EUNAWE Project: Getting Kids Excited about Astronomy
8 February 2011
Photo: Scorza, private
The European Union is supporting the worldwide astronomy education programme “Universe Awareness” (UNAWE) with funding to the tune of 1.9 million euros. The money will go towards materials and offerings designed to make children aware of the beauty and the size of the universe. Starting in March 2011, the aim of the new European awareness project (EUNAWE) is to arouse an interest in science and technology and instil in children a feeling of global togetherness. The partner for the German part of the project is the Landessternwarte Königsstuhl at Heidelberg University’s Centre for Astronomy.
The UNAWE programme - initiated in 2006 with the aid of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) - was launched with the intention of getting children interested in astronomy. The "spiritus rector" of the project was the present IAU vice-president, Prof. George Miley. The broader aim is to develop scientific thinking and global togetherness, while at the same time encouraging environmental sensitivity. At present almost 500 astronomers, teachers and pedagogues in over 40 countries are involved in the UNAWE network.
The EU has now approved three-year funding for the “European Universe Awareness” project (EUNAWE), which will be conducting UNAWE programmes in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain and the United Kingdom. Heidelberg University is the German arm of the project. The coordination centre for Germany is situated at the House of Astronomy (HdA) in Heidelberg, with astronomer Dr. Cecilia Scorza, physicist Natalie Fischer and developmental psychologist Anita Bucur in charge. The project is supported by the German EUNAWE Committee, made up of astronomers, pedagogues, teachers and developmental psychologists. “A particular concern of our project is the work with socially disadvantaged children, notably those with a migration background,” says Cecilia Scorza. “Astronomy makes children aware that we are all inhabitants of the same planet. Their view of the world expands and cultural borders lose their rigidity. This is an ideal medium for tolerance and integration.”
Among the essential objectives of the project are the organisation of continuing education sessions for teachers and the devising of suitable didactic materials. Continuing education programmes for nursery-school teachers already cooperate with the research station at Heidelberg University of Education – the Klaus Tschira Competence Centre for Early Scientific Education – and with the "Kompetenzzentrum Frühzünder"at Heidelberg University. A Germany-wide network of partner schools is designed to ensure programme sustainability at the national level. Several hundred parents and children with a wide variety of backgrounds have already taken part in a pilot project at the Landessternwarte Königstuhl, which is part of Heidelberg University’s Centre for Astronomy.
“Financial assistance from the EU enables us to continue and expand the successful work of Heidelberg’s astronomical institutes with offerings for the general public,” says Prof. Dr. Andreas Quirrenbach, director of the Landessternwarte Königsstuhl. “Getting youngsters interested in scientific matters is of essential importance for our society. Astronomy has a unique potential for getting people of all ages keen on science, particularly children.” EUNAWE will be presenting its aims at a public event in the European Parliament in Brussels on 24 May 2011. For more information, go to www.unawe.org .
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