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A hunger for science in the Pacific

What started as a catchup between the principal of Niue’s only high school, Charles Ioane and Craig Grant, Director of Science Engagement at Tūhura Otago Museum at the end of last year, has now developed into something bigger – it’s become a  call for New Zealand schools and universities to donate  science resources to a school where students are hungry for science but have very little in the way of science resources and equipment.

The tiny Pacific Island’s only high school is already reaping the benefits from outreach resources developed by Genomics Aotearoa - a platform of universities and crown research institutes researching genomics and bioinformatics technology in New Zealand. 

Genome Science of Life image

Genomics Aotearoa has created a ‘Genome Science of Life’ digital exhibition in partnership with Tūhura Otago Museum, which addresses some of the fundamental questions people have about genomics – like how our DNA is inherited, and how our environment interacts with our genes. 

This digital showcase was launched at Tūhura Otago Museum in 2023 and has since started touring around Aotearoa. Craig has now passed a copy of the exhibition to Niue’s high school during his recent visit.

He said the mix of technologies, eye-catching graphics and text to explain complex research in  simple terms has captivated visitors, something he knew would benefit a wider audience. 

“The idea of the collaboration was to entertain while educating, adding to people’s understanding of how biology shapes our world, and what New Zealand’s genomic research is doing to progress conservation, food production, and human health” he said.

Tūhura Otago Museum ran Niue’s first Science Festival in June last year, which was really well received.  While there, Craig noted the students were hugely keen on science and were super curious, but they simply didn’t have access to the information and resources that we often take for granted in Aotearoa. 

“I knew they’d enjoy the showcase; therefore, it was nice to be able to pass on a digital copy of the exhibition to the school as a follow-up to that initial Science Festival, and now to learn how useful it has become.”

School principal Charles Ioane shared the ‘Genome Science of Life’ presentation with his science teachers, and despite Niue being thousands of kilometres away, this Genomics Aotearoa project now forms part of science teaching for the 26 year 11-13 senior pupils.

Niue high school children

The presentation explains inheritance, but it also helps tell the science story that sits behind things that are relevant to the Pacific, like vaccination development or waste-water monitoring, for instance. And it showcases the potential genomics has for good, especially in conservation and understanding how to deal with global warming. 

Nainasa Fale'ovalu, Head of the Science Department, said the video is an awesome tool for the school’s genetics classes, which are taught under the New Zealand education circculum. “I am using them personally for my level one Science and the level one Chemistry and Biology classes, and they will also be incorporated in our level two and three Biology classes.” 

“It is helping to understand evolutionary biology, which has all sorts of applications beyond the classroom -  be it in Niue’s health sector, nature-based solutions for climate change, or in better understanding bees and honey production,” she said. 

“Marine-based biology is very important for Niue, so any way we can help to equip students with better ways to understand that biology could really help the island in the future. And genetics is integral to understanding and controlling invasive plant species, which is one of the major issues we have on Niue.” 

“We are very grateful for the support and assistance available to us.”

Sparking interest in science
Craig was thrilled to hear from the teachers, that last year’s Science Festival in Niue and the wider Pacific, was already firing students up about science and encouraging them to consider tertiary studies in New Zealand and a science or health-based career.

Child holding rocket

He is now keen to see how else this resource-strapped school can be supported. 

“We have found out that the Science Department’s only television monitor is broken, that it doesn’t have a digital projector, has only five laptops; and from term two, school children can’t use their phones as a digital media resource in the classroom because New Zealand Ministry of Education’s regulations will prevent students using or accessing a phone at school,” he said. 

“This must make it incredibly hard for them to access and discuss topics, especially when they’re so dependent on external resources and support. Last year we arranged for some research experts at the University of Otago to zoom in to support some NCEA topics, but without screens for the students to gather around and then follow-up with digital assignments, they’re never going to get the most out of those experiences.”

“Science students also need basic science equipment - they only have four working microscopes and only one set of electronic scales, so more microscopes and prep equipment would help students in their biology studies.”

“I’d love to hear from universities or research institutes to see if they have digital screen microscopes or other equipment that is surplus to their requirements, that we could send over to Niue for pupils to use.” 

And the science teachers would also love guest speakers from outside the school, to answer questions like how genetics has contributed to the study of superbugs and pandemics for instance. “We’d love to hear from anyone interested in presenting zoom-based guest lectures suitable for secondary level – please get in touch.” 

So, attention all educators and researchers, if you have any surplus science equipment, television monitors or laptops  that could be used for teaching science or would be interested in contributing a science lecture, please get in touch with:

Craig Grant - 
Genomics Aotearoa -