Exhibits set up to stress importance

Tūhura Otago Museum staff Dr Marijn Kouwenhoven  and Jessa Barder prepare to show off one of the...
Tūhura Otago Museum staff Dr Marijn Kouwenhoven and Jessa Barder prepare to show off one of the museum’s mobile educational exhibits in front of Parliament, in Wellington. Photo: supplied
Government funding cuts have prompted Tūhura Otago Museum to set up camp on the forecourt of Parliament, in Wellington, to show politicians and the public what they are going to be missing out on.

Today and tomorrow, the museum will showcase six of its educational exhibitions, including Tūhura Tuarangi (Aotearoa in Space); Te Mana o Te Hā (Vape/Smokefree Science Showcase); Whakatere Waka (The Science of Medicines); and Full STE(a)M Ahead.

The formerly government-funded science showcases are mobile, interactive exhibitions designed to demystify complex scientific issues and engage the next generation with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) education, regardless of their geographical location.

Schools from across the Wellington region will visit the exhibits over the next two days.

Tūhura Otago Museum visitor experience and science engagement director Craig Grant said the event aimed to highlight the importance of Stem education and the critical need for continued funding to support science outreach programmes.

He said the museum received between $150,000 and $250,000 per year from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) $1.6 million annual contestable Unlocking Curious Minds funding.

That funding was no longer available.

"We are thrilled to present the culmination of our work over the past decade.

"The funding we have received from MBIE’s Unlocking Curious Minds fund has enabled our outreach team to share science experiences at hundreds of locations across Aotearoa and the Pacific, reaching hundreds of thousands of children.

"We get to see first hand how enthused our tamariki and rangatahi can get about Stem when given the chance to get hands-on experience and supported by professional science communicators.

"We need outreach like this to support and extend all the great work our teachers are doing in the classroom to lift scientific literacy."

However, recent cuts in funding by the ministry meant crucial education projects such as these were now at risk.

"It’s a real shame that these showcases might end up in a storage locker rather than out in the community with schools.

"That’s the message we’re trying to get out to MPs.

"We’ve got this great kit, we know it works, we know kids enjoy it, we get repeat demands for it all the time, and unfortunately with the cut in funding, there are no other avenues to go down to fund what we do."

Looking further down the track, the cuts could have a major impact on the country’s economy, he said.

"As a nation, we know we haven’t got great Stem engagement statistics, and this is a way that we can help lift that.

"If we want to have a high-tech industry, a lot of that will be reliant on the scientists and technologists and engineers that we develop.

"So if we don’t get the kids enthused about careers in those fields, then it will affect our economy.

"The more we can grow the pipeline of Stem, the better."

Dr Grant said the event at Parliament aimed to demonstrate just how effective science engagement could be, and highlight the urgent need for ongoing support.

"We’ve been to loads of schools who simply don’t have the resources or capability to give their students the science experience we’re able to provide."

It was hoped MPs would take notice of the exhibits and their popularity, and be swayed on the issue on their way to work over the next two days, he said.