Interview with Eva Hartai

Coordinator of the EFG Panel of Experts on Education

EFG’s Panels of Experts (PE) have been set up to provide high quality advice and information to the European institutions, to international NGO’s and to other global professional associations. EFG has currently 10 Panels of Experts active in the fields of CCS, Education, Geological Heritage, Geotechnics, Geothermal Energy, Hydrogeology, Natural Hazards, Minerals, Oil & Gas and Soil Protection. The Panels involve more than 200 voluntary experts from over 20 different countries and all aim at emphasising the importance of geology to society, the benefits of incorporating geological advice and to promote the importance of the geoscientific profession.

To raise awareness about the existence of these Panels of Experts, EFG is presenting its coordinators in a new interview series. In April 2018, we have talked to Eva Hartai, the coordinator of the Panel on Education.

 

 

Eva Hartai

Coordinator of the EFG Panel of Experts on Education since 2011

Éva Hartai is a geologist, EurGeol, Honorary Professor at the Institute of Mineralogy and Geology, University of Miskolc. She got an MSc degree at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary and a PhD at the Technical University Kosice, Slovakia. Her research area is ore geology, and she has worked on Hungarian and Slovakian ore deposits. She has more than 70 publications and 40 years of teaching experience at University of Miskolc, leading courses related to basic geology, environmental geology, geochemistry and mineral resources. She is the coordinator of the EFG Panel of Experts on Education, and the editor-in-chief of the European Geologist journal. She has taken part in several EU-funded and national projects, in most of them as a coordinator. Recently she is the coordinator of the H2020 project “CHPM2030 – Combined Heat, Power and Metal extraction from ultra-deep ore bodies”.

About your field of expertise:

The Panel of Experts on Education deals with educational questions in geology at all education levels, from primary school to postgraduate courses. Why is education in the field of earth sciences so important for school kids?

Many aspects of our everyday life are related to earth sciences. Almost all materials we use to make our life comfortable come from the Earth. Natural hazards can also have serious impacts on human safety. However, most of the people are not aware of the fact that the natural resources are limited and environmental problems are originated from human-Earth interactions in many cases. They do not realise that the better understanding of the Earth processes can help us to mitigate these problems. If people can get familiar with the Earth processes and the human effect on our planet at an early age, it will help them in developing critical and responsible thinking when they became adult citizens, professionals, administrative workers or policy makers.

Earth science also integrates many disciplines that are taught in public education like physics, chemistry and biology. The “visual” character of earth science can help young students in the better understanding of the laws of these disciplines and their relevance to our everyday lives.

In 2015/2016 your Panel has carried out a survey on geology in school education, public courses and outreach activities in Europe. How would you summarise the results? Are there any consequences that you would recommend to take at EU policy level?

The aim of the survey was to assess the role and state of geology in public education. 35 participants from 17 European countries filled the questionnaire. In most of the countries, geology plays a minor role in the education programmes and is a part of the physical geography or other natural sciences. The geology component is involved mostly in the curricula of the pupils of age 11-16. Teaching materials are usually textbooks of the given subject geology is involved, the use of practical exercise booklets is limited. In general, it depends mostly on the teacher’s ambition if the pupils’ interest for geosciences is raised.

Based on the outcomes of the survey and on my personal experiences, my recommendations to the EU’s education policy are as follows:

  • I suggest to teach earth science at the same level as the other natural sciences like physics, chemistry and biology.
  • In this context, earth science is a broader term than geology and includes also the study of atmosphere and hydrosphere.
  • It is important that the physical geography and the geology components do not compete but complement each other.
  • Earth science should be taught from kindergarten to secondary school level in a 12-year span. Of course, it should not dominate the teaching programmes (maybe 1 hour per week is enough) but could be a continuous “background” for the other natural sciences.
  • Teachers of natural sciences should take examples from geology and earth science for illustrating the teaching of their subjects.
  • The involvement of new, innovative teaching methods is needed. Geological processes can be illustrated or modelled in a very attractive way and teachers should take this benefit.
  • Earth science related student science competitions should be initiated and supported so that interested young people have the opportunity to make research and share their experiences.

How do you see the future role of geoscientists in your field of expertise, for example 20 years ahead from now?

Higher education in geosciences should be radically changed and applied to new requirements. Mineral exploration and mining are not in the main focus any more. Earth scientists have to face new challenges like preserving the environment, mitigating climate change, having access to renewable resources, ensuring the sustainable supply of water and soil, etc. Of course, beside these challenges, the geologist also have to take care of the reliable supply of mineral raw materials. New mining environments and technologies like mining on asteroids, other planets or in deep see environment also need the geological expertise. If we meet these challenges, we can definitely say that geologists will be needed in the coming decades.

About your Panel of Experts:

Which role can the EFG Panel of Experts on Education play in the current EU policy context?

The PE on Education can create position papers and make recommendations to the EU education policy. Members of the Panel were also asked to join the EC’s experts groups. We should also be active in the EU-level consultations and react on the EC’s initiations. On the other hand, the panel members can also contribute to the formulation of the education policy at national level.

How would you define the added value of collaborating with experts from different European countries?

It is always benefiting to consult with colleagues from other countries and share experiences. This can help us to solve problems at a national level. We can follow the best examples or we can initiate international collaboration in the education field.

What is your Panel of Experts currently working on? What are your further plans for 2018?

In 2017, several panel members joined the Reviewers Board of the European Geologists, the official journal of EFG, and participate in the reviewing work. As for 2018, I have a plan, which I haven’t discussed with the panel members yet. I would like to make a survey within the countries represented by the EFG member associations in order to know what teachers of natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) think about the importance of involving geology in the curricula, how it could be carried out, how it could benefit the better understanding of their disciplines and how we could help in managing that. An excellent initiation already exists: the www.eartlearningidea.com page publishes new ideas for activities in every two weeks in order to help Earth related teaching.

Is there anything EFG could do to support your Panel of Experts?

The planned survey I mentioned would be carried out with the help of the PE on Education and the national member associations of EFG. It would be a great help if the EFG representatives could be active on that process and distribute the questionnaire among the teachers at a national level.

Your Panel involves less women than men and in general women are underrepresented in the STEM sector. What needs to be done to improve the gender balance in earth sciences?

The mining and raw materials sectors are traditionally thought to be “manly” industries. It is a long process to change this opinion. However, in the last decades, we can experience a growing tendency in the rate of female students at mining universities, even in certain specialisations their number exceeds the number of male students. 

Many efforts have been made, even at EU level, to encourage young girls to get interested in STEM. However, geology is not in the focus of these actions. The national geological associations, research institutions and universities can do a lot at national or regional level, organising open days, festivals, mineral shows, etc. – as it is a usual practice in many countries. We could also use the benefits of the social media channels and distribute interesting Earth related information that can raise the interest of young girls (and young people in general) for geosciences.

About yourself:

Since when do you lead your Panel of Experts?

The PE on Education was established in 2011. Since then, I am the leader of this panel.

What inspired you to become a geologist? Why did you choose the field of education?

I had a very good geography teacher in secondary school. He included a lot of geology in his teaching programme, brought minerals and rocks to the class and explained their formation. He also regularly took the interested students to field. This was what inspired me to choose the geology profession.

What do you currently do in your job?

I retired from University of Miskolc in 2016 but still have the link to the institution as an Honorary Professor. I still have courses, although less than before, thus I can concentrate on the H2020 projects I am involved, mostly the CHPM2030 which I coordinate. EFG also provides an opportunity for activities: beside the European Geologist journal and the expert panel I work in different committees.

More information about the EFG Panels of Experts