Hands-On at Otago still a draw for pupils

Hands-On at Otago organiser Emeritus Prof John Tagg is looking forward to the 30th birthday of...
Hands-On at Otago organiser Emeritus Prof John Tagg is looking forward to the 30th birthday of the introductory programme to university research. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Hundreds of enthusiastic teens from around the country will soon be converging on the University of Otago for high-energy hands-on lessons in the summer holidays — but how to attract more boys to the programme is a problem yet to be solved, the organiser says.

Emeritus Prof John Tagg, who has been involved in the programme since it began in 1990, said  about 70% of participants were female. Originally it was "Hands-On Science", but since some humanities and commerce subjects had been introduced it was just called "Hands-On at Otago", Prof Tagg said. About 400 year 12 and 13 pupils from about 165 schools around the country were attending — and pupils could carry out projects in 36 areas, from anatomy to classics and oceanography.

While the programme is running, from January 13-18, the pupils will be housed in Arana College and Studholme College. Prof Tagg said it was becoming more and more popular.

It was encouraging to see more Maori and Pasifika pupils  over the years, but perplexing to see girls now far outnumbered boys  which was " a bit of a mystery", he said.  In the beginning, pupils  were sometimes  encouraged to come back two or three times to make up numbers, but now they had to be recommended by their school and write a letter saying why they wanted to go, he said.

"More and more schools are interested and more and more projects are available."

It was an opportunity for pupils  to forge lifelong friendships as well as an introduction to a potential future career.

"Hands-On is all [pupils]  together; they are not competing with one another.

"They use their brainpower and use their enthusiasm to be creative," Prof Tagg said.

The young pupils were "brimful of ideas" and there was "quite a bit of fun involved". The programme was not free, but many pupils received scholarship support — from their local school or rotary club, or from the university. After all the years he had spent involved in the programme, it was still "rejuvenating" to see young pupils come back to take part every year.

"I still keep my involvement in the community," he said.


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