ORT leads the way in biosciences


12 January 2007 ORT leads the way on biosciences With biotechnology rarely out of the headlines, World ORT is encouraging schools to teach the principles of this new frontier of knowledge in a systematic way. Fourteen educators from Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Bulgaria, Cuba, Lithuania, Israel, Italy and Argentina were at ORT House, London, this week to hear the latest developments in the subject from expert speakers at the fifth annual Hatter Technology Seminar. Among the experts was World ORT Deputy President Dr Jean de Gunzburg, who opened the five-day seminar by giving an overview of biosciences with particular reference to his specialisation in cancer. Dr de Gunzburg, a descendant of Baron Horace de Gunzburg, who co-founded ORT in 1880, is a molecular biologist. Among other roles, he is Research Director at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Director of the Laboratory of Signal Transduction and Oncogenesis at the Curie Institute. We should aim to start teaching children these things in primary school secondary school may already be too late for some kids, Dr de Gunzburg said. Its important to tap into the natural curiosity of young children.
Dr Davy Yeung, a stem cell research scientist at the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College, London agreed that curiosity was the key to attracting children to science.
Dr Yeung, who addressed the Hatter Seminar on The Impact of Bioscience on Medical Practice, said: The most important thing is the development of curiosity curiosity as the idea of science. We need to get children excited about it.
Dr Jean de Gunzburg
World ORT President Sir Maurice Hatter, who funds the Seminar, said the teaching of biosciences at ORT schools around the world would allow the education network to remain a world leader in science and technology teaching.
Twenty-five years ago ORT introduced a new subject into its schools called computing. I think that we made the right decision to do so, Sir Maurice told the opening of the Seminar. Today, the hot subject is Bioscience and Biotechnology. This is a subject that is changing the world we live in. There is no aspect of our lives that has not, or will not, be affected by Bioscience: medicine, agriculture, the food we eat, the way we live, everything will be touched and transformed by bioscience and by its products.
These new fields of study were also generating new career paths. In the UK alone employment in the bio-industries is growing by 20 per cent per year. It is a subject that we at ORT have to embrace and we have to embrace it energetically and enthusiastically, Sir Maurice concluded.
Hatter Seminar participants get some hands on experience at the London Metropolitan University Science Centre.
Among the participants in the Hatter Technology Seminar are the leading science and technology educators in their respective national ORT networks. The aim is that they should return to their countries and share what they have learned at the Seminar with their colleagues and students as well as maintain the contacts they have made while in London.
In addition to lectures by Dr de Gunzburg and Dr Yeung, the Seminar features a Bioinformatics workshop lead by Dr Anat Yarden, the Head of the Biology Group in the Department of Science Teaching at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel.
Other speakers included Dr Daniel Glaser, Development Manager in public engagement for the Wellcome Trust; Phil Godding Director of ITEC UK, an independent consultant specialising in ICT in science; John Schollar, Director of Reading Universitys National Centre for Biotechnology Education; Dr Chris Willmott, Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry at the University of Leicester; and Dr Smadar Zaidman, an organic chemist at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Damien Rosenfeld, of ORT Argentina, also shared his experience of an ORT programme through which final year high school students complete their final projects by collaborating with scientists at top research centres.
And Jacobo Sitt, a lecturer at the ORT Institute of Technology in Buenos Aires led a discussion on biomimetic technology, which is the design of machines that mimic biological structures.
It has been an excellent seminar, said Leonid Revzin, who teaches physics and chemistry at schools in Haifa and Kiryat Yam, Israel. I have learned so much and spoken to teachers from around the world who have shared with me different methods of teaching the sciences. This is the first time that Ive worked with ORT and I hope that there are many more such opportunities.
Its not a chance you get every day to meet people who are at the cutting edge, said Seminar participant Dan Tysman, Head of Biology at Immanuel College, one of Britains leading Jewish schools. From the discussions weve had so far I can see a need to bring some of these new ideas into the classroom. I had no idea that ORT was doing things like the Hatter Technology Seminar. Its been wonderful to be part of it. I feel very inspired.
Mr Tysman said the teaching of biosciences at school was important not just to encourage more people to pursue related careers but also to engender citizens with a firmer grasp of a sometimes contentious technology that is often the subject of public debate.
The children I teach today will be the decision makers of tomorrow. They need a background against which to make those decisions and help steer the use of a technology which is still in its early days, he said.
In addition to lectures and workshops, the Hatter Technology Seminar participants also visited the London Metropolitan University Science Centre with Dr Claudio Scotti, a lecturer in Molecular Biosciences. They will also spend a day at BETT, the worlds leading educational information and communications technologies (ICT) exhibition and conference.
World ORT prides itself in keeping pace with scientific and technological advances and we trust that the participants in this years Hatter Technology Seminar will come away with innovative ideas and fresh know-how, said World ORT Director General Robert Singer.
World ORT, founded in 1880, is the worlds largest Jewish education and vocational training non-government organisation with some 200,000 beneficiaries in 58 countries.