Benefits Of Astronomy As A Subject In Primary And Secondary Schools Curricula

Nigeria’s educational curricula entail a 9-year Basic Education Curriculum (six years in primary school and three years in junior secondary school) and three years in senior secondary school. According to the Nigerian Education Research and Development Council (NERDC), the Basic Education Curriculum was formulated towards the attainment of mathematical abilities and literacy competencies, and will also lay the foundation towards entrepreneurial and vocational skills acquisition as well as prepare the students for senior secondary education.

The goal of the curriculum structure for senior secondary schools is to allow the students to acquire technical skills, have an understanding of the increasing complexity of Technology as well as prepare them for higher education. However, these curricula do not in entirety explore certain areas of study which knowledge becoming more needed in the world. One of such areas is the study of Astronomy, but then there’s also the question of why Astronomy as a subject should be introduced into the Nigerian education curricula for basic and secondary schools; the answer is not far-fetched.

Astronomy is the scientific study of the universe, celestial bodies, gas and dust within it. It is one of the oldest science fields that is deeply rooted in several cultures, African culture inclusive. It creates environmental awareness and enlightens humans about the universe.

An average human has a curious mind and always seeks to find an answer to every question. This trait is even more active in children and young adults. They always want to know more about the world around them. Common astronomy-related questions they ask are; why the stars twinkle, why some stars are so bright, where we came from, why is there so much we don’t know about the universe, etc. Unfortunately, as they grow up and go through the school processes, the frame of school works and educational system begin to limit their curiosity as there is hardly any subject which embraces and provides the much-needed answers to these questions. Introduction of astronomy to children and young adults is one of the best ways of harnessing their curiosity.

Astronomy as an interesting subject can be taught in a series of indoor and outdoor sessions, and visitations to interesting places. Through movies, slides, moon observations, watching sunspots, visiting planetarium and observatories, children are exposed to opportunities to explore, thereby nurturing their curiosity and propensity for invention.  

Also, incorporating astronomy into the secondary school curriculum will give a more interesting approach to some science subjects. Astronomers use mathematics and physics theories all the time, and this has influenced the development of some branches of Physics and Mathematics such as Trigonometry, Calculus, Logarithm, Gravity, etc.

According to Edutopia, relating things that are usually boring and difficult to that which arouses their curiosity, will make students more capable of learning. For example, explaining to a science student how Pythagoras Theorem, Trigonometry and Parallax method is used to calculate the distance of a particular star or star cluster to the earth helps the student better remember how to solve the problem in the future.

At the senior secondary level, Geography was added to the curriculum so the students can learn about the human environment. But, Geography is limited to the study of the physical properties of the earth, places on earth and human interactions with it while Astronomy encompasses the study of the whole universe. Geography is therefore not a substitute for Astronomy as some may perceive.

Astronomy is sometimes too abstract and complicated, as some people may say. Yes! It is, but there is nothing too complex to be broken into bits. Introduction to spatial thinking at this early stage will certainly capacitate students with the ability to think outside the box.

Furthermore, space technology is a branch of astronomy that deals with the exploration of outer space, and includes spaceflight, and development of satellites. Satellite technology has helped to improve the quality of life on Earth. There are different types of satellites, and each is launched for a specific purpose. In Africa, satellites launched so far have been useful for earth observation, communication and other developmental purposes. Satellite coverages have offered fact-based viewpoints that have helped overcome our eminent challenges and will continue to do so much more in the future. Earth-imaging satellites have been improving our agricultural yields, food security, disaster monitoring, wildlife protection, and can reduce or eliminate terrorism. Ultimately, satellite technology contributes immensely to the economic development of a nation.

According to Space in Africa, Space science and technology in Africa set lots of new records in 2019. In 2019 alone, eight satellites were launched by five different countries in Africa. These are signs of economic growth. Now, how many of the younger generations are aware of these developments, and are looking forward to having a career in this field? How will these happen if they are not allowed to know about Astronomy before they reach the stage where their interests get narrowed down? Most Nigerian Astronomy students encountered this field when they were enrolling to study in higher institutions. Adaptation to the course was, therefore, not smooth because of the lack of prior knowledge.

Interestingly, students can still go on to study other courses in higher institutions like mechanical engineering, biology, chemistry, history, language arts, law, etc., and still participate in the advancement of space science and technology in Africa. How? Because astronomy is one of the most interdisciplinary course there is.

With the international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope SKA (Square Kilometre Array) across select countries in Africa, expertise in several fields like data analysis, development of supercomputers, etc. will be needed. For indigenous youths to be competent enough to fit into these positions and participate in this field, exposure to at an early stage is vital.