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Space tech to deliver education for all

Posted 24 January 2019 · Add Comment

Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, explains how space technology is set to enable universal educational opportunities

Credit: Avanti Communications Group plc

Lots of us have fond memories of learning about space as children. Perhaps, like me, you remember making your own model of the solar system at school, complete with what to many of us will always be the ninth planet, Pluto.

While we may look back on science lessons fondly, according to the UN over 262 million children across the world never get the chance to even attend school. A further 617 million cannot read or do basic mathematics.

Quality Education is one of the 17 Global Development Goals which the UK Government is committed to delivering both at home and abroad – it is a basic human right which millions of kids across the world are being denied.

The UN International Day of Education is a celebration of the role of education for peace and development. So, while you may not immediately think about space in this context, it can play a vital role.

The sense of wonder and awe that space can invoke in young people is a powerful tool to inspire the next generation. It can open minds and prompt questions about the world around us.

Although not everyone who enjoys learning about planets and stars will go on to want to study science and engineering, some of them will. Also, while not all of these students will one day end up working in the space sector, I hope that thousands of them will take that step over the next decade.

When Tim Peake became the first British European Space Agency astronaut to visit the International Space Station in 2015/16, he sparked a vast interest in space across the UK. This legacy continues today and an estimated 2 million young people took part in education activities linked to Tim’s Principia Mission.

Yet space also has a role to play in delivering education, particularly to isolated areas or developing countries with poor infrastructure. Technology is transforming teaching in schools all over the world, bringing digital media into the classroom to enrich the learning experience. Satellites can reach communities not served by mobile phone networks or traditional broadband, where the quality of available education suffers as a result.

In rural Tanzania, for example, a UK project led by satellite operator Avanti Communications is helping schools get access to educational materials by providing internet access. Where teachers previously had to travel long distances to access a limited number of textbooks and other educational materials, they can now be downloaded to tablets and computers. The project, known as iKnowledge, has reached 34,000 students, improved teaching and led to better exam results. Some schools have also had Wi-Fi hotspots installed which can serve the wider community.

The project is part of the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme and the first in the programme to focus on meeting educational needs. It shows that space is not just a search for the unknown but a means to provide new opportunities here on Earth.

The UK space sector can be a powerful force of good in this area, building on our expertise in manufacturing satellites and using the data they provide in innovative new ways.

Education is an important area of work at the UK Space Agency. Our vision is for the UK to lead the new space age and we know we can only do this with skilled and enthusiastic people coming into the sector. We also need to demonstrate the potential that space has to make the world a better a place.

As such, we are always looking for new ideas to extend our use of space data.

Our Satellife Competition helps young people to explore and research how space data can help the economy, health and the environment; encouraging them to look at obstacles within their own communities and understand how information from space can help overcome them. Now in its third year, it is clearer than ever that there are some really good ideas out there. We must do whatever we can to give more young people, both in the UK and the rest of the world, these opportunities. 

 

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