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International relations blog May 2020

By Dominic Hurley
IOP Head of International Relations

The challenges presented by the current crisis do not stop at our borders but are being felt across the globe. Now more than ever, national physical societies need to work together to support the international physics community. At the IOP we have continued to support projects and engage with our counterparts around the world on several fronts.


Our international response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only bringing immediate health challenges to every country in the world, it will also lead to longer term challenges affecting economies, as well as particular challenges to the physics community. As the leading representative of the physics community in the UK and Ireland, and a key stakeholder in the international physics community, we are looking to bring together physical societies from across the world to discuss the challenges we are all facing and how we can work together to overcome both the immediate challenges and the longer term impacts.

Over the past couple of weeks we have spoken to a number of other national physics societies from countries including the USA, China, India, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, France and Japan. Initial discussions have focused on the challenges that each country is facing and the work of each society to support their communities. Following on from this we are aiming to organise a virtual roundtable discussion in June to understand the overarching global situation and the impact COVID-19 is having, and will have, on the global physics community. We will also focus on how the physics community globally is contributing to solving the problems of the pandemic and how we can work together as a collection of societies to support the community and one another. 

Africa – UK Partnership

For the past several months IOP has been working with a network of partners from across the UK and Africa to develop a proposal to be submitted to UK Government for a significant fund to increase physics research collaborations between the UK and Africa. Our ambition is to support physics to make a significant contribution to solving the Global Challenges through a substantially funded programme that focuses on building capacity in physics. There will be a specific emphasis on five thematic areas: climate and weather, energy, artificial intelligence and big data, large scale national facilities and health. There will also be a focus on increasing partnerships between the UK and nine countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.   

A key part of this work is the need to build a robust theory of change to underpin the proposal, and to do this in close partnership with our colleagues in Africa. To achieve this we are currently working with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) to conduct a feasibility study. This work builds on mapping research conducted by the IOP last year, and develops our understanding of capacity from an African perspective, providing recommendations for action and implementation through the funding programme. The work on the proposal is due for completion in July 2020.

Tanzania

While we are working hard to develop new strands of collaborative activity across Africa, I’m also pleased to report on two ongoing IOP projects in Tanzania. 

Future STEM Business Leaders (FSBL)

The aim of FSBL is to encourage secondary school students to apply their scientific knowledge to solve problems within their local community, through the creation of science-based businesses. The programme was designed for students who are studying a combination of sciences at A-Level. During its first 3 years, it has worked with a mix of private and public secondary schools in Dar es Salaam. Winning students are given the opportunity to undertake a placement in a business to learn more about setting up and running their own businesses in the future.

The programme includes a network of partners including secondary schools, the University of Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian Physical Society (TPS), Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBi), the IOP and local businesses.

One of the success measures of this project is to ensure its sustainability for the future. To move towards this ambition the day-to-day management of the project was taken on by DTBi, a local partner who has been involved from the beginning. In support of this, the IOP will provide a three-year grant, support the handover process and work with DTBi to establish support from local funders. In addition, DTBi will expand the programme to ensure it grows over the years. This will include expanding to other schools in Dar es Salaam and Arusha in 2021, increasing the number of businesses that offer support, and developing an initiative for the programme’s alumni so we can continue to support them with their business ideas. 

The Tanzanian Physical Society - Raising Engagement and Aspirations in Physics (REAP)

This programme works with physics teachers to develop alternative teaching methods that can be used in the classroom to increase the enjoyment and understanding of physics amongst form 1 and 2 students. It was created in response to a challenge that was identified by the Tanzanian Physical Society (TPS) and in support of this, the IOP is providing a three year grant and project support.  

The project began in January 2020 with a training week. Mentors from the university physics department were trained to support teachers through the programme, then worked alongside teachers in practical workshops. Topics covered included basic particle theory; density; using force arrows; Newton’s laws of motion; and simple electric circuits. The focus throughout was using modelling to enhance understanding, developing inclusive teaching strategies and carrying out practical activities without specialist equipment.  

The IOP is supporting TPS to develop and deliver the content for the training and impact assessment with TPS taking the lead on delivery, providing mentorship support to teachers and tracking progress and change throughout. 

COVID-19 and the need internationally for social distancing is of course a threat to this work. Fortunately we will be able to adapt a lot of the training programme to be delivered online and so we hope to support TPS with delivery to the planned timetable.

International online engagement

Similarly, we are planning to organise a number of international events online involving individuals and organisations from around the globe, to add to the IOP’s wider online events offer during the pandemic. More information on these will be made available as details are confirmed.