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Unaeza Alvi: Creating opportunities in STEAM education for children in Pakistan’s remote villages

Posted: 11 February 2019


To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2019 (11 February), Australia Awards – Pakistan is reflecting on the achievements of alumna Unaeza Alvi, who is making Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) education accessible in remote areas of Pakistan.

Unaeza is the brains behind a mobile STEAM lab that can travel to Pakistan’s remote locations and give students in those villages the opportunity to engage in practical, hands-on and inquiry-based scientific experiments that would not otherwise have been possible.

Unaeza, who is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Sukkur IBA University, was the Project Lead in this initiative. She is grateful to the Visionary Vice Chancellor Nisar Ahmed Siddiqui for entrusting her with this responsibility.

‘No nation can prosper without science and technology and therefore it is of the utmost necessity to create awareness and love for science and technology among the students,’ says Unaeza.

Although science experiments and practicals are an important part of middle and high school education in Pakistan, not all public schools are equipped to provide opportunities to students where they can learn about science in a conducive environment.

The mobile lab was established in collaboration with the Sindh government under the Community Development Program at the cost of 15 million Pakistani rupees. The mobile lab is equipped with Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics sections, and can travel to remote locations fully equipped with relevant course materials and equipment. The lab and its four staff members regularly travel to different schools and colleges, where the students engage in practical, hands-on and inquiry-based scientific experiments on their own with the help of the lab staff.

Unaeza and her team are initially focusing on the students of middle and secondary schools from class VI to class VIII and IX-X. ‘Science laboratories have ceased to exist in most of the government schools and even where science laboratories do exist, there is an acute shortage of science resources and teachers,’ she points out.

The STEAM lab, which travels to Pakistan’s remote locations to give students in villages the opportunity to engage in practical, hands-on and inquiry-based scientific experiments. Australia Awards alumna Unaeza Alvi was the brainchild behind this Lab.

The lab is custom built and smartly designed to withstand rough roads and is well prepared for any and all mishaps. The lab is equipped with fire extinguishers, a fume hood, emergency exits, first aid kits, and safety equipment to perform science and chemistry experiments.

Unaeza believes her Master of Education (Mathematics and Science Education) from Monash University in Australia, made possible through an Australia Awards Scholarship, played a vital role in boosting her confidence as a STEAM educator, as well as a developer of national curriculum and assessment policy.

Before joining Sukkur IBA University, Unaeza worked at Agha Khan University – Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED) in the Science Education Department. She was also instrumental in setting up the AKU Science Education Programs in Pakistan and Africa. Unaeza has developed thousands of teachers as the Founding Chair of the first professional and voluntary teachers network, The Science Association of Pakistan.

Unaeza credits her abilities to perform at such a high level to her Australia Awards Scholarship, assisted by faculty staff at Monash University who were supportive and encouraging. Unaeza completed her Scholarship with a 4.0 GPA.

She is also grateful to AKU-IED for its enabling role in her taking up the Scholarship. ‘AKU put me on unpaid leave for the duration of my Scholarship to ensure that I would have a job upon my return,’ she says. ‘This was really encouraging because with job security taken care of, I could really focus on my education.’

Unaeza has also worked for Pakistan’s Ministries and as a USAID and UNDP Consultant to help meet the shortage of quality science teaching and learning materials. She has received awards for her contributions to the Science Curriculum and Textbook Reform from the Government of Sindh. In the future, Unaeza plans to expand on current initiatives by building and designing more mobile labs, catering to subjects such as biotechnology, computer lab skills, robotics, laboratory skills, arts and crafts, electronics and artificial intelligence. She wants to continue to promote contemporary, practical, and inquiry-based science education and scientific thinking at grassroots levels in rural communities. Unaeza strongly believes that change can only happen by working with school children in rural Pakistan.

Australia Awards are prestigious international Scholarships, Fellowships and Short Courses funded by the Australian Government. Australia Awards Scholarships aim to contribute to the long-term development needs of Australia’s partner countries in line with bilateral and regional agreements.