Foldscope in South America - photo credit: designboom https://www.designboom.com/design/foldscope-cheap-origami-microscope-02-29-2020/

Reducing the digital divide and promoting STEM for young learners  in Central America

Making science fun! ICGEB has participated in the three-year project to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics with partner Organisations IILA and CECC SICA for young learners across Central America.

In a joint project launched by the International Italo-Latin American Organisation (IILA) and CECC/SICA (the Central Americal Educational and Cultural Coordination System for Integration), ICGEB was delighted to take part as scientific coordinator in a partnership that stems from support of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, MAECI, Government of Italy.

On 20 February 2024, the project promoting gender equality in STEM and stimulating scientific curiosity for young learners in Central America, culminated in a closing award ceremony, held in hybrid mode at IILA headquarters in Rome, Italy and streamed on Youtube. The ceremony is the culmination of a project involving the use of Foldscope to stimulate the interest and wonder of science as well as to provide tools to perform real experiments in remote settings, originally launched in 2021.

ICGEB Director-General, Lawrence Banks, joined IILA Secretary General, Antonella Cavalleri, CECC/SICA Executive Secretary, Roberto Suárez, and Technical Scientific Secretary of IILA, Tatiana Riberio Viana, to thank all partners involved and to hear from the young representatives of the three classes awarded prizes in Panama, El Salvador and Costa Rica. Involving teachers and students from 30 schools across seven countries, the project reached an estimated 4,000 students across the countries of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama.

ICGEB was responsible for the scientific coordination of the project, with its own Dr. Lucia Ines Lopez Rodriguez, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Cellular Immunology Laboratory at ICGEB Trieste, from Uruguay, teaching workshops on assembling and using folding microscopes (foldscopes) in spanish.

The project involved thirty schools across seven countries in Central America – including five countries that are not yet ICGEB Member States.

The Latin American Outreach team at ICGEB Trieste, brought together by Dr. Lopez (right)

Dr. Lopez rallied a team of researchers from Latin America from various laboratories at the ICGEB Headquarters in Trieste, Italy to participate in Outreach activities in the region.

The collaboration is part of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAECI) -funded Cooperation Project “STEM Promotion and Reducing the Digital Gap in Central America from a Gender Perspective”, leading from a previous initiative to promote STEM disciplines in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Awards went to the projects considered to be the most scientifically creative – and that used Foldscope to study local biodiversity. Students in Panama completed a project on micro-organisms in residual waters; in El Salvador, students presented a project analysing bacteria and organisms in the waters of the Rio San José for domestic and agricultural use for the community, and in Costa Rica, the winning class submitted a project using Foldscope as a tool to identify risk situations in the health of students.

Dr. Lawrence Banks praised the teamwork by all involved and added, “Foldscope is an amazing, low-cost instrument that can be used in a fun way to tackle real scientific problems. There is a huge demand for these activities, and wherever ICGEB’s presence might be requested, we will be there to take part.”

Testifying to science diplomacy as inherent to the project, the award ceremony was also attended by the Ambassador of Costa Rica to Italy, Istvan Alfaro Solano, the Ambassador of Italy to Costa Rica, Alberto Colella, the Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the Embassy of Panama, Minister Counselor Wilson Dawson, the Consul of Costa Rica in Italy, Tamara Andrea Gómez Marín, Minister Counselor Juan Carlos Staben Boillat of the Embassy of El Salvador, Minister Counselor Cecilia Cáceres of the Embassy of Guatemala, Minister Cande David Reyes and First Secretary Gloria Irmina Reyes Bonilla of the Embassy of Honduras, First Secretary of the Embassy of the Dominican Republic, Joaquín Fernando Taveras Pérez, and Dr. Natalí Hassanieh aggregate of the Embassy of Panama.

According to data provided by UNESCO, only 35 percent of science students are women and only 3 percent of female high school students choose studies related to information and communication technologies (ITC). This is alarming data, especially considering that STEM careers, which are crucial to promote innovation, social welfare and sustainable development, are considered key in the jobs of the future.

ICGEB is proud to work with its partners and Member States in the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030 to help close the gender gap in the study of science disciplines in Latin American countries.

Read more about our initiatives for Women in Science.