Science centres must 'go beyond just science'

The chief executive of Science Centre Singapore, Mr Lim Tit Meng.
The chief executive of Science Centre Singapore, Mr Lim Tit Meng. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

TOKYO - Science centres play a key role in shaping the world view of their visitors, building empathy and fostering dialogue, Science Centre Singapore Chief Executive Officer Lim Tit Meng has said.

In this regard, their role has evolved beyond a mere display of science and technology exhibits to one that should inspire visitors to think about the broader social impact.

"It is no longer just about showcasing and promoting science and technology, but also about looking at the relevance to society," Dr Lim told The Straits Times in Tokyo on Wednesday (Nov 15).

"How can science and technology be now used to 'save the world', fight against climate change, achieve sustainability? And this is not just about technology - it is about human behaviour, about empathy, about respect for one another."

Dr Lim was in Tokyo to attend the three-day Science Centre World Summit, where leaders and curators of science centres around the world gathered to discuss strategies and exchange ideas.

On Wednesday, the nine-point Tokyo Protocol was unveiled as a guideline on how science centres can contribute to ameliorating global issues. It includes a clause that urges science centres to act as platforms for the discourse on critical issues and to bridge ideas, cultures and views.

It also exhorts science museums to inspire a young generation to adopt the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that were adopted in 2015. The set of 17 goals, among other things, seeks to combat poverty, inequality and climate change.

The once-every-three-year summit is being held at Tokyo's future-oriented Miraikan (The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation). A parallel interactive exhibition is ongoing until Jan 8 next year to introduce the SDGs and discuss how current consumption behaviour could affect the achievement of these goals.

Dr Lim said that it is with this societal mission in mind that the Science Centre Singapore last week launched its first permanent exhibition dealing with social issues.

Titled Dialogue With Time - Embrace Ageing, the display brings to the fore ageing-related issues to encourage empathy and preparedness for the inevitable.

He said the new emphasis will be "from cradle to grave", as opposed to the previous focus "only on young people".

And he also stressed the need to move away from the knowledge-laden model of old in this Internet era, when information is readily available. "Instead, science centres will need to focus on narration, story-telling and the value proposition they want to impart."

Dr Lim, who is also president of the Asia Pacific Network of Science and Technology Centres, had said at the unveiling on Wednesday: "Asia Pacific is home to a very diverse group of people who have different languages, religions, practices, cultures and history.

"Science centres can serve as a platform to bridge different cultures and beliefs, and promote evidence-based kind of understanding."

Dr Lim told The Straits Times he observed that some Singapore students have fallen short in regional science competitions because they have been too myopic in pitching "first world problems" rather than pertinent global issues.

He cited high school projects from Thailand and Philippines that dealt with topics such as Aids and insurgencies, saying that he hopes to tap his network for more exchange and interaction opportunities.

"Do we understand people who don't have our kind of luxuries?" he said. "Without empathy, we won't appreciate global issues and if possible, our kids should interact with the world around - and not just within developed countries."