Astronomy Education: From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Science at Engalaoni Primary School in Tanzania

In the last period, we learned how our ancient predecessors managed their lives using different types of stars, such as the Pleiades, for daily activities like agriculture and breeding. They understood different times, such as periods of plenty for their livestock, and responded to natural disasters like floods and hurricanes based on their knowledge of astronomy. Despite lacking advanced tools to study the sky in detail, their contributions led to the emergence of various scholars worldwide who furthered our understanding of the sky, discovering stars, planets, the sun, the moon, meteors, asteroids, and more.

Similarly, we learned that science is built from the careful examination of matters, not individual beliefs. Scientific understanding accumulates over time and builds on past discoveries. Ancient astronomers used stars they observed worldwide to guide their lives, much like modern scientists use scientific investigations to discover new things and enhance science education.

New discoveries are often accepted when they align with existing scientific understanding. For example, in 1676, British scientist Robert Hooke discovered that objects with friction, such as balls or springs, have more friction with greater opposing weight. This discovery remains true and has led to the development of scales used to measure various things.

Science education also helps us understand how things can change. For instance, understanding the water cycle allows scientists to predict the effects of deforestation. In the 20th century, German scientist Alfred Wegener proposed that the seven continents were once joined together (Pangaea) and later separated due to plate tectonics. Initially, scientists believed the Earth’s surface didn’t move, making Wegener’s idea controversial. However, by 1960, evidence confirmed his theory, enhancing our understanding of Earth’s geology.

Other scientists like Albert Einstein, who learned Euclidean geometry and recognized the power of reasoning, contributed significantly to scientific thought. Marie Curie, a physicist and chemist, pioneered the science of radiation, coined the term “radioactivity,” and led research on cancer treatment using radioactive isotopes. She also invented the electrometer, a device for measuring small electrical currents.

Charles Darwin, born in England, is famous for his theory of evolution, which he detailed in works like “On the Origin of Species” (1859). Darwin’s observations, including those of earthquakes and soil erosion, contributed to our understanding of natural processes and the formation of mountains. He proposed that favourable traits lead to survival and the creation of new species, and he suggested that humans descended from chimpanzees.

Sir Isaac Newton, a mathematician, physicist, chemist, and natural philosopher, is regarded as one of the greatest scientists in history. He formulated the laws of gravity and motion and invented a small telescope with the ability to see distant objects. Newton’s contributions continue to influence modern physics and mathematics.

These scientists and many others have greatly contributed to the development of powerful devices and research tools, benefiting the modern world and stemming from cultural astronomy’s foundation.

Finally, the students of Engalaoni ask the entire community, including the Maasai, to support their education. Many Maasai children lack educational opportunities because their community still values livestock over education, hindering their developmental and educational progress.

Starry Tales: How Engalaoni Primary School Explores Maasai Culture Through Astronomy

Engalaoni Primary School, nestled in the Arusha region has recently embarked on a fascinating journey into the cosmos, intertwining astronomy with the rich tapestry of Maasai culture. Spearheaded by their passionate Science teacher, Mr. Eliatosha Maleko, the students have delved into the celestial realm through the establishment of a vibrant Science Club.

In a community steeped in Maasai tradition, the students sought to unravel the age-old connections between the stars and their daily lives. From the nomadic pastoralist activities to the cultivation of staple crops like corn and beans, the celestial bodies play a pivotal role in guiding the rhythms of Maasai’s existence.

Among the twinkling stars, the Pleiades hold a special significance, with each cardinal direction bearing unique interpretations ingrained in Maasai lore. Whether heralding the birth of wild animals or signalling the time for agricultural endeavours, the stars serve as celestial guides for the Maasai people.

The students also shed light on the role of meteors in traditional practices, where the abundance of these shooting stars foretells auspicious times for farmers and herders alike. Clad in traditional Maasai attire, the students passionately shared their insights, emphasizing the interconnectedness of celestial phenomena with life on Earth.

As they marvelled at the planet’s orbit around the sun and its role as a vital source of energy, the students called upon others to join them in their quest for knowledge. Through their exploration of astronomy, they not only deepen their understanding of the cosmos but also foster a deeper appreciation for their cultural heritage.

In closing, Mr. Eliatosha Maleko extends his best wishes to all who embark on this celestial journey, urging them to continue fostering cooperation and learning in their pursuit of knowledge.

A family visit to MMAO

Nanette and family visit MMAO

“What a wonderful surprise it was to learn that we have an observatory in Arusha–near Arusha National Park–that has the largest telescope in East Africa! It’s a small but well-equipped and well-maintained facility directed by the charming Mr. Elineema Nasarri, a gifted, enthusiastic, and very knowledgeable teacher.

The goal of the Mount Meru Astronomical Observatory is to provide science education to students and others. Elineema hosted our small group–my husband and myself and our four local “sons” from the nearby village where we live. Soon he had everyone asking questions and laughing and in awe of the grandeur of the planets, stars and galaxies.

We look forward to visiting again and working with them to share the marvels of the Universe with our local villagers. We are feeling very grateful to Telescopes to Tanzania who built the facility, and to the Organization for Science, Education and Observatory which operates it, for bestowing this gift on Arusha.” —Nanette

A Christmas visitor to MMAO

David Tan and friends at MMAO for Christmas 2023

On December 23, 2023 Kai, Elineema, and Mponda simultaneously received an email from the contact form on this website. It was from David Tan, an engineer who owns and operates a cafe in Dar es Salaam. He asked for a visit to the MMAO observatory. Given the close proximity to Christmas, Kai attempted to relieve Elineema from the transit to and from MMAO with a polite dismissal, but David was persistent and Elineema was excited to observe too! Perhaps they’d catch Santa’s sleigh in the telescope or another Christmas supernova. Nonetheless, they came together for a very special observing session, as David describes.

David writes, “It’s not at all often I come up to Arusha, so when it came to me that I had once read about an observatory at Mt. Meru, I felt strongly that I had to visit – lest it take a few more years before a next first visit and connection with the observatory.

The night we spent at the observatory was full of magic. There was a full moon rising exactly above Mt Kilimanjaro. We were all spellbound. I’m extremely impressed with all the work that’s been put into the observatory and the team who brought us to the observatory that night. Thank you!

Shaw-IAU Workshop Summary

MMAO Director Elineema Nassari at the South African Astronomical Observatory

Elineema Nassari, Director at MMAO, was awarded travel, lodging, and attendance of the African regional Shaw-IAU meeting hosted by the International Astronomers Union Office of Astronomy for Development on the campus of the South Africa Astronomical Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa. The workshop was from November 3-5, 2023.

Elineema writes, “This was a unique opportunity to share astronomical knowledge with a variety of teachers who came from so many countries, including Botswana. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Kenya and South I mentioned above.

“We participated in many presentations with both in-person and virtual speakers. Teachers asked many questions, helping all of us to build an increased capacity for teaching astronomy in our respective schools. I discovered that some countries have included Astronomy in their curriculum, making it a part of the total education in their school systems. This is not yet the case in Tanzania. We have much to do to advise the government, to include Astronomy in the [national] curriculum. Upon return from South Africa to Tanzania, I immediately implemented the knowledge gained in the workshop with my fellow teachers and students as well.

Moreover, I was given an opportunity to remain at SAAO for one week more, to learn how to run an organization and observatory as well. I met with IAU-OAD and OAE staff from the Office of Astronomy for Development where I learned a great deal. Also, we discussed the development of an astro-tourism program at MMAO.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit Sutherland where massive telescopes survey the Southern Hemisphere. This was my first time to see such kind of big telescope. Imagine, the largest I had used was 12 inches. And now I have spent time observing in a telescope that is more that three building stories tall! I spent nights with astronomers from, SALT, SAAO and from Japan too. This time is for me an unforgettable history.

Also, I visited the science center at Cape Town whereby I learned a very crucial thing—that MMAO can establish a science center [to engage] young children in experiential education, that is, learning by doing small experiments. This beginning experience with science, while they are still young, [initiates] the spirit of enjoying and engaging science for a lifetime.

Now I have seeds in my hands to plant in Tanzanian, with teachers and students ready to grow.

Good things are coming!

Inspiring Teachers visit MMAO

Inspiring Teachers visit MMAO!

Today MMAO was honored to receive teachers from Inspiring Teachers, an innovative nonprofit helping teachers fulfill the promise of education. Inspiring Teachers designs programs for rollout across systems. Their programs equip school and system leaders with tools that enable them to systematically support teachers so they can make greater impact in their classrooms.

Inspiring Teachers in the photo (top, left to right): MMAO Ambassador Pandaeli, Coretta, Kelsey, Katya, Reggie, and Mary; then Lauren, Jamie, Cassie, and Rachel. MMAO Elineema Nassari is on the far right. Catherin is taking the photo.

Bridging Education Gap with Teachers’ Astro-Science Training

Between 9th and 11th February 2023 at the foot of Mt. Meru in northeastern Tanzania a total of sixteen teachers participated in three days of training on an integrated approach to astronomy education in Tanzania.

A range of topics including the importance of astronomy in our daily lives, a tour of our local neighbourhood including our place in the universe, the difference between astronomy and astrology covering both faith-related and scientific aspects of astronomy, understanding the working principles of optical telescopes and other types of telescopes, an insight into what is life on planet Earth and beyond, what is composed in our solar system, the potential of harbouring life in the moons of Jupiter, how to make use of the internet in searching and composition of our solar system, the search for exoplanets and
how all these contribute to science learning and understanding by both teachers and students were covered.

This wasn’t ordinary training as previously attended by most of the participating teachers.  It benefited from the use of technology by bringing in facilitators from different parts of the world including South Africa, the United States, Tanzania and Kenya. The conference employed video conferencing to engage both facilitators and participants in a quality distance learning experience. To some of the participants mainly participating teachers, this was their first experience with distance learning with international facilitators. 

Some sessions had to start earlier than usual in the morning to accommodate speakers and co-organizer residing in different time zones, especially those in the US to not stay up all night. This by itself was a unique experience for participating teachers who have never interacted with colleagues from other time zones apart from theirs at the same time.

Interactive Q&A and discussion sessions with trainers from different parts of the world brought a new way of learning. Teachers were able to understand that it is OKAY not to know everything and it is OKAY to say that I don’t know and let’s find out the answer together. Teachers and participants also understood that it is okay to ask a colleague or even students to help explain and understand some of the things that they are not sure of.

The participating teachers learnt these and much more just by looking at how the workshop facilitators from different parts of the world were working together in responding to some of their questions, but also admitting to not knowing where they are not sure.

The teachers and participants also understood that not every question can be answered with a RIGHT or WRONG or YES or NO, but could be explained to comprehend understanding and learning. Pushing out of our comfort zone was also understood to be okay by questioning everything, even the things that we feel to understand better and take them for granted like our SUN being a start, what is LIFE and that Earth is a small point in the Universe. Understanding and responding to these questions made participants think that maybe we are not all alone in the Universe.

It is at this point, participants found that these lessons were mind-blowing and made them have more and more questions with discussions cutting across one scientific discipline to the other. It is at this point that their thirst for knowledge and to know more couldn’t be quenched in just three days of training. It is also at this point that the participating teachers were introduced to the world of the internet, where they could source information and help them quench their thirst. 

Knowing that the internet could also be a source of wrong information, participants were also trained on how to identify credible sources of information, how and why it is important to reference source of information and use it in teaching, what and how to use a search engine, how to make use keywords in searching for information and how to identify credible information from the internet and make an informed decision on what to use for teaching. To some of us these could look normal and practice, but for teachers who seldom use computers let alone the internet this was a much-needed lesson in starting to use the internet to learn more about science, astronomy and many other interesting things that they can use in their classrooms.

Of course, this training wasn’t all about sitting, participants participated in hands-on activities that helped them to engage more sensors including touching and feeling. To some participants, this was the first time they touched a prism and use it to split the white light to see a rainbow, the first time that they used a glass jar and beaker to see the refraction of light through bending illusion, first time to use the lenses to burn dry leave, first time to use a concave mirror to start a fire, first time to use a magnet and pull iron filling from sand, first time to burn chemical elements in the chemistry laboratory and understand that they burn in different colours and the list goes on… 

Though it is located in the same region and at the foot of the most noticeable Mount in the region, most participants never had a visit to the Mount Meru Astronomical Observatory. Being there for the first time at dusk was the most outstanding and memorable experience that will stay in the minds of most teachers. To most, this was the first time that they visited an observatory and the first time that they saw a big telescope let alone that it is in Tanzania and perhaps the only one among the East Africa Community countries.

There was a lot of AHA!  moments being the first time most realized that there are planets and stars in the starry night that we take for granted. Realizing that stars are twinkling and planets are not, seeing satellites passing for the
the first time, looking at constellations for the first time, identifying the different types of stars and also determining their ages based on the colours of their shining lights.

There were also many more questions including why no white light at the observatory at night, why we take off our shoes before we enter, and why we have red lights at the observatory. It was so many questions that one led another without end. This was fascinating, not just to participants but also to the trainers and observatory attendants who were taking part.

Knowing that it isn’t easy for everyone to pay a visit to the observatory at night with students, participants were also introduced to the mobile planetarium that can to schools and has more students taking part. In The planetarium shows took the participants even further beyond their current on the night sky in understanding and seeing nebula, supernova explosions, space telescopes, black holes and processes for the birth and death of the stars and starry night observation using Stellarium software. Stories of Greek mythology based on their observations of the night skies were also told by nine years old child, Aryaq Mponda Malozo who is fascinated by the starry night sky and mythologies. 

The organizing team appreciates the OAD financial support that was key to the success of the training and will forever be indebted to Kai Staats, Mike Simons, Graham Lau, Zara Randriamanakoto, Susan Murabana, Musa Mishamo, Elineema Nassari, Hamuli Majeshi, Thomas Mbise, Aminiel Mungure and all participants their active involvement that made the event a success. 

Following this successful experience and feedback from the participants, the Mount Meru Astronomical Observatory is looking forward to replicating and repeating this training with interested stakeholders and teachers within and outside Tanzania.  Please use our contact page to stay in touch. 

What is the colour of the Sun?

Mr. Rashidi Mkwinda with his students at Nshupu Secondary School in Tanzania were observing the sun using a Telescope as shown in the pictures and videos.

It was indeed a beautiful afternoon,  with about two hundred students participating in observing the Sun 🌞 .

The main debate was however why the Sun appeared to be yellow using the Telescope, but in hindsight, the sun appears to be a mixture of blue and white and some said it was colourless.


To clear the confusion and enhance understanding, participating students were instructed to seek answers from various books and articles. 

As these observations are going on at Nshupu secondary, we hold on to what these students will find to be the true colour of the Sun. 

Rashidi Mkwinda
Ambassador’s chairman

A new Astronomy Club at Makumira Secondary School

Curious young minds in love with science at Makumira secondary school have decided to form an astronomy club, a platform to learn more about science beyond what is taught in the classroom and asked in the exams. 
The club has started with 14 members including both girls and boys as of the 24th of June 2022. The club expect to have more members with time as more and more students are expected to be inspired by new ways of learning and understanding science.
Visiting the nearby Mount Meru Astronomical Observatory is among the planned activities as none of them has been to an observatory or seen a big telescope before. 
This astronomy club, in close coordination with their teacher Mr Elinmeema Nasari is looking forward to collaborating and exchanging experiences with other schools and astronomy clubs in the area including those at Nshupu, Kikatiti and Ailanga secondary schools. 
As it has been for other students in Astro-science clubs, these students are expected to enhance their understanding of science and improve their critical thinking and ability to ask questions as they embark on a new way of learning.