MALTA DIARY: A digital existence in a digital world – Esplora a wonder of scientific exploration
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I don’t actually much remember what I was, who I was or what questions I asked as a five-year-old, particularly scientific questions, but I guess they must have been queries like “Why does the sun go down and it becomes dark?” and “How many stars are there in the sky? Can I count them”.
My grandson Gabriel is five years old and today asks questions like “Is your hi-fi strong right now because I want to download a new game on my Ipad?” and “Do you read Japanese because the game instructions are in Japanese?”
My goodness how times have changed! Let’s take education. Gabriel started Kinder last year and is now Primary 1 at the St Paul’s Bay Primary School, a school that educates over 1,500 students hailing from no less than 25 countries and therefore a pot pourri mix of nationalities, religions, languages and customs. Finding some kind of multicultural blend is in itself a miracle based on various tenets.
Malta’s two official languages are official at the school, that is Maltese and English, although in many cases many of the parents speak neither and nor do some of the children at the start. I have looked through Gabriel’s textbooks and they do not even the merest semblance to those in my day at this stage.
My memories are of hours reciting things in a sung version like “A, B, C, D, E, F, G,” – a brief pause, “H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P”.
Arithmetic was “1 times 2 is 2, 2 times 2 is 4, 3 times 2 is six….” and so on – going through all the multiplication tables. Later it was stupid questions like “if it takes three men to dig a hole how long would it take six men to dig the same sized hole?”
Well, none of that claptrap today. This is the Digital Age, the age of Robotics, the age of Cohesion and by the time that children like Gabriel grow up, all this Digital stuff will be in full swing and – who knows – a weekend break may be a weekend on the Moon, or Mars!
All of which leads me to the Esplora Interactive Science Centre at Bighi, near Kalkara, which was officially opened on 26th October in 2016 and today attracts over 100,000 visitors annually, mainly children, school visits and families. Under the auspices of the Malta Council for Science and Technology under the Chairmanship of former Member of Parliament Dr Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando it is a Centre that gives vent to questioning and investigation where the young visitors are encouraged to explore, think, imagine and activate.
The Centre is housed in the old Royal Naval Hospital at Bighi suitably transformed with the help of EU Funds and enjoying a splendid view of the Grand Harbour. It now consists of several buildings and outdoor spaces that are all interconnected. The main exhibitions areas and landscaped gardens house over 200 exhibits that are not simply there to be viewed but to be handled, manipulated and motivated to exploit their scientific development.
Needless to say, it is also highly popular with accompanying adults who just love to experience the hands-on workshops and entertaining and informative science shows and their relevance to modern living.
The latest addition is a 270 tonne geodisc globe with a diameter width of 11 metres, a €3.5 million Planetarium that was officially opened in October last year. The theatre part sits 54 spectators and puts on dramatic shows of the sun, moon, earth and the solar system. There are 13 exhibits on show that portray the cosmos and life in space.
The Centre has drawn international admiration and has been selected by the EU Commission as one of its most emblematic projects in the science field of the overall Cohesion Policy and also featured in an exhibition staged by the Commission in Brussels.
Before renovation, the hospital had been in a state of abandonment for many years and the transformation took three years at a cost of €26 million.
With Christmas on the way and Gabriel enjoying his holidays I have made plans to accompany him to visit Esplora where he will be able to show me around and no doubt teach me a thing or two about the modern world he is being brought up in!
“If you cut off a donkey’s tail he will remain a donkey”.
The equivalent of a leopard never changes its spots. The allegory is that a donkey is dumb and therefore it was dumb and even after it lost its tail it remained dumb.