Astronomy for the Developing World

 

Astronomy is a unique and cost-effective tool for furthering sustainable global development, because of its technological scientific and cultural dimensions. This plan shows how astronomy can contribute globally to education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels and can enable less developed, poorer countries to participate in cutting-edge scientific research.

Stimulating astronomy education and development throughout the world is one of the most important missions of the International Astronomical Union. During the past two decades the IAU has conducted a range of educational activities. Much has been achieved with few resources. The current UN-proclaimed IAU–UNESCO International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) is an opportune time to review the educational strategy of the IAU and develop a long-term educational plan that will focus on using astronomy to stimulate capacity building and further sustainable global development.

There are several reasons why such a plan is needed. Firstly, technology is changing. Widespread access to the internet and the future availability of remotely operated telescopes for education are important opportunities that can be exploited. Secondly, recently several new programs have been created that are contributing substantially to astronomy education, particularly at the primary and secondary levels. Coordination of the various astronomy education programs could optimize the resources and result in a focused program whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Thirdly, the IYA is one of the most successful and widespread science outreach programs ever undertaken. It is important to exploit the momentum of IYA and build on its accomplishments. Fourthly, there is an enormous potential for using astronomy as a tool for stimulating international development. An ambitious, credible and well-founded strategic plan is a prerequisite to raising funds for such activities.

Our plan is the result of a two-year process that involved input from a wide range of experts and stakeholders. There has been consultation with bodies such as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the International Union of Radio Science (URSI). The plan was approved by the IAU Executive Committee on 7 April 2009 and endorsed by two resolutions at the IAU General Assembly at Rio de Janeiro on 13 August 2009.

Thanks are due to all who contributed. The individuals are listed in the Colophon on p. 66.

The IAU is proud to present this plan to the world. It is an ambitious, flexible and credible blueprint for expanding astronomy development programs during the next decade. It contains a long-term vision, achievable goals and a comprehensive new strategy for attaining these goals. The plan will be implemented with an effective and lean organisational structure subject to professional oversight.

The rationale for using astronomy to stimulate sustainable international development is stated in the plan and illustrated on its front and back covers. Astronomy provides an inspirational and unique gateway to technology, science and culture, three fundamental characteristics of developed nations. By mobilizing large numbers of talented and creative scientists, engineers and teachers in the service of international development the plan will be a cost effective spinoff of one of the most profound adventures of our civilization — the exploration of the Universe.

Realizing the plan will be a substantial challenge. The slogan of IYA is “The Universe — yours to discover”. Our slogan for this IAU decadal plan is “Exploring our Universe for the benefit of humankind”.

 

George Miley (miley@strw.leidenuniv.nl)
IAU Vice President for Education and Development

 

IAU General Assembly
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