Facing the future: early science education as a key investment to meet global challenges

Partner representatives of the Ark of Inquiry project participated in the World Science Forum held in Budapest on 4-7 November 2015. Organised by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in partnership with UNESCO, ICSU, AAAS, TWAS and EASAC, the Forum brought together scientists, decision-makers from the worlds of politics and industry, representatives of the civil society and the media to express their views on the new challenges facing science in the 21st century.

Over 900 science leaders from 100 countries gathered at this year’s World Science Forum, whose main theme was "The Enabling Power of Science", reflecting on how science opens new paths for the improvement of human life, business innovation and policy making. This year's programme brought together leading decision-makers in the run-up to the December 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris and very much influenced by the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development announced in September.

At the Forum in Budapest, the Ark of Inquiry partner representatives – the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice (Italy), the Austrian Ministry of Education and Women’s Affairs (BMBF), and the Hungarian Research Teachers’ Association (HRTA) - networked with participants and speakers to raise awareness about what the project is trying to do. The aim of the project to promote inquiry-based science education in classrooms across Europe, and in particular, to highlight how a high level of science education in the classroom can help produce a generation of responsible European citizens. Its applications and tools are universal and were of great interest to many of the attendees at the Forum from all regions of the world.

During breaks and other opportunities, the Ark of Inquiry partner representatives engaged over 100 individuals in discussions about the project, its objectives and how it could be applicable and of interest to external parties. During the discussions, hundreds of dissemination materials - flyers and bookmarks - were handed over, and custom-made chocolates bearing the emblem of the project offered.

The importance of science education at an early age was encouraged by the Ark of Inquiry representatives as well as incorporated into a number of the panellists’ presentations, noting it as an important pre-condition for young generations to enter into science and engineering careers. The final Declaration of the Forum clearly reinforces this notion: “For science, technology and innovation to attain their full potential and to be truly transformational, people’s knowledge, talent and skills need to be improved with a particular focus on the mastering of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It is hence critical to promote adequate investment in STEM education at all levels.” The full text of the declaration may be found online here.

Prior to the Forum, on 3 November 2015, UNESCO and HRTA had the opportunity to participate at a side event of the Forum, the 2nd European Conference of Science Journalists. Sponsored by the European Union of Science Journalist Associations (EUSJA), this event brought together science journalists from all over Europe and allowed the project to get the media’s perspective of communicating about a project through their channels. Feedback and lessons learned from participation at the Forum and the Conference of Science Journalists will be shared with the consortium at its next meeting, scheduled at the end of January 2016 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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Ark of Inquiry: Inquiry Awards for Youth over Europe is a research and development project on teacher training, oriented towards raising science awareness, particularly that of youth aged 7 to 18, to Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI).

The project is funded by the European Commission and involves 13 project partners from 12 countries. The project started in 2014 and has a duration of 4 years.