Europe, Asia, Middle East Address Aging Space Workforce (Part 2)
While some in the United States see the country falling behind in education when compared to the rest of the globe, Francesco Emma, head of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) education office, also says changes need to be made in the way science subjects are taught in school in order to bring young minds to the industry. “The issues related to STEM are quite important in Europe as, in the last decade, there has been a constant decrease in the number of students involved in this domain,” he said. “We recognize that attracting youngsters towards STEM subjects requires a change in the way science is taught at school. Space, with its innate fascination, represents a perfect tool to raise the interest of new generations. Efforts need to be done starting from pupils in primary schools though, because they feed upstream into the whole educational chain.”
As France is one of the Europe’s main centers for space, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), the French space agency, at the forefront of European education issues. “CNES has considered it important to develop specific activities directed at young people. From the outset we adopted a practical experimental approach to scientific research and space technologies,” said Anne Serfass-Denis, head of the Youth and Education Department, CNES. “For younger children, we use space to get them interested in science and technology, which both contributes to their scientific culture and encourages them to consider taking scientific subjects at school by making them aware of space through the activities mentioned above.”
While Europe has a myriad of cultures and languages, coordinating a European-wide policy in this area is not easy. “At the school level for primary and secondary education, we recognize that Europe has different education systems, therefore, rather than going top down to target students, we tend to use a bottom up approach,” said Emma. “We have a network of offices throughout Europe that work at the local level, but where we can share information. The European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO) is our main project addressing the community of students and teachers of primary and secondary education. Five offices have been set-up so far and our ambition is to expand them throughout Europe.”
Asia and the Middle East
The Asia-Pacific region is the area of the globe most often cited as setting the pace for math and science education, as emerging space powers such as India use their programs not to attract children to space-related careers but to identify the best of the thousands interested in working for ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation. “We have something like 31 percent of our population who are below 14 years of age. That makes something like 172 million children under the age of 14,” said VS Hegde, ISRO’s scientific secretary. “We have a number of programs to try and attract these children. We hold science clubs. We hold quizzes in schools. We conduct exhibitions. Now, all of these efforts won’t reach all of these young children, so a little a while ago, we launched a tele-education supported by an exclusive education satellite (Edu-Sat). ISRO launched the India Institute of Space Technology (IIST) to educate future engineers, and gaining entry into the institute is very competitive, as graduates are assured of having a job at ISRO. “For this year, we wanted to take some 350 youngsters from this program into our fold. More than 80,000 people wrote exams. That is the type of interest that the young generation has today to join the space program.”
Singapore is seen as one of Asia’s main communications hubs, and the country wants to be at the center of bringing new talent to the industry in Asia. Jonathan Hung, president, Singapore Space and Technology Association (SSTA), said first impressions count when trying to attract talent. “For school kids, we try and show them new breakthroughs in aerospace/space and sciences in general. It really is constant exposure to new, innovative concepts to keep them fired up. It is also essential to get them interested in science at a young age.”
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is increasing its focus on bringing through young talent to the space industry. The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science & Technology (EIAST), is working hard to engage students of all ages and, Ahmed Al Mansoori, director general, EIAST, says there is a good platform for young people to come into the space industry. The DubaiSat program, where students are helping build an actual satellite, is a source of great pride as well as potential inspiration to students at the school level. “We are working with the schools in terms of providing information on what we do as well as projects like DubaiSat. So we make sure we show that as part of the curriculum. We want to encourage youngsters about the importance of these projects and the good they do for the country,” he said.
Throughout the world, space agencies and associations are aiming to think outside of the box to attract young people to the space industry. This battle to engage these minds starts long before college, and it is one of the key battles the industry as a whole industry faces. As we head into a multi-layered digital and communications world, showing young people how satellite technologies underpin areas as diverse as climate change, broadcasting, military operations is a massive, and important, challenge.