CPAS PhD researcher Vanessa de Kauwe and visiting scholar Dr Stuart Kohlhagen are currently working in Zimbabwe & Zambia on the Science Circus Africa: Gender and Disability Initiative.
CPAS’s Science Circus has provided hands-on science across Africa for years, but this is the first time with a strong focus on gender equity and disability education.
The Gender and Disability Initative focuses on teacher training that develops inclusive practices for students with disabilities and for girls and women in STEM.
So far, in Zimbabwe alone, Ms de Kauwe and Dr Kohlhagen have worked with over 200 teachers and disability-professionals, and hundreds more students.
Ms de Kauwe is leading the project by providing teachers and organizations with techniques she’s developed and tested during her PhD.
“The schools and organizations we targeted are already looking to hone their disability skills. So they are grateful that we are joining in their efforts,” said Ms de Kauwe.
“But the greatest interest is in the techniques I provided for students with intellectual disabilities.
“Even teachers and organizations dedicated to such students expressed concern at the lack of training available to them. They were delighted that I could provide systematic and practical guidelines.
“Most of all, they were grateful for the chance to ask questions and discuss topics that are often neglected or left unspoken.”
Alongside teaching training, Ms de Kauwe and Dr Kohlhagen are running sessions with students themselves, to demonstrate how hands-on science can lead into other academic and practical skills.
During the trip, Ms de Kauwe has been running discussion groups on the issues female students are having in Africa, and in particular in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Dr Kohlhagen is doing both science exhibit building and professional development with teachers, student-teachers and carers.
Teachers and students teachers are learning how to build teaching aids, props and exhibits with their own hands.
Many of them have never used power tools before and are now building their own equipment.
"Everyone who takes part in Stuart’s workshops find them highly empowering, particularly the female teachers and teachers who have disabilities themselves, most of who never thought they could build anything," said Ms de Kauwe.
Once exhibits are built they are distributed among the schools that need them the most.
The initative is funded by an Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Direct Aid Program grant and supported by the Australian Embassy in Zimbabwe and the Zambian High Commission in Canberra.