by Marta Romero Ariza, Ana María Abril, Antonio Quesada & Francisco Javier García (University of Jaén, Spain)
A workshop entitled “Paint lights and shadows on science”, was recently conducted by partners of the PARRISE project, from the University of Jaén in Spain. The workshop and a stand were part of the pan-European “Researcher’s night”, in a big open area in Jaén in September 2015.
The main goal of the workshop was to raise public awareness about the benefits and risks of scientific development, and the need to promote Responsible Research and Innovation. For this purpose, children aged 4-16 were invited to reflect on good and not so good things derived from science and its applications (see Figures). They were, then, encouraged to make drawings expressing their views and to participate in the competition “Paint lights and shadows on science”.
Most children came to the workshop with their parents, who thus became a target group for the dissemination of those ideas. Parents, grandparents and other relatives visiting the stand had the chance to have a look at the posters and brochures of the PARRISE project. Along with flyers and posters, provoking questions aimed at raising awareness about the benefits and risks of scientific development were also printed in big letters on the walls of the stand. These prompts encouraged visitors to raise further questions about the objectives of the PARRISE project. Generally, visitors did not seem to be very familiar with the term “Responsible Research and Innovation” (RRI) and often asked for further clarification about the term. This fact stimulated conversations about who should make decisions on research, as well as the need to better align the products and processes of science with the needs, values and expectations of society. As a result, the concepts of “science for” and “science with” society were coupled with research and innovation with responsibility.
The event provided opportunities to discuss how to enable people to make informed decisions on socio-scientific issues and how to prepare them to actively contribute to RRI. In this respect, the role of science education became evident to properly equip future citizens to face current scientific and societal challenges.
Along with the opportunity to disseminate the PARRISE project and to raise general awareness of the need to ensure RRI, the drawing activity offered an interesting insight into the views of children and youth on these issues. Environmental problems such as air and water pollution, energy sources, the decrease of green areas and the over-exploitation of natural resources were the most popular topics present in the children’s drawings. Other drawings showed concerns about drug consumption, weapons and the distribution and use of some scientific applications, such as those derived from medicine and technology. Although most of the children’s contributions seemed to be straightforward and very easy to interpret, the PARRISE partners sometimes felt the need to ask children for further explanations about their drawings. This was the case with an eight-year old girl, who placed mobile phones and tablets in the “dark side” of science. When she was asked to explain why, she argued that these devices prevent children from playing with each other. The children’s drawing revealed the complex interplay of social, scientific and ethical aspects, offering a meaningful and illustrative view into children’s thinking.
In summary, more than 150 people visited the stand and over 80 children took part in the drawing competition entitled “Paint lights and shadows on science”. The analysis of the drawings made by children, as well as conversations with parents and other relatives, indicated that this activity can be a powerful way to raise awareness about the role of science education to prepare future citizens for RRI.