It’s been a very long time since I last saw a Bunsen burner.
However, I had a little frisson of recognition on November 17, at the Digicel Foundation’s official handover of a Mobile Science Laboratory to José Martí Technical High School. There was the lovely little burner I remember so well, being skillfully lit by a student during a demonstration of sugar reduction. No, I am not talking about eating fewer sweet things – one of my unattainable goals in life – I am talking about the reducing sugars. When heated up with a few drops of something, slowly turned from sky blue to brick red, thereby demonstrating that moderate amounts of reducing sugars are present. I think – if memory serves me right – this is called the Benedict’s Test.
I do hope that Mr. Lenford Johnson, Head of the Science Department at José Martí might give me full marks for this description of the experiment. He might not! I confess that I was completely hopeless at science throughout my school years. It’s something I regret, since I have developed a fascination for science in recent years (better late than never).
The Mobile Science Labs now being distributed to schools by Digicel Jamaica Foundation are helping to transform science education in Jamaica. To date, 32 schools have received labs, and in this, the third phase of distribution ten more schools will be the lucky recipients. Digicel Foundation Board Director Patrick King pointed out that each one costs J$1.4 million. They are worth every cent, I would say.
Mr. Johnson described their lab as a “game-changer, which has made a profound impact in just one year” (the school is already using it). The mobile labs are incredibly compact, and yet can do so much. The mobility is a key factor, of course. At José Martí, Mr. Johnson said, the Lower School was often “sacrificed” in terms of access to the science lab for the important CSEC examinations. Now, they simply wheel the Mobile Lab on a ramp to the Lower School. Students are showing more appreciation for science, Mr. Johnson added – “even the troublemakers” – and they are getting much better test results too.
Not only is the lab itself really neat – it comes with something called a MimioBoard, which is a fully interactive whiteboard with a projector and appropriate software. It’s an incredibly cool piece of technology that has won many awards in the field of education. The projector projects the computer’s desktop onto the board’s surface where users control the computer using a pen, finger, stylus, or other device. The school uses it to view microscopic slides. Microscopes are very expensive, Mr. Johnson pointed out, and having to share one or two among a large class of students wastes time. Now they can all see the slides at the same time. Just brilliant!
Did I mention that the Mobile Science Labs are designed and produced in Jamaica? Product Support Engineer James Henry of Industrial & Technical Supplies has done a fantastic job. The science lab is “more than a metal box on wheels,” said Mr. Henry. He has been perfecting the design, making changes as he went along, and welcomes feedback.
By the time that student Roberta Archer had delivered an eloquent vote of thanks, the Bunsen burner, facilitating the mysterious workings of science, had done its work. The test tube now contained an orange-red solution, proudly held up for all to see. We all clapped.
Science education costs money, demanding resources that many schools just don’t have; they are already stretched. Yet, in 2016, science matters – more than ever. Thank you, Digicel Foundation for recognizing this need and for filling it.
Mr. Johnson summed it up nicely: “We feel very special.”