Project ThaiPASS: Thailand-UK Python+Astronomy Summer Schools 2020 and 2021.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Mathematics

Abstract

Project ThaiPASS (Thai-UK Python+Astronomy Summer School) is a human-capacity building STEM-outreach project involving 3 UK universities (Warwick, Hull, UCLan) and 2 Thai partners (Naresuan and NARIT).

The core activity of ThaiPASS is a 5-day workshop aimed at Thai secondary school students age around 16-18. Students will receive hands-on training in scientific computing in Python, one of the world's fastest growing open-source programming languages and one of the most desirable from an employability perspective. Students will learn to use Python to mine, analyse and visualise data. This will be done via the medium of astronomy, which is one of the most inspiring and high-impact STEM enablers. Professional astronomers from the UK will guide students through a series of lectures and hands-on tasks involving handling astronomical data and producing visual output such as astronomical images and graphs. Students will leave the summer school with a new perspective on the role of data science in modern scientific research, and will be inspired to continue to learn coding beyond the scope and time-scale of the summer school. Each summer school concludes with a "university and career" day to inform students on how STEM subjects can be taken further at university level and as a career.

The ThaiPASS project will address many of the challenges in science and ICT education in Thailand, which has fallen far behind other countries emerging out of the middle-income trap. At ThaiPASS, we will bring STFC-funded science to new audiences who may not have the opportunity to access such training otherwise. The skills developed at ThaiPASS are current, relevant and easily transferable to a wide range of industrial and academic applications.

Our experience with delivering ThaiPASS in 2018 and 2019 has informed us that our workshop is unique from other locally organised "summer camps" which are geared towards Olympiad-style training. Feedback over the past 2 years have been overwhelmingly positive, with many previous participants going on to higher education in various STEM areas. For the 20/21 schools, we will deliver bigger events (doubling the number of participants), cover more topics in astronomy, and provide separate teacher-training sessions.

In recent years, Thailand has established itself as an emerging player in astrophysics research thanks to a new generation of internationally recognised researchers at NARIT, Chiang Mai, Naresuan. Chulalongkorn, Suranaree etc. Investment in the ThaiPASS project will be an important step towards forging a strong and lasting Thai-UK synergy, which can easily spin off into future collaborations in astrophysics research and further outreach activities.

Planned Impact

The most important impacts that will be delivered by ThaiPASS are:
1) Using STFC-funded science to reach out to new audiences and build human capacity.
2) STEM enabling via the medium of astronomy.
3) Training students in programming and data-handling skills, which are highly transferable and employable.
4) Training secondary-school teachers in programming and data-handling, so they too become trainers themselves.
These impacts resonate strongly with the ODA goals of Newton Fund.

Python is a highly desirable programming skill to a wide range of employers, especially those in the ICT and industrial sectors. The requirement for Python skills has grown rapidly in recent years, overtaking traditionally popular languages such as Java and C++. Although Python is the language of choice for ThaiPASS, it is really a medium to convey the main principles of scientific programming and data handling, so that skills learnt at ThaiPASS can be easily translated to any programming languages the participants may take up in the future.

A high-impact legacy of the ThaiPASS project is for a similar summer school to be held in the UK. The teaching material developed for ThaiPASS can be adapted to organise UK events targeting Years 10-13 students from underperforming schools or those in impoverished cities around the North and the Midlands, where the UK partners are based.

Another legacy of the ThaiPASS project is the establishment of a strong link between the UK and Thai partners, and the potential to involve more Thai institutions in the future. Although ThaiPASS focuses purely on outreach, the synergy between the Thai and UK team could spin off into collaborative research projects in astrophysics. The Thai-UK links forged via ThaiPASS also have the potential to develop into further joint workshops, conferences, outreach events and international teaching collaborations (e.g. postgraduate student exchanges or visiting fellowships).

Publications

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