School programme lifts scientific literacy

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Teenagers often do not understand what is good for them.

It is the same story with adults.

A unique science education programme developed in New Zealand is helping teenagers to gain the knowledge and tools to enable them to realise what is good for them and their communities.

The results are exciting.

More than 40,000 intermediate and secondary school students have been involved with ‘LENScience,’ since its establishment in 2006 by Jacquie Bay at the Liggins Institute, which is a part of the University of Auckland.

The Queen honours

The New Zealand government appointed her as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s New Year Honours List on December 30, 2016 in recognition of her services to science and education.

Ms Bay said that she was humbled to receive the honour.

“I see this as a reflection of the massive efforts of a whole team of people who have worked to bring science and education closer together.”

The LENScience programme involves schools and scientists working together to foster scientific literacy in students and translate scientific knowledge into community understanding. It enlists young people as partners and problem-solvers in addressing the health issues affecting them and their families.

Empowering youth

In collaboration with the Liggins Institute, schools develop programmes to enable young people to explore the latest research evidence relating to the health issues that matter to their communities, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Teenagers are then encouraged to consider evidence-based, positive actions that their generation can lead.

In May 2016, young Auckland woman Jasmine Crosbie, who had attended a LENScience course as a teenage mother, travelled to Geneva to deliver a hard-hitting speech on ending childhood obesity at a World Health Organisation event.

Ms Bay said that the effects reach across generations.

“There’s increasing evidence that parents’ diet and health even before conception has long-term consequences for the health of their future children, so empowering young people to improve their life-style behaviours and health will also improve their future children’s health and wellbeing,” she said.

Benefits spreading

The LENScience programme first targeted intermediate and high school students in Auckland, extending to predominantly low decile schools and Māori and Pacific communities across the North Island. The programme has been emulated in the United Kingdom, and successfully extended to Tonga and the Cook Islands.

Four Pacific graduates have been attracted to postgraduate studies at the Institute, one of whom received a LENScience research scholarship at age 14. Professional development for teachers is a new focus for the LENScience team.
Ms Bay also leads research at the Institute into the role of science education collaborations in improving youth and adult health, and heads up a Worldwide Universities Network collaboration examining the role of schools in supporting non-communicable disease (NCD) risk reduction.

Liggins Institute Director Professor Frank Bloomfield was pleased with the honour bestowed on Ms Bay.

“A key focus of the Institute is translating our research into reality through evidence-based, practical solutions that will have an impact on our communities,” he said.

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Photo Caption:

Jacquie Bay with Jasmine Crosbie

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