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York students help African schoolchildren to uncover ‘hidden worlds’

Schoolchildren on African sugar plantations are recreating an insect’s-eye view of the world in art, thanks to a unique ‘Hidden Worlds’ project run by the University of York.

The scheme started on home soil in the schools around York, where staff from the University’s Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) took microscopes into primary classrooms and encouraged the children to create artwork based on what they saw.

Before long, staff had been approached by Illovo Sugar, which owns plantations in Tanzania, suggesting that a similar project might benefit Tanzanian schoolchildren.

In the new scheme, volunteers are supplied by Gap Activity Projects, a UK charity which arranges placements for young people, and CNAP staff in the Department of Biology train them as workshop leaders before they travel out to Africa.

Nicola Smith, Schools Officer at CNAP who has just returned from a visit to the project, said: “Schools in Tanzania present rather different challenges from working with York school students. One big problem is simply explaining the concept of ‘magnification’ to a class of upwards of 60 kids whose first language is Swahili.”

Instead of using microscopes immediately volunteers now start with ordinary handheld magnifying glasses – which are themselves a novelty for the children – before introducing the more advanced equipment.

Dr Caroline Calvert, CNAP Outreach Manager, added: “We do our best to encourage creativity. Once the children have had the close-up view of a leaf or an insect, the volunteers get them to paint, draw or model what they saw. At the end of the day, they get to take home what they’ve created – which always goes down well!”

A free exhibition about the project with photographs, children’s artwork and other resources will be on show at the York Festival of Science in York Mansion House every weekday from 12 – 2pm.

David Garner | alfa
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