Friday, June 25, 2010

Obama's science initiative in Indonesia

I have posted about Obama administration's efforts for scientific outreach to the Muslim world before (see Obama's Science Envoys to the Muslim World and Obama's Science Outreach to the Muslim World). I think this is a positive step with potential long-term benefits. One of the first efforts in this regard is taking place in Indonesia and it gives an idea of potential collaborations. From Science:
In its first international mission, the U.S. research vessel Okeanos Explorer early this summer will team up with an Indonesian vessel, the Baruna Jaya IV, to probe the ecological hotbed.
The expedition ushers in a new era in science cooperation between Indonesia and the United States. The two countries have just inked their first S&T agreement, which is now awaiting ratification by Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. And two high-profile initiatives are in the works. In the coming weeks, the United States is expected to unveil an extensive education package, including university partnerships and dedicated funds for S&T collaboration; funding for the package could top $150 million. It will also tap Indonesia to host a regional center for climate change, one of the centers of excellence for the Muslim world that U.S. President Barack Obama promised to establish in a landmark speech in Cairo last year. (Both initiatives were to be announced this month during Obama's planned visit to Indonesia, which was postponed.)
Other signs of a closer relationship include an annual Frontiers of Science meeting that the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI) and the U.S. National Academies intend to launch next year to spark collaborations between top young scientists. And an Indonesian-U.S. team is now drilling ice cores from a tropical glacier (Science, 28 May, p. 1084). "This whole spectrum of activities will strengthen ties between our two countries," says Jason Rao, a senior policy analyst at the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Perhaps a better sign is structural help in the formation of a national science organization:

Yudhoyono spoke of Indonesia's own efforts to bolster science in a January speech to AIPI, urging researchers to take risks and "be much more open-minded and more progressive" than in the past. He returned to the theme in a meeting in Jakarta last month with Bruce Alberts, Science's editor-in-chief and one of three science envoys appointed by Obama to explore collaborations with Muslim-majority countries. Discussions are also under way on creating a merit-based agency similar to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). After years of stagnation, researchers here sense "the beginning of a renaissance," says medicinal chemist Umar Anggara Jenie, chair of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in Jakarta.
The United States is playing a critical supporting role in this revival. In his speech, Yudhoyono cited cooperation in technology and education as key elements of a "new strategic partnership" between the two countries. Another impetus is Indonesia's problem with homegrown terrorists. In Cairo, Obama vowed to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries. "We understand his intention to bridge Islamic civilization and the West. Science is the best way to do this," says AIPI President Sangkot Marzuki, director of the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology (EIMB).
And you can add science education to the agenda as well and its great to see National Science Resource Center getting involved in it:
A more fundamental concern is science education. The government intends to triple university enrollment in natural sciences to 12% by 2014. But students are ill-prepared: Primary school science education is woeful, researchers contend. Plans are under way to bring Indonesian educators to a workshop on inquiry science for children next month at the National Science Resource Center in Washington, D.C., run by the National Academies and the Smithsonian Institution. "The hope is to initiate an impressive program of science education in one or two carefully selected Indonesian school districts," says Alberts.
I'm quite impressed by the breadth of involvement here. It wasn't clear earlier on, what kind of activities will be included in these scientific collaborations. But if we take this Indonesian example as a model, then we are looking at a potentially deep and fruitful collaboration beyond simple political rhetoric between the US and at least some of the Muslim countries.

Read the full article here.


Don said...

This is easily the most thorough proposal that I have yet heard, and it's good to see evidence that the Indonesian and American governments are taking this seriously. Last I heard, we were still on the project of sending four or five envoys to Muslim countries, but cooperative research and the founding of an Indonesian NSF are much more substantial!

I hope this can be adapted to a scale of involvement depending on a the scientific infrastructure a country has: for example, as you mentioned, Indonesia has some (but not much) of a base, while Pakistan has a much greater scientific and educational base (at least in urban areas). Now that concrete plans are being made with Indonesia, perhaps other carefully developed cooperations with Muslim countries can begin.

Ali said...

This is great news. A long overdue move I would say. This will help to reduce the negative impression of America in the Muslim world.

I don't know whether Don's comparison of Indonesia with Pakistan is correct. I personally do not know much about what Indonesians have or do not have. I think they too would have a reasonably strong base for science. Why wouldn't they?

Yes, Pakistan does have a great base for scientific education and with a little boost from US it can do greater.

I think there is a lot of potential in Pakistan. There already are some great institutions that are bringing out great returns in terms of developing man power. But sadly, there are too few opportunities in Pakistan. So most of the intelligent graduates seek opportunities abroad leaving a vacuum behind. Sadly, its almost like the great institutions of Pakistan are catering for the developed world.

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