Despina Tsikoudi from the European Office of Cyprus talks about science communication and science in education

Ahead of the final conference we asked a number of representatives from the CASC project partners to give us their thoughts on some of the key issues which will be discussed and developed further at the conference. Despina Tsikoudi from the European Office of Cyprus talks here about education policy relating to science, and the relationship between science and the media among other things.

What methods would you typically use to measure the effectiveness of a project? How would you go about measuring some of the components of the CASC project?

Projects being successful imply projects to produce effective effects and meet their objectives. Measuring the effectiveness of a project could be done through various methods and procedures. For example, with interim reports, surveys, communication with the partners, interviews, etc. Its project sets its own methods of evaluation.

The CASC project followed the following methods to ensure that targets are met and that the budget is adhered to.

  • A full-time project administrator was appointed, holding a number of Steering Group meetings to monitor progress and highlight any problems. A structure of reporting, and quality control, also guaranteed high levels of communication between Consortium members and the project co-ordinator
  • The Steering Group was made up of a small number of project participants who were coming together every six months throughout the course of the project to review progress, highlight problems and act according the dispute resolution code of conduct previously agreed by all partners in the Consortium Protocol to resolve any issues that arise during the course of the project
  • In addition to the Steering Group, an Advisory Board was established. This was formed from individuals outside the project who represent academic, public, private sectors and the ‘public’. It reviewed the work that was being undertaken, ensuring that it is of a high quality, and also made suggestions about future work of the project
  • Lead Partners were asked to write a very brief report, and submit it to the Project Administrator, on the work they have been doing on the project. This reporting was done every quarter and when significant activity hade taken place. The Administrator circulated quarterly reports to the Steering Group and flagged up any potential issues arising. He/she used a quality control system to assess the work that has been undertaken and to highlight any problems quickly
  • The need to produce internal reports following any substantial activity on the project ensured that the project management team was kept informed of progress and could be alerted to any problems before they become serious
  • Interim and final reports were also put together to measure the progress of the project.

The CASC project proved to be successful and met all its goals, since it used the above framework.

What would be the one policy which you would change?

Education occurs in many forms for many purposes through many institutions. Examples include early childhood education, kindergarten, two and four year colleges, or universities, graduate and professional education, adult education and job training. Therefore, education policy can directly affect the education people engage in at all ages. Examples of areas in education policy include the field of schools, teacher education and certification, teaching methods, curricular content, etc. For many years now large-scale investment has been made in science education throughout the world.

Nevertheless, in many countries, the shortage in supply of science-trained students persists and examination achievement levels remain low. Whilst the problems of curriculum relevance have been widely discussed, little attention has been paid to the issues confronting the policy-maker and the manager in deciding how much to invest in science education. Colleges and universities also need to do a better job of training scientists to explain their work. They could provide courses that include information on technical writing, but also teach communications skills helpful in addressing the public, such as how to present an article about a scientific discovery as a detective story.

Science education is one of the main parameters in the CASC project. Many of the partners in the CASC project worked with students from schools and universities, with local authorities and many public and private bodies. The partners examined how scientific subjects can be understood and adapted in a way that would be easier to understand by the public.

In the field of education, the EOC examined how can a scientific subject be presented in a specific target group and understood through active interaction. In this framework, the EOC organised a pilot project called “Cyprus Mathematics Theatre Competition 2010” where children from 9 to 18 in Cyprus had been invited to produce and perform plays related to mathematics and to explore a quite novel medium for presenting scientific concepts. Through this process, the participants shared and strengthened their knowledge on mathematics and engaged more positively to science.

Mathematics is considered to be a non-popular subject for many students. It is not easily understood and it is considered to be boring. However, any issue can attract interest if it is presented in a way that appears as a game or a way that the students find it fun to do or requires the interaction of several young people doing things together. The Mathematics Theatre Competition gave a chance to young people to have fun together with their classmates in acting in a theatre play.

Through this pilot project, it is clearly demonstrated that the educational policy nowadays does not give the opportunity to the students to express themselves in innovative ways. The pilot project was a unique opportunity for the students to actually have fun using mathematical terminology. The school curriculum is strict and overburdening and does not leave a lot of space for the students to approach scientific subjects in alternative ways. The efficiency of a student is only measured through tests and exams. Improvising and creativity, which could easily become an evaluation factor, are not part of the curriculum.

On the other hand, teachers should be encouraged to adapt alternative teaching methods to communicate science, since the existing methods do not pay off as much as they should. Changing the teaching methods especially for scientific subjects, the teachers will realise that the students will be more actively involved in science and would start to consider that science could be fun. Teachers should be encouraged to seek different teaching methods. Schools and school systems must devote time and resources to effective professional development for all teachers of science and science educators. It is critical that all students have sufficient knowledge of and skills in science. High-quality teaching can make a significant difference in student learning.

Educational policy should promote the adoption of innovative teaching methods. This way schools subjects that are considered to be “boring” can be transformed into a joyful game attracting more and more the interests of the students to science and making them realise that a career in science could be fun. What should change is the way the educational policy is implemented, so that innovation and spontaneity become the norm.

What made the biggest impression on you during the project, and have you changed anything because of this?

For the last couple of years, 20 partners from 9 EU countries and China have been working together on the CASC Project in order to promote science in society. The success of this project was based on the hard work and efforts of the participants to bring the public closer to science, and to make it more accessible and understandable.

The CASC project has specifically sought to bring together a wide range of organisations involved in science and society activities. These included those whose principal expertise is in policy making (e.g. local and regional authorities), research organisations (e.g. universities), organisations who mainly deal with delivering on science and finding ways to target a range of public audiences (e.g. science museums and centres), commercial-facing organisations dealing with improved communication of science and its role in urban space (e.g. science parks).

During the course of the project, various activities were organised in order to reach the public and to make this project known to society. The project paid closer attention to the so called “hard to reach groups”, which depending on the partner had a different meaning/content. For example, for some partners hard to reach groups were the young people, the families, women, certain minorities, illiterate people etc.

All the actions of the project aimed at reaching out to the hard to reach groups. Conferences, science cafes, study visits, pilot project, workshops, museum exhibitions, and many more activities were carried out in order to explain science and scientific phenomena in simple terms so they would attract the interest of the public and engage them in experiments, interactive actions, which would maintain but also enhance the curiosity of the participants to learn more and maybe consider to follow a career in science.

Pilot projects were the test bed of this project. The partners organised pilot projects in their countries in order to demonstrate that science is not only for the people initiated in the field, but can be understood and embraced by the public through actions that they actively participate, realising that science is present everywhere in every day life.

The European Office of Cyprus (EOC), in collaboration with the Thales Foundation – Cyprus and the Cyprus Mathematical Society, organised in April-May 2010 the pilot project called “Cyprus Mathematics Theatre Competition 2010”. The idea behind the Mathematics Theatre Competition is to enhance the creativity of young people by encouraging them to use mathematics in an innovative way of expression and communication through art. By creating small theatre plays with dialogues based on mathematics terminology, the objective of the Mathematics Theatre Competition was to raise young people’s aspiration and stimulate their interest towards science.

Such a competition was aimed to help participants to gain a better understanding of mathematics by performing interactive science demonstrations on-stage. The fact that the visitors to the competition were people of all ages up to senior citizens is an indicator that this pilot action can influence and attract the attention of all ages at the lifelong learning and an opportunity of these people to understand and appreciate science regardless of their age.

The CASC project was a great opportunity for the EOC to explore and to try new ways and tools for communicating science to the public. The Cyprus Mathematics Theatre Competition, was the new tool that was first used in CASC project for communicating science, which from now on, will be organised on a European level on an annual base giving the opportunity to students from schools all around Europe to participate to this competition and showcase that mathematics is not only algebra and geometry, but can also be fun and an artistic way of expression.

In addition to the pilot project, the EOC also participates to the project «MMS=Fun Lets Make Mathematics and Science Fun», which intends to help teachers and pupils in all countries of EU to use new methods and tools, which will improve pupil motivation in learning mathematics and science. It will also make learning more attractive and enjoyable for all pupils and will strengthen students’ skills for creative thinking.

What kind of role do you think science education plays in scientific developments and discoveries?

“Science education is the field concerned with sharing science content and process with individuals not traditionally considered part of the scientific community. The target individuals may be children, college students, or adults within the general public”. According to UNESCO, promoting science education at all educational levels in society in general is a fundamental building block to building a country’s capacity in science and technology, to increase public awareness, understanding, and literacy regarding science, and also to enable countries to build up a critical mass of scientists and researchers that will lead the race for scientific developments and discoveries.

Science education plays a crucial role in scientific developments and discoveries, since it engages the public, from the very early age, triggers its interest, and provides the incentives for young people to follow a career in science. Scientific developments and discoveries will come when more and more people are interested and involved in science. Science can be understood and embraced by all if presented in a manner suitable to each target group, and it is the role of the various stakeholders in the area of science education to present it in this manner.

Teachers, professors, or scientists that are interacting with the public especially in the filed of education, should present scientific research and topics in a way that the general public understands and appreciate it. This would be a step forward in order to catch the interest and attract the attention of individuals for science and thus give them the opportunity to possibly develop a scientific career if they wish to. Giving the appropriate attention to science education increases the possibilities of more people be interested and actively engaged in science, follow a career in science, increasing the possibilities of scientific breakthroughs and discoveries. After all, scientific education, developments, and discoveries are interlinked.

How do you think the way science is represented in the news affects how the public engages with scientific matters? How do you think media can play a part in changing this for the better?

Nowadays media is a powerful tool, which plays a crucial role in shaping behaviours and moulding the perspectives and ideas of the public. On a daily basis, the public is bombarded by news from all over the world concerning a huge variety of subjects. Science is not an exception but it is attaining minuscule coverage in the process. New scientific discoveries and breakthroughs rarely hit the headlines, with no actual impact on people’s perception of science. Many newspapers do a decent job of covering science. Some even have science sections. Nevertheless, many local news outlets often do not have the means to devote precious resources to science stories that are often difficult to write and may not attract a wide audience. Television news often squeezes coverage of science to a bare minimum (Altheide 1976). Mainstream news media have trouble covering science.

Although, there are many sources of information dedicated to since (TV programmes, magazines, websites etc.), the majority of the times, they happen to target certain type of public. Moreover, the existing sources are not widely known to the public and not many actions or initiatives are taken to reverse this situation.

Media can be used to the advantage of science and enhancing the public’s awareness, since it penetrates all levels of the society and enters in every single home. The right marketing policy plays an important role to the promote science to the public through media. Organisations, institutions, private and public stakeholders can use media to promote their scientific work and achievements in a way that would be more understandable to the general public not belonging to a scientific community.

This would help the public to engage more actively with scientific matters. Scientists, researchers, and media professionals, could come together in order to identify and make proposals for the improvement of the existing channels of scientific information dissemination. Media professionals should realise that they need to provide more space to scientific information, communicated by scientist in a way that is comprehensive by the general public.

In this framework, the EOC is planning of making use of the media in order to promote science in society. The EOC is preparing the first TV programme in Cypriot TV dedicated to the achievements of scientists in Cyprus and to discuss scientific research in a way that is understood by the public.

What do you think the project has done to help celebrate science and scientists? What more work do you think can be done, or needs to be done, in this area?

The CASC project had foreseen and carried out a number of actions that promoted science and scientists. Through conferences, science cafes, study visits, pilot project, workshops, museum exhibitions organised during the last couple of years, scientists not only from the partner organisations but also from organisations interested in the project had the change to come together and discuss on scientific matters and exchange views and best practices.

The project also gave the possibility to the public, especially through the pilot projects, to interact with scientists, ask questions, and participate in scientific projects. The project offered the opportunity to scientist to demonstrate their work to the pubic, make them interested in science, and hopefully change their behaviours.

More and more initiatives like those should be undertaken by various stakeholders in order to promote the work of scientists and celebrate science. There are many opportunities on a national and international level, that could be used in order to promote the work of scientist and make scientific results know to the public.

In this framework the European Office of Cyprus and the British Council Cyprus are the organisers of the first ever FameLab national competition in Cyprus. Based on the highly successful FameLab UK model, FameLab Cyprus is a national talent competition to find the best new talent in science communication. The idea of the competition is to encourage young people with a passion for science and technology to share their enthusiasm and knowledge with the general public.

The aim of FameLab is to encourage scientists, engineers, technologists, and mathematicians to inspire and excite public imagination with a vision of science in the 21st century. The competition is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students, teachers, professors, scientists, and researchers (

The EOC also participates as a partner to the Researchers Night 2011 in cooperation with the Research Promotion Foundation, which aims to give the opportunity to the visitors to be informed by active researchers about their ongoing work and initiatives in various scientific and research fields, as well as to participate in prepared activities. The main goals are to reinforce the public image of the research community and to underline its important role in the progress of society as a whole, as well as to attract young generations to follow research careers. The EOC will also co-organise two activities:

  • Understanding Mathematics through Theatre. The winner of the 1st Cyprus Mathematics Theatre Competition, which took place in 2010, will be invited to present his/hers theatrical play in order to showcase to the public that mathematics could be expressed through art and be understood by all.
  • Cyprus Science Factor – Competition of Science Communication: the participants will be called upon to present with a clever and innovative way a scientific phenomenon in three minutes.

What methods do you think are most useful for communicating science information? Is there a danger that people can be disengaged due to jargon or ‘science speak’?

Communicating science information has always been a challenging task. Science communication generally refers to media aiming to talk about science with non-scientists. Both mass media and direct (face-to-face) methods are considered efficient ways of communicating science information. Particular focus should be placed upon the need to clearly define the audience and tailor the communication to best suit that audience.

Each method of communicating science should take into consideration the specific characteristics of the target group. In some cases, speaking at local civic clubs and other organisations, working with teachers in local schools, visits to laboratories, public speeches, and museum exhibitions could be the appropriate communication tool. Finding the right communication tool gives the green light to the scientists to reach the public and share their enthusiasm for their work and educate the public. Without these efforts, support for science may erode.

The CASC project examined various methods for communicating science information to the public. Although the projects makes use of the media (website, blogs, printed press), it is clear that the direct methods of communication were the most effective in capturing the public’s interest in science. Through workshops, street surveys, museum exhibitions, science cafes and competitions, the pubic had the possibility to interact with scientist, ask questions about their scientific work, and actively participate in science projects and experiments.

The hands-on technique proved to be the method that managed to attract the interest of specific target groups and stimulated their interest. Scientists and public had the change to work together and exchange views and knowledge.

However, the scientist who wants to communicate directly with a public about issues of science faces several important issues. Perhaps the most basic of these is the language. Scientists sometimes get wrapped up too much in the jargon about scientific matters and fail to explain their work simply and cogently. The result of this is that important stories may go unheard for lack of communication. This is partially because of the difficulty in explaining the detailed and specialized discoveries to those without an advanced scientific vocabulary.

If scientists want to get their message straight, they should focus on two or three main points they want to get across, phrase them in simple, nontechnical language, and stick to these points. There is no time or space for complicated explanations. People want to know how they are going to be affected by their work. Non-scientists and the general public want and need the information provided by the scientist. Furthermore, scientists are in the best position to educate the public to a higher level of understanding.

Informing the public about scientific research and its implications is essential to achieving and maintaining an educated populous capable of critical thinking and evaluating new scientific discoveries.

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