Astronomy should be for all

I am pretty sure that each and every one of us has their own relationship with the discipline of astronomy. According to me, astronomy is quite an interesting discipline of science as it is mind-boggling; it basically broadens one’s curiosity. Coming from a media studies background means that often times I am slightly out of my depth in meetings, discussions and workshops due to the jargon- laden content that is delivered.

Being a part of the International Astronomical Union-Office of Astronomy for Development (IAU-OAD) team is a wonderful opportunity for me and I can safely say it was a dream come true. I have met and interacted with some amazing people who have taught me a lot about this amazing and often overlooked science discipline. This experience has influenced my thinking and actually challenged the way I viewed the world.  I have come to realise that astronomy is one of the most overlooked science disciplines in the world. It does not really get the recognition it deserves and for this reason there are not a lot of astronomers out there, especially in South Africa and other developing countries. All this is owed to lack of infrastructure, poverty, socio-economic inequality and political injustices that have played a significant role in the status quo.

South Africa and the world at large have the potential to have good astronomers and to realise and achieve the objectives of the IAU-OAD. One would argue that this would be fairly easy to achieve due to globalisation and the high usage or rather the high influx of mass media across the globe. Having spotted a few loopholes, I would argue that it is not as straightforward as it sounds because there are a lot of factors that would hinder this process. Generally, lack of access to information, socio-economic inequality, and political injustices have created an enormous digital divide in our societies.

The most impoverished communities in South Africa and across the globe still lack access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT’-s) used to access virtual observatories and the likes. Consequently, children from the elite classes of society have a higher chance of being astronomers and astrophysicists than their impoverished counterparts because they are exposed to these ICT’-s. My reason for saying this is that being exposed to a computer for example, means that you have access to a virtual observatory. What then about a child from a poor, remote village who has never even laid eyes on a computer? What is his or her fate?, The only solution to this would be to not focus solely on the digital part where astronomy is concerned. I challenge you to find other ways like incorporating a print medium in order to include each and every member of society regardless of their socio-economic background. Astronomy should be for all. That way we would be achieving the core values and objectives of the OAD.

Karabo observing the 2016 transit of Mercury at SAAO, Cape Town
Karabo observing the 2016 transit of Mercury at SAAO, Cape Town

This blog was written by OAD intern Karabo Makola. Karabo has a BA honours in media studies from the University of Limpopo. Currently, she is on a year long internship at the OAD