Imagine a society where every child has access to high-quality education. Imagine sustainable cities with clean water and renewable energy. Imagine a global economy with opportunity for all, regardless of background or gender.
Countries around the world are striving to achieve this vision in the next decade, through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. And science, technology, and innovation are keys to realizing this vision.
All people should benefit from scientific breakthroughs, of course. But with the complex connections between emerging technologies and social systems, everyone also should have the opportunity to engage with the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and 21st century skills that make those discoveries possible.
This should not just be an opportunity, however. This is a basic human right.
Seventy years ago, the United Nations embedded an article within its Declaration of Human Rights that highlighted the universal right “to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”
Seven decades later, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the theme of the 2018 World Science Day for Peace and Development on November 10 as “Science, a Human Right.” And UNESCO has partnered with regional networks of science centers and science museums around the world, raising awareness of the importance in of science in developing a sustainable and equitable future.
In conjunction with World Science Day, science centers and science museums across the globe celebrated International Science Center and Science Museum Day—first launched in early 2016—by hosting learning activities that highlight the influence of science on our daily lives and underscore the unique reach and impact that these trusted community institutions collectively have across communities.
UNESCO Assistant Director-General Flavia Schlegel, notes that “science centers and museums play an important role in making science accessible to all. They share UNESCO’s objectives of linking science more closely with society, sharing scientific knowledge and fostering the engagement of young people in science, technology and innovation.”
At science centers, individuals can make the most of this right to participate in science, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Around the world, more than 120 million people visit science centers and museums annually.
These place-based hubs provide high-quality, hands-on science learning and 21st century skills development. They strengthen and complement formal education in the classroom, training teachers and developing effective curricula. In local STEM-education ecosystems, they partner with libraries, after-school programs and other community organizations to further extend STEM learning. These learning opportunities empower young people and adults alike to develop a sustained interest in science and equip them to tackle local and global challenges.
The world’s science centers and museums came together this month to show the fundamental value of science. At Space Center Houston, visitors had a chance to interact with weather balloon missions reaching 100,000 feet in altitude. North Bengal Science Center in Siliguri, India hosted a guest lecture on clean water, and offered activities for students on topics such as biodiversity and the environment. People of all ages at Arizona Science Center in Phoenix embarked on a journey to learn about the frontiers of space, engaging with cosmic light, sound and motion. And at Explora, the Children’s Museum of Rome in Italy, visitors explored a vegetable garden and engaged in experiments to understand how to care for the environment.
As we grapple with daunting global challenges, and as the role of science in our society continues to change, access for all to participate in and benefit from science is more important than ever. And each of us has a role to play.
Businesses, nonprofits and schools can partner with local science centers to build programs that meet the needs of communities—especially those historically underserved.
Researchers and scientific organizations can inform learning content and engage with visitors at science centers—and, in the process, affirm the importance of their work in a rapidly changing world.
Community organizations and regional leaders can work with science museums as forums for broad community engagement in key environmental, workforce, and education policy goals.
To realize a sustainable, equitable world, we must leverage our place-based science centers and museums across the globe in the effort to advance the basic human right of science learning.
Our future depends on it.