Globe conference comes to Africa

Janine Erasmus

“Globe research for sustainable communities” will be the theme when the annual Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (Globe) conference takes place in Cape Town in June 2008.

Globe is an organisation that offers students the chance to gain hands-on experience in genuine science, conducting their own research in their own communities towards a better understanding of how the earth works. Since the organisation’s inception in 1995, Globe conferences have been held outside the US only twice, and this year’s event will mark the third such occasion, as well as an African first.

The annual Globe conference offers participants the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the latest environmental research, as well as new developments in the Globe programme. Relevant issues come under discussion during the science, education and implementation panels as well as in workshop sessions, and the day activities in the field.

A Globe Learning Expedition will also take place – another first for Africa. Learning expeditions are held every few years to expose students from around the world to the Globe scientific community at large, and to allow them to present their projects to an interested international audience. Participants also get an opportunity to network and establish partnerships with their peers through Globe, and teachers are able to share their ideas and challenges.

The last learning expedition took place in Šibenik, Croatia, in 2003. Previously, learning expeditions were held in Fayetteville, Arkansas, US, in 2000 and in Helsinki, Finland, in 1998.

Scientific research helping to create sustainable communities

The underlying concept of the theme of the 2008 learning expedition, “Globe research for sustainable communities”, is that of understanding the link between the environment and the needs of the community, with the aim of finding the balance. Students use their own communities as research subjects, using Globe data to help them answer questions about how the environment around them works. Research projects teach students to create hypotheses, analyse their data, draw conclusions and report their results, thereby adding to the global pool of data.

Specific topics that will come under discussion at this year’s learning experience include the environment and human health, specifically with relation to diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, as well as issues relating to water quality and climate change. These are all issues that affect Africa significantly, and students are encouraged to engage in relevant research that will benefit their communities and, ultimately, the environment.

In addition, projects in any of the four basic spheres of Globe research may be presented – these are watershed dynamics (where students conduct research into understanding water dynamics in their region); local to extreme environments (a study of the deep ocean led by Pennsylvania State University); seasons and biomes (collecting data related to regional climate change, prevention and management of diseases, and understanding of the water and carbon cycles); and the carbon cycle specifically. The application of indigenous knowledge systems to any of these fields is encouraged.

Bringing the world’s scientific community together

Globe came into being in 1994 and commenced its operation on Earth Day 1995. The network now spans 110 countries, with over 40 000 Globe-trained teachers from 20 000 schools around the world. The organisation’s close work with the US-based National Aeronautic and Space Administration and National Science Foundation ensures that the entire Globe community has access to the world’s top scientists and the most up-to-date research in earth system science.

The Globe network gathers teachers, students and scientists together for a better understanding of the environment on local, regional, national and international level. The goal is to work together to sustain and improve the environment, promote scientific discovery in this field, and boost awareness of the importance of caring for the earth, as well as inspiring the next generation of scientists.

South Africa joined the programme in 1997. The then US vice president Al Gore and South African deputy president Thabo Mbeki signed an agreement in Cape Town that made South Africa the 47th country to join the programme.

Today there are over 90 participating schools situated all around the country. The Globe programme is co-ordinated by the South African Environmental Observation Network in collaboration with the Science and Youth Unit in the Ministry of Science and Technology. South Africa hosts regional meetings and teacher training workshops on a regular basis.

Globe earned a Goldman Sachs Foundation Prize in 2004. Established in 2003, these awards recognise excellence in international education amongst US schools.

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