Rebuilding Science Education At Puerto Rico

This past September, back-to-back hurricanes ravaged Puerto Rico. The archipelago had been fighting with a decade-long financial recession, delicate infrastructure and floundering institutions. Irma and Maria dove Puerto Rico into a much deeper crisis. But could these natural disasters create once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for change?

Many with whom I work and collaborate think the answer is a resounding yes–and that I share their confidence. Foremost in my mind is the chance to resolve a science education system that was failing long before the storms. In 2016, only four in ten eighth-grade public college students were proficient in mathematics. Puerto Rico is one of the most 10 worst performers in global science evaluations, with 98 percent of pupils demonstrating shortages in distributing information and focusing on complex issues.

Three weeks after the hurricane, many pupils at the archipelago are studying in buildings which are damaged and lack electricity or potable water. Many kids have been homeless, as their residence schools stay closed. Yet I believe this widespread devastation has opened the doorway to transform how science is taught in Puerto Rico. We can develop a system which promotes critical thinking and the growth of work-related skills, instead of merely memorization of details.

We Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR) need to seize upon this opportunity for innovation building upon our years of use Puerto Rican communities. We’re a nonprofit seeking to democratize science, boost access to role models and earn science relevant. Over the duration of 2016, we’d laid out a new strategic vision with the help of leaders within civil society and specialists in science, education and equity. In March 2017 we introduced our team of staff and volunteers together for an intensive meeting to see how we could turn our vision into the very constructive activities.

Guided by design thinking, we came up with a daring strategy: within the next 10 years, CienciaPR would transform science education in Puerto Rico. We would engage the network of scientists, educators and students to deliver discovery, experimentation and problem-solving into the classroom in ways which are culturally and socially related to Puerto Rican kids.

Subsequently Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit.

Our plans had to face the extreme new truth. Puerto Ricans were left with no electricity, clean water or even dependable approaches to communicate. A number of our volunteers and team members suffered harm to their properties. There were logistical and infrastructural offenses everywhere. More than 1,500 roadways were severely damaged. Lines to get groceries and gas were up to 12 hours long. Schools were shut. The world had been turned upside down.

So we solved even more firmly to move forward. We must enable Puerto Rican pupils to be resilient and innovative problem-solvers. And science must be at the center of the economic, social and ecological recovery and growth of Puerto Rico.

Early in 2018, CienciaPR will start a pilot job training educators to implement four mathematics lessons on disaster-related subjects: renewable energy, ecological sustainability, clean and potable water, and terrestrial ecosystems. Later in the year, we are bringing together teachers and scientists to co-create project-based science courses that boost creativity, entrepreneurship and critical-thinking skills. We will instruct the scientists in communication and instruction, and also the teachers in study skills and the way to use culturally relevant strategies to make science more engaging to students. The lessons which are developed will serve as a platform for pupils to work together on solutions to challenges they see in their communities. Our long-term aim is to have validated approaches which may be improved and widely implemented throughout Puerto Rican schools.

Puerto Rico has a very long road ahead. The transformation we hunt will take years. As scientists we all know all too well that attaining progress can be a very long, hard procedure. But our community gets the experience and track listing to accomplish our ambitious goals. Most significant, we are unwavering in our commitment to serve Puerto Rico at this critical juncture. We believe that science remains the secret to producing a better and more resilient Puerto Rico. We ask you to support us now and join us in our effort.

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