After 25 years of oppression, August 30, 1999 was the day Timorese finally got a chance to vote on whether they wanted to be part of Indonesia or not. Despite massive intimidation leading up to the UN sponsored referendum, including several massacres, 99% of registered Timorese cast their votes on that day, 79% of which wanted independence. Following the announcement of these results, Indonesian military and their militias carried out systematic destruction and violence that left more than 1000 dead, 200,000 forcibly removed to Indonesian West Timor, and an estimated 80% of all infrastructure in ruins. The international community, including my government, watched this destruction for more than a week before taking serious action. Finally international forces entered under a United Nations mandate to administer the newly freed nation.
Seventeen years on, this date is a big holiday; a day when all who voted for independence can rightfully claim their part in the hard-earned victory. Celebrations happen around the country to remember the joys and sorrows of that event.
This year SESIM was invited to participate in a ‘Science Expo’ in Laleia, an administrative post of Manatutu municipality, 2 hours up the road east of Dili. I went together with two other SESIM teachers, Mestra Sandra and Mestre Emiliano. We arrived to find the entire community assembled in the town square, ready to begin the festivities. Two competitions were held among the junior-high students from Laleia: first, presentations of pratika, and then a quiz.
SESIM knew that Laleia was the home of several strong and enthusiastic teachers. We were thrilled to go and see what they had organized, all with their own motivation. They raised more than $1000, $500 from among their own staff alone, and put on a great show for the community. As the district education director said in his opening remarks, quizzes are reasonably common occurrences here, but events to highlight students’ pratika are a fresh new happening, one that he hopes will continue and spread across the country.
The SESIM teachers and I were quite proud of the teachers and heaped accolades on them. At the same time, we were somewhat dismayed to see how formal and stilted the presentations were, how little time was given to actual conversation and interaction with the presenting students, and how even these great pratika activities could be tainted by the deep-seated tendency to view memorization of science facts as equivalent to knowledge and understanding.
We’ll meet with these teachers and talk about better options for future expos, and use what we learned this day to plan our own nation-wide science and mathematics expo, slated for November.
Here are some photos showing the agony and the ecstasy of the Laleia Science Expo, 2016.
It warmed my heart to see the student teams each with a box of simple materials ready for their presentation.
Local officials filled the front row: School principal, local police chief, director of Manatutu municipality, Manatutu education director, and Manatutu health director.
Manatutu’s education director made it very clear in his opening speech: to use a science expo as a means of celebrating the vote for independence was a magnificent idea, and to have pratika as a main part was frosting on the cake. He turned down an invitation for a larger event in the municipal capital to attend this one.
The teachers who organized it demanded that I sing the SESIM hymn.
We tacked up the words for the chorus, and the crowd seemed to love it. “Grab it yourself, try it yourself, seek it yourself; only then will you really understand it!”
All the participating groups had been formed in even ratios of boys and girls, but the 4 judges were all men.
The groups all had four members, each with a specific role. The spokesperson here is letting the members introduce themselves before continuing with her spiel.
No science day would be complete without a volcano. Just like a professional cooking show, they showed how to construct it, and then put the finishing touches on a different model, previously styled to perfection.
The reaction was begun by raising the bottle so that the vinegar flowed down the tube into the bowels of the mountain.
This group’s demo had two straws with holes in two mated bottles, one showing water drops up going up, the other showing air bubbles going down. The girl speaking in this photo explained the physics in an astounding rapid fire series of memorized phrases loaded with technical terms. The content of her speech was mostly correct, but I fear lost on most of the crowd.
After the first 5 groups had each begun by offering their respect to the municipality director, the education director, the health director, the school director, and the police chief, finally the municipality director stood and said it was unnecessary to offer any more respect, and that subsequent groups could continue directly to describing their project. Whew.
In ultra-formal style, the groups mentioned each part necessary and held it up for general inspection. Scissors!
This group constructed an excavation crane powered hydraulically by means of 4 pairs of 12cc syringes.
Then, with astonishing coordination, the team each took one of the controller syringes and together scooped sand from one dish to another. The audience erupted into applause.
The director of the municipality was invited to peer through this group’s periscope.
This is the activity in which a candle under a cup in a dish of water sucks the water up into the cup. The group put on a nice twist, calling it: “Pick the coin out of the water without getting your finger wet.” Here you can see the coin, high and dry, after the red water has moved up into the cup.
The police chief was then invited to see if his finger got wet as he took the coin. Bribery? I don’t think so.
An impressive fluid dynamics project: the electric pump. The top unit on the right is a motor with shaft running down to the impeller in the bottom unit. The water goes through a tube round the side, up to the top and then cascades down two half-syringes and back into the reservoir.
This group showed a sort of smoking machine that turns a piece of cotton yellow with smoke residue from a filtered cigarette. Upon finishing the demo, they invited the local health director to examine the cotton. He said it was a critical demo for all to see the dangers of smoking. Meanwhile, the other dignitaries smoked from their seats in the audience.
Mestre Andre, mastermind of the day, in the blue school uniform. He spent many weeks of volunteer time to organize this and prep all the kids. He was quite happy with the results, and we’ll meet with him to talk about how to improve it still further.
This group made a lung model complete with two little balloons as lungs. She has filled it with water to show that it works the same with air or water occupying the space between the lungs and rib cage.
The community braved the tropical sun to witness their young intellectuals in action.
During a lull in activities, the group broke into a traditional circle dance, with younger kids making up an inner circle. In the noonday heat, I politely declined and held my place in the shade.
When the pratika presentations were over, we moved on to the quiz. Judges can be seen sitting on the right, and the first of 6 teams of 3 on the left. The crowd was rapt, just like it was a football game. Questions were hurled out in Portuguese, and contestants responded with a, b, or c to the critique of the judges. Multiple choice tests go a long way in the trivialization of science.