for Africa for all of our work in Africa for the new strategy period.

Will IOP members be involved in the new project?

The future success of our activities in Africa will be dependent on the invaluable knowledge, expertise, relationships and support provided by our dedicated volunteer members, who share the same passion and desire that IOP does to help build lasting change in Africa.

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