Interview with Maria Tzima
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 an interview series. In August 2020, we have talked to Maria Tzima, the coordinator of the Panel on Education.
Coordinator of the EFG Panel of Experts on Education since January 2020.
Maria Tzima is a geologist (certified EurGeol #1635), with an MSc in Management of Water Resources from the National Technical University of Athens. She has more than 18 years of professional experience in hydrogeological studies for groundwater aquifers, exploitation studies for groundwater bodies, water management, quality and quantity protection of groundwater resources, modeling groundwater flow and environmental impact assessments for technical projects. She is the Secretary–General of the Association of Greek Geologists and an active member of a committee for educational matters in Greece. She is an independent consultant for hydrogeology and water management at the Greek Institute of Geological and Mineral Exploration.
About your field of expertise:
Could you explain in simple words what is meant by Education?
Basic Knowledge of Earth science is essential to meeting the environmental challenges in natural resources. Understanding the causes and potential societal consequences of natural Earth processes such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, weather, and global climate change and the production, availability, and potential depletion of natural resources (groundwater, soil, mineral, and energy) is of particular importance. These processes and resources impact our economy, security, and the sustainability of our environment. Geoscience education is associated with the understanding of how people learn geosciences and how instructional practices can enhance learning.
What is the current situation of Education development in Europe?
The ‘health’ of geoscience education across Europe remains poor as shown by the UNESCO Experts survey of geoscience education in 2019. This Earth science education in primary and secondary education document which included Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain and the UK, showed that most European countries include Earth science in the primary curriculum. Only around 75% in the lower secondary curriculum and very few in the upper secondary curriculum. Less than half of the countries provide support to teachers in their teaching of Earth science to be taught by Earth science specialists.
Why is it important to advance research in this domain?
It is very important to advance research finding the most effective way to improve geoscience education. Target teachers and providing good teaching materials. The next generation of geoscientists through the provision of world-class education, training and resources to secondary school teachers could provide the magnitude of natural hazards, natural resources and climate change to the general public. Geoscience education is important in related fields, including civil and environmental engineering, environmental studies, agricultural sciences, atmospheric and ocean sciences, life sciences, materials research, homeland security and emergency services, medicine, law, and public administration.
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. 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. Besides these challenges, the geologists 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 geological expertise. If we meet these challenges, we can definitely say that geologists will be needed in the coming decades. Geoscience education is essential to prepare the next generation of skilled geoscience workers to address important challenges in natural-resource development and management, natural-hazards mitigation, environmental protection, and ecosystem restoration. Field and laboratory activities that are essential to geoscience education provide spatial and observational skills not only to geoscientists but also to professionals in a range of related careers. Undergraduate research experience as part of a geoscience education program provides a strong foundation in the scientific method and enhances the student’s ability and desire to continue in a geoscience career.
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 could create position papers and make recommendations to the EU education policy. We should also be active in the EGU and IUGS strategies on Geoscience Education. Furthermore, panel members can also contribute to the formulation of the education policy at national level and disseminate all panel activities.
How would you define the added value of collaborating with experts from different European countries?
Collaborating with experts from different European countries promotes major benefits such as the development of higher-level thinking, communication, self-management, leadership skills and understanding of diverse perspectives, especially in the educational field. Experts working together to solve a problem, complete a task or create a product helps to develop a social support system and establishes a positive attitude in all science levels.
What is your Panel of Experts currently working on? What are your further plans for 2020?
In 2020, PE on Education shared a call for a project called European Friendly Rock Network. This project is addressing teachers and 12-18-year-old school students. It is established to raise young people’ awareness of geosciences and nature, increase the schools’ (teachers’/students’) knowledge on the geology and heritage of the region they inhabit and to increase the pedagogical quality of their rock sample collection. The participating schools from different countries will be circulated within the network in order to help the contact and exchange of collected data.
Is there anything EFG can do to support your Panel of Experts?
The project that has been mentioned would be carried out with the help of the EFG. In addition, members of EFG office support all of our plans and activities at all levels.
Your Panel involves fewer 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?
It is an undeniable fact that geosciences are a male-dominated sector. This has led to a loss of female talent and lack of diversity within the sector. Retention of female students in the geosciences is highest where students can identify with same gender career – industry leaders, yet with few obvious female role models, poor female student retention has become a self-perpetuating problem. Many efforts have been made, even at the EU level, to encourage young girls to get interested in STEM. However, there is still more we can do in order to break down the barriers that may exist in females when thinking about STEM subjects and careers. To improve the gender balance in earth sciences, we have to support girls to achieve and succeed through fun, adventures, challenges and international experiences via guiding flexible and innovative projects in geosciences such as EFG’s ENGIE Project (ENGIE – Encouraging Girls to Study Geosciences and Engineering) that focus on secondary school female students an their career decisions.
Since when do you lead your Panel of Experts?
The PE on Education was established in 2011. Since January 2020, I am the coordinator of this Panel.
What inspired you to become a geologist?
Geology science is everywhere. As a child, one of the most exciting activities was to observe pictures describing the geology on the moon comparing it to things that were easy to notice on Earth. After that, my school teacher, who was a geoscience professor, inspired me to love geosciences and motivated me to pursue a geological career.
What do you currently do in your job?
I work as an independent consultant for geology and water management at the Greek Institute of Geological and Mineral Exploration with more than 18 years of professional experience. Since 2016, I am an active member for education matters in Greece as the Secretary-General of the Association of Greek Geologists.