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AAAS Radio Journalism Project
Described at Conference in Rio
On Sunday, during the International Conference on Science and Mathematics Education in Rio de Janeiro, sponsored by the International Council for Science (ICSU), a scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology questioned the ability of journalists to learn to communicate scientific information.
"I wonder if the people you train can really be taught to do a good job reporting science correctly," the scientist said, addressing his comment to Rufus Pako Wesi, a South African doctoral candidate in physics education, who was taking part in a panel on "Learning Beyond School."
Wesi, who works for the South African Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST), replied patiently, citing the experiences of the DACST-AAAS Science Radio Journalism Fellows Project, which has trained two groups of five South African scientists and journalists in radio and science journalism.
"We select our candidates carefully, some are journalists and some are scientists, and we train them to gather and convey scientific information accurately," Wesi assured the skeptical scientist, one of a crowd of two hundred people who were listening to Wesi and two other speakersone from Australia and the other from Mexico.
South African journalist Alpheus Lamola
To illustrate the impact of the AAAS program, Wesi described the work of Alpheus Lamola, a radio reporter from Pietersburg, South Africa. Lamola was invited to spend four weeks in Washington, DC, in July, where he learned the latest radio technology and studied science and science journalism with AAAS staff. He now has a weekly program on Radio Thobela FM that is broadcast to an audience estimated at five million. His program is recorded in Northern Sotho, a tribal language of northeastern South Africa.
"The name of the program is 'Mathale-pepeneneng,' or 'Wisdom in the Open,'" Wesi said. "Alpheus's program lasts 30 minutes, and he interviews scientists who share information about a different theme every week." The science journalism program at AAAS was launched in the summer of 2001, after a visitor from the South African Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST) asked the association to co-sponsor an effort to improve science communications in South Africa. The program has now trained 10 radio science journalists. A final group of five will be chosen to attend the program in July 2003.
"In the short term, we are seeing what we wish to see," Wesi said. "The fellows are settling in, now that they are back in South Africa. Their spirits are high. They are using their new abilities. They know that there is a radio in every home in South Africarich or poor, and that using radio is the way to reach the public in a way that we couldn't otherwise."
Shirley Malcom, Director of the AAAS Directorate for Education and Human Resources, chaired the ICSU committee that organized the science education conference in Rio. She also oversees the science journalism program.
"Our goal is to find a way to provide the public with up-to-date scientific information that can make a difference in their daily lives," said Malcom. "The radio journalism program is a way to reach people who are often beyond the reach of schools or government programs. Informing them and educating them is the immediate challenge."
The ICSU science and mathematics education conference was held at the Rio Othon Palace Hotel from 21-23 September. It was followed by the ICSU General Assembly, which began on 24 September.
27 September 2002