July 23, 2020
TRACY CALOGHEROS & DOV BERCOVICI
Canadians are, by and large, a curious group; eager to learn, experiment and grow. The Canadian Science Centre Industry, just now hitting its stride after 50 years, has always understood and fostered that curiosity, finding innovative ways to deepen our collective understanding of the world we live in.
The COVID-19 pandemic draws into sharp focus the role of science in society and the importance of scientific literacy to public health and to our collective well-being. It is Canada’s investment in scientific research, our commitment to global citizenship and education, as well as individual Canadians’ understanding that we are tied to each other through our intricately interconnected societal ecosystem, which has protected us as we continue to navigate this pandemic.
Our science centres are a key partner in this work. Back in March, as Canadians followed the directive of top medical scientists, retreating to the relative safety of our “bubbles,” science centres leapt to provide free, online content for families — content we knew we could trust to be up-to-date and accurate, unbiased and non-partisan. At the same time, parents were learning how to be educators, with students shifting to at-home learning and again, our science centres stepped up as essential partners in that endeavour, providing free virtual programs, downloadable lesson plans and live, interactive science demos.
Locally, the Discovery Centre was a model to colleagues across the country in support of at-home learning by offering free curriculum-connected online content to keep children engaged in science at a time when it was needed most.
Some 10 million Canadians, over a third of our population, engage with their science centre each year, creating strong foundations for the jobs of tomorrow in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). Since our centres closed mid-March, millions more have connected with them online.
The challenge now, as we are living in anything but typical times, is how to properly resource our science centres to both continue the important work they have always done, while rethinking what experiential learning and hands-on discovery look like in a post-COVID world.
No child wakes up at 18 and decides that they want to be an engineer or an epidemiologist unless they have grown up excited about scientific endeavour. Our science centres are the incubators for tomorrow’s astronauts — think Chris Hadfield and Julie Payette — and medical professionals like Dr. Bonnie Henry or Dr. Teresa Tam.
If we are to weather the next pandemic or have a hand in shaping global approaches to issues like climate change rather than being a passenger on the ride, we need our science centres now more than ever.
We are fortunate in Canada that our elected leaders set aside partisan politics and followed the guidance of top scientists to plank the curve. Critical thinking does not happen by accident. Critical thinking across a population requires planning, effort, time and expertise. Since cutting the ribbon on the Ontario Science Centre 50 years ago, Canada has tackled that challenge — crafting a cross-country industry with the collective goal of not just raising the level of scientific understanding in a broad population, but weaving science culture into the fabric of our society.