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A project bringing science to Kenyan schools, led by Dr Alun Davis from Kemri Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kenya and Nuffield Department of Medicine, has won a Project Award in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards.

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The announcement was mPERade at an awards ceremony at Keble College, Oxford on 10th July, hosted by Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson.

Our students don’t have African scientists to look up to” is a frequently-heard remark. As such, a School Engagement Programme was established enabling students and teachers across Kenyan schools to interact with scientists.

The initial pilot began in 2009 with just three schools. Ten years on and working with local communities and stakeholders has ensured these engagement activities are locally owned and culturally appropriate. Now over 2000 students and 100 teachers in over 50 Kenya schools take part with 60 participating researchers.

Activities include a three-month attachment scheme for talented school-leavers, school visits to the laboratories, and a two-week, online event I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here in which students ask questions and ‘chat’ to researchers online. “We also work closely with local primary teachers to develop science clubs and have established Young Person’s Advisory Groups in secondary schools to encourage debate about ethical aspects of research and inform its implementation” says Dr Alun Davies, KEMRI-Wellcome Research programme. Kilifi, Kenya.

All participating researchers expressed satisfaction at being able to ‘give back’ and contribute to local education and engagement. Through these activities, researchers also gained insights into local perspectives and strengthened bonds with the community.

It’s like instant benefit for me as a person because when I do it, I really feel like I have done something good for people who really deserve it,” commented one of the researchers.      

As well as nurturing positive attitudes towards science careers, the evaluation of the students yielded evidence of improved understanding of research processes and increasingly positive attitudes towards health research. “For example, we saw a statistically significant shift towards the statement ‘Biology is fun’ which was measured against a control group that was not part of the programme” adds Dr Davies.

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These awards highlight the many ways that Oxford’s researchers engage with the public. This includes informing and empowering people by sharing research findings; working in partnership with communities to shape research and enabling citizens to take part in the research by collecting and analysing data through Citizen Science. These winning projects also demonstrate that excellence in engagement results in a ‘win-win’ for both researchers and publics alike.

Professor Alison Woollard, University Academic Champion for Public Engagement with Research

About the awards

The Vice-Chancellor's Public Engagement with Research Awards recognise and reward those at the University who undertake high-quality engagement activities and have contributed to building capacity in this area. The awards are in three categories – Early Career Researcher, Building Capacity and Projects. Entrants can be at any level in their career and activities of any scale are welcome.