Current Challenges and Possible Solutions
This chapter describes and
analyses some of the challenges facing science and technology (S&T)
education by relating these to their wider social setting. Although the focus
is on aspects emerging from a European (or OECD) context, some of the issues
raised are likely to have a wider validity.
After describing the problematic pattern of student enrolment in science and technology, the chapter suggests a series of underlying reasons for the difficulties that have arisen. The description is necessarily tentative and exploratory, and it is intended to present ideas for a discussion of possible explanations. This is followed by a similar analysis of who needs science and technology education, and for what purposes. The point here is that the problem of student recruitment may be perceived differently from different perspectives and by different interests. Hence, there may also be different views on suitable strategies to overcome it. The chapter also offers a critical description of school science and technology education, together with a brief account of some recent international trends. These trends may provide ideas for possible ways forward.
No period in history has been more penetrated by and more dependent on the natural sciences than the twentieth century. Yet no period … has been less at easy with it. This is the paradox with which the historian of the century must grapple. (Hobsbawm 1995, p.522)
Our societies are dominated and even 'driven' by ideas and products from science and technology (S&T) and it is very likely that the influence of science and technology on our lives will continue to increase in the years to come. Scientific and technological knowledge, skills and artefacts 'invade' all realms of life in modern society: the workplace and the public sphere are increasingly dependent on new as well as upon more established technologies. So, too, are the private sphere and our leisure time. Scientific and technological knowledge and skills are crucial for most of our actions and decisions, as workers, as voters, as consumers, etc. Meaningful and independent participation in modern democracies assumes an ability to judge the evidence and arguments associated with the many socio-scientific issues that appear on the political agenda.
In short, modern societies need people with scientific and technological qualifications at the highest level as well as a general public which has a broad understanding of the contents and methods of science and technology, coupled with an insight into their role as social forces that shape the future. Science and technology are major cultural products of human history, and all citizens, independently of their occupational 'needs', should be acquainted with them as elements of human culture. While science and technology are obviously important for economic well-being, they must also seen from the perspective of a broadly based liberal education .
One might expect the increasing significance of science and technology to be accompanied by a parallel growth in interest in these subjects and in an understanding of basic scientific ideas and ways of thinking. This does, however, not seem to be the case, especially in the more developed countries of Europe and the OECD.
The evidence for such claims is in part based on 'hard facts' (educational statistics relating to subject choice in schools, enrolment in tertiary education etc.), in part on recent large–scale comparative studies like TIMSS and PISA (described later in this chapter) and in part on research into, and analysis of, contemporary social trends. The situation is briefly described and analysed below.
In many countries, recruitment to scientific and technological studies is falling, or at least not developing as fast as expected or planned for. This lack of interest in science often manifests itself at school level at the age where curricular choices are made. In many countries, there is a noticeable decrease in the numbers of students choosing (some of) the sciences. The trend is consolidated in admissions to tertiary education. A similar trend occurs in some areas of engineering and technology studies. It should, however, be noted that there are large (and interesting) differences between the various European countries and between the different disciplines within science and technology. The fall in recruitment has been particularly marked in physics and mathematics.
In many countries, there is also a growing gender gap in the choice of scientific and technological subjects at both school and tertiary level. Many countries have had a long period of steady growth in female participation in traditionally male fields of study, but this positive trend seems now to have been broken in some countries. It is a paradox that the break is most marked in some of the Nordic countries, where gender equity has been a prime educational aim for decades. For example, while the Nordic countries come out on top of all the countries in the world on the Gender Empowerment Measure, an indicator developed by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP 2001), the same countries have very low female participation rates in science- and technology-related occupations and studies.
Concern about unsatisfactory enrolment in science and technology is voiced by many interest groups. Industrial leaders are worried about the recruitment of a qualified work force. Universities and research institutions are anxious about the recruitment of new researchers, and education authorities are worried about the already visible lack of qualified teachers of the scientific and technological subjects. In some countries, the difficulty of recruiting sufficient numbers of new entrants to the teaching profession has become a matter of national concern, especially when the level of recruitment does not even allow for the replacement of those who are retiring. This concern is often based on comprehensive appraisals of the education and labour markets.
The concern is not confined to numbers. There is also a more or less identifiable fall in the quality of the newcomers. A lower quality may, of course, be a consequence of the fact that very few candidates compete for places at institutions where the entrance qualifications were previously very high. Many institutions of higher education are unable to fill their places in science and technology with students of a satisfactory quality.
The problems in recruitment are revealed by a range of objective and uncontroversial educational statistics. Cross-national data on a range of issues are now collected and published by UNESCO, the OECD, the European Union and other organisations, and the development of common descriptors and criteria has made its possible to make comparisons between different countries and regions. Evidence about pupils' achievements, quality, interests etc. is available from a number of research projects, notably large comparative surveys such as TIMSS and PISA. Some details are given below in Box 1.
There are many excellent sources of up-t-date international information and analysis on education. Here are a few of them.
UNESCO is the body with a global responsibility in this field. It defines common indicators to facilitate valid international comparisons, and collects the relevant data. These are published in comprehensive published statistical reports that are also available via the web site http://www.unesco.org/
At regular intervals, UNESCO also publishes more analytical, global reports such as The World Education Report (UNESCO 2000), together with more targeted and specific reports on progress in the field of education.
The OECD has a large education sector, and it publishes an important annual report Education at a Glance (i.e. OECD 2001b). These, as well as other reports, including underlying statistical annexes are available online at http://www.oecd.org/ Although the focus is on the OECD countries, the data as well as the research cover other countries.
For science and technology (as well as for mathematics) education, the TIMSS study (Third International Mathematics and Science Study) has become very influential. TIMSS is one of many IEA studies (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement). Background information as well as downloadable reports and data files are available at http://timss.bc.edu/
TIMSS will be followed up in years to come (from 2002), although the acronym TIMSS will get a somewhat different meaning (e.g., T for 'Trends' instead of Third')
The OECD has recently developed its own set of studies of student achievement, under the acronym of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). PISA covers some 30 OECD countries together with some non-OECD countries. It aims at assessing how far students who are approaching the end of compulsory education (about the age of 15) have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in society. The first report (OECD 2000a) presents evidence from the first round of data collection on the performance in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy of students, schools and countries. It reveals factors that influence the development of these skills at home and at school, and examines the implications for policy development. Other reports and rounds of data collection will follow, and these studies are likely to have a great political significance in the future. Reports, background material and statistical data are available at http://www.pisa.oecd.org/
Large-scale comparative studies such as TIMSS and, to a lesser extent, PISA may have the (possibly unintended) side effect of harmonising or universalising science (and other) curricula across nations. Test format as well as curriculum content may come to provide standards, 'benchmarks' or norms for participating countries as well as for other countries not immediately involved in the research. In fact, the term 'benchmark' is frequently used in TIMSS. An example is the "TIMSS 1999 Benchmarking Study" that sets out to compare states and districts across the Untied States.
Furthermore, the international and cross-cultural nature of studies such as TIMSS has necessarily required the development of test items that can be used independently of educational or social context in an attempt to avoid ‘cultural bias’. As a result, these test items tend to become decontextualized and rather abstract. This approach runs contrary to recent thinking about teaching, learning and curriculum development, in which personal and contextual relevance is emerging as a key educational concern. The publication and availability of TIMSS items in many countries might even be said to provide an 'incentive' to use tests that, in both their closed multiple choice format and their lack of social context, run contrary to national or local traditions.
Comparative research in education is important, but there is an obvious need to complement the valuable data from TIMSS-like studies with more open and culturally sensitive information and perspectives (Atkin and Black 1997). The PISA study is an attempt to widen the scope of such large-scale studies, and the underlying framework for PISA is, in contrast to TIMSS, not bound to school curricula. The publication of the first results from PISA (OECD 2001a) suggests that the PISA studies will meet some of the criticisms raised against the IEA-based studies like TIMSS. PISA will continue to develop and produce new results for at least a decade.
Nonetheless, TIMSS and PISA do have some common characteristics. They are both high-level initiatives 'from the top' to monitor scholastic achievement, and the main results are published as rankings or league tables. The media coverage, assisted by the projects' own reporting, often trivialises the educational enterprise and reduces it to a contest of national prestige. The studies are also, with some exceptions, confined to rich countries in the OECD. In most countries, these studies are initiated and heavily funded by governments and Ministries of education. This reflects the legitimate needs of decision-makers and politicians to obtain comparative data on the scholastic achievement of their pupils and to have some measures of the efficiency and cost-benefits of their national educational systems. In an age of globalisation and economic competition, national authorities are increasingly concerned about how well their own education system compares with that of others. This, of course, assumes that quality can be measured against common standards. Similarly, national authorities have a legitimate need to obtain comparative international data relating to such parameters as unit costs, the effectiveness of teacher training, the significance of class size, and resource deployment.
One may, with considerable exaggeration, characterize projects like TIMSS and PISA as the educational parallel of so-called Big Science or techno-science. The scale and costs of these comparative studies are many factors higher than the kinds of research in which most science educators are involved. The institutions that undertake these studies are often government agencies for research and development, or research institutions from which the government may reasonably expect a degree of loyalty. Such large-scale research projects do not emerge from an independent and critical academic research perspective, and one may use Ziman's concept of 'post-academic science' (Ziman 2000) to characterize them, their loyalties and their implicit values and commitments.
Not unexpectedly, those who pay the bill also influence the 'definition' of what counts as science. Given the strong domination of this work by the USA, it is no surprise that there seem to be no test items that relate to topics such as the theory of evolution, human reproduction, sexual minorities or sexually transmitted diseases. If such a science curriculum is used to define 'benchmarks', it may lead to a narrow conception of relevance, and hence to a lowering of standards, rather than, as intended, the opposite.
Projects like TIMSS and PISA describe the levels of achievement of children of school age. However, there is a comparable political concern about how the general public relates to science. The concern has many dimensions. These include the nature and level of public scientific and technological knowledge, attitudes and interests, and, of course, the degree of public support for scientific and technological research and the community that undertakes it.
Acronyms like PUST (Public Understanding of Science and Technology) have become indicators of growing unease about the situation. Academic journals are devoted to the relevant issues (e.g., Public Understanding of Science) and several research institutions study the challenges involved in promoting the public understanding of science. Phrases like 'scientific illiteracy' are also used, more or less fruitfully, to describe the situation. There is a rich literature in the field, and this is marked by the many, and often conflicting, meanings of some of the terms used. This position has been well reviewed and analysed by Jenkins (1997).
In a series of studies dating back to the 1970s, Miller defined and measured scientific literacy in the United States (e.g., Millar 1983), and his approach is evident in research subsequently undertaken in this field in many other countries. See, for example, the influential Eurobarometer studies (e.g., EU 2001).
Not more than 7 percent of Americans qualify as scientifically literate by relatively lenient standards. Recognizing this serious problem, governments in most industrialized nations are making concerted efforts to address the issue of pervasive illiteracy. (From ICASL presentation at the home page http://www.icasl.org/ )
Such studies and conclusions are open to several sorts of criticism (Jenkins, 1994, 1997). The questions asked in these studies are often derived directly from academic science so that lay persons are asked to provide answers to questions such as ‘How many planets are there around the Sun?’ and ‘Which is the larger, an atom or an electron?’ The studies can also be seen as attempts by the scientific community to promote its own agenda and interests, by lamenting the level of public understanding of science. Further, given the strong domination by the USA among the organisers of large-scale comparative studies, these seldom accommodate cultural or social differences in the context within which the alleged scientific and technological literacy is presumed to be required.
Several researchers have taken a different approach to the public understanding of science, and investigated 'scientific knowledge in action', i.e., the use made of it in real-life situations (see, for example, Irwin and Wynne 1996; Layton et al. 1993) Such studies provide a very different understanding of what constitutes 'the problem' and how it might be addressed.
In spite of the criticism indicated here, reports like the bi-annual Science and Engineering Indicators (NSB 2000) provide a wealth of information on many aspects of scientific and technological research in society and education. Although these studies are North American, the large volumes (more than 500 pages) include an important comparative perspective. Reports such as the 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education (at http://2000survey.horizon-research.com/) also provide valuable data as well as analysis and comparative insights. Based upon almost six thousand participating science and mathematics teachers in schools across the United States, the study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
Statistical data and most surveys, however, do not shed much light on the underlying causes of many of the present educational concerns. Why have science and technology apparently lost their attraction for many young people, and what might be done to remedy this situation? Without some answers to these questions, intervention programmes designed to increase interest in science and technology are unlikely to succeed.
It is not easy to understand what causes the difficulties in recruitment to scientific and technological studies, or the more specific, related problems such as the gender gap. Reasons for the doubt in, and dissatisfaction with, contemporary science and technology have to be sought in the youth culture and in society at large. The decline in recruitment must be understood as a social and political phenomenon found in many, although not all, highly industrialised countries, but very seldom in less developed countries. This means that the current situation can hardly be explained fully by events or reforms in each individual country. It is necessary to look for more general trends that are common to different countries. The following is an attempt to suggest underlying reasons for the present difficulties, from the perspective of a European country. The listing is tentative, and it needs critical scrutiny and modification in each country. The first point refers to schools, the other are related to wider social trends.
It is evident from the points raised above that the issues surrounding recruitment to science and technology are many and varied. Some of the recent trends are also contradictory. A falling enrolment seems to suggest a decline in interest in science and technology. This, however, is the case only if enrolment in science and technology education is taken as the sole indicator of interest in these fields. Other indicators give other messages.
For instance, young people in many countries are more interested than ever in using many kinds of new technology. It is a paradox that the countries that have the most problems with recruitment to scientific and technological studies and careers are precisely those with the most widespread use of new technologies by young people. Examples include cellular telephones, personal computers and the Internet. There seems to be an eagerness to use the new technologies, but a reluctance to study the disciplines that underlie them.
Popular science and technology magazines have also retained their popularity in many countries, and television programmes about science, the environment and technology continue to attract large audiences. Furthermore, survey data for the member countries of the EU (often including some other countries), such as the ongoing series of Eurobarometer surveys, do not give support to general claims about falling interest in, and negative attitudes towards, science and technology. Indeed, to the contrary, these studies indicate a high level of public interest in scientific and technological research and a high level of acceptance of such research as a national priority (EU 2001). The Eurobarometer studies also document that doctors, scientists and engineers have high esteem, much above that enjoyed by lawyers, 'businessmen', journalists, and politicians (EU 2001).
Scientific and technological skill and knowledge are acquired and developed in many different contexts, and not simply in formal settings like schools. The media, museums of various kinds, the workplace and even 'everyday life' provide other learning contexts. Most of the impressive skills that young people have in handling personal computers, the Internet, cellular phones and all sorts of electronic devices are acquired in informal out-of-school settings. When the Eurobarometer asked members of the public where they had acquired their scientific knowledge, television, the press and the radio featured much more prominently than either schools or universities (EU 2001, p.13).
Young people have often developed more advanced skills in information and communication technology than their teachers at school, even though their understanding of the underlying physical principles may be totally lacking. Young people, as well as many who are older, demonstrate an impressive ability to learn and acquire new skills that they deem to be of relevance to their daily life. Educational authorities might learn important lessons from these areas of learning, seeking to support them while avoiding gender, economic, social or other inequalities in access. Likewise, teachers in schools might well utilize the skills and the knowledge of the young in new and inventive ways.
The growing importance, but increasingly problematic, enrolment in, and status of, science and technology in many countries, provides the obvious background to a growing political concern about science and technology education in schools, higher education, media and the public.
In many countries, the situation has attracted political attention at the highest level, and, in some cases, projects and counter-measures are planned or put in operation. The Swedish NOT-project (http://www.hsv.se/NOT/) and the Portuguese Ciencia Viva (http://www.ucv.mct.pt/) are examples of large-scale national programmes. Some of these programmes have also initiated research and prompted discussion and other efforts directed at improving understanding of the dimensions of the problem.
Institutes of scientific and technological research, universities and industrial organizations have also established more or less coordinated intervention programmes. Organisations concerned with ‘Big science' have also become involved. A prime example is the project Physics On Stage (POS http://www.estec.esa.nl/outreach/pos/), organized jointly by CERN (the European Laboratory for Particle Physics), ESA (the European Space Agency) and ESO (the European Southern Observatory). POS, as well as many other such intervention programmes by professional bodies, have seldom undertaken a convincing analysis as to why they are facing the problems of falling enrolment. Some of their descriptions of the situation lack empirical evidence, and are more emotional than rational. Many institutions seem to be driven by nothing more than a need to 'do something' about the situation.
From the available studies in the field, it also seems premature to claim that the public understanding of science and technology is deteriorating, although such claims are often voiced from interests groups on behalf of the scientific and technological establishment. One could, however, argue that the public understanding of science and technology needs to be much better than it is, given the crucial role they play in contemporary society. General claims about falling standards, however, do not seem to be justified.
The problems surrounding recruitment to scientific and technological subjects can be viewed from several different perspectives. These range from industrial and governmental anxiety about national, economic competitiveness to concerns about empowerment at the grassroots level to protect and conserve the natural environment. Different conceptions of the recruitment ‘crisis’ point towards different solutions, and, as indicated below, there is a range of stakeholders, each with a somewhat different argument to present.
Industry needs people with a high level of qualification in science and technology. Modern industry is high-tech, and it is often referred to as a 'knowledge industry'. The need here is for highly qualified scientists and engineers for survival in a competitive global economy. While such survival is also a matter of national economic well-being, young people will not base their educational choices on what is good for the nation.
Universities and research institutions have a similar need for researchers (and teachers) to maintain research at a high international level and to train future generations of experts, researchers and teachers.
Industry, universities and other research based organisations thus need to recruit a highly skilled élite. However, the size of that élite may be quite modest, even in a highly industrialised society, and it would be a mistake to have this group principally in mind when reforming science and technology education within schools. A policy based mainly on the needs of this élite could decrease even further the proportion of young people interested in school science and technology interesting, and who wish to continue their studies in these fields.:
Schools need large numbers of well-qualified teachers but many countries face a problem of both quality and quantity in recruiting to the profession. Well-qualified and enthusiastic teachers are the key to any improvement in the teaching of science and technology in schools, not least in laying the foundations for the future development of the knowledge, interests and attitudes of ordinary citizens once they have left school. Science and technology teachers are also influential in recruiting people to the science and technological sectors of employment.
The long-term effects of a shortage of good science and technology teachers can be very damaging, although they may not be so immediately evident as a comparable shortage in industry and research. Teachers of science or technology need a broad education:- a solid foundation in the relevant academic discipline(s) is important, but it is not enough. They need broader perspectives and skills in order to cope with the kinds of challenges set out earlier in this chapter. In particular, they need not only a foundation in the scientific or technological disciplines, but also an understanding that places these disciplines in their historical and social contexts. Achieving this is likely to require significant reforms in teacher training.
A modern labour market requires people with qualifications in science and technology. This need is great and growing fast, as knowledge and skills based on science and technology become prerequisites for employment in new or emerging sectors of the labour market. It is not only doctors, pharmacists, engineers and technicians who need a scientific or technological education. For example, health workers handle complicated and dangerous equipment and secretaries and office staff need good computer literacy. Likewise, lawyers and juries in court trials have to understand and critically judge evidence and statistical arguments in which knowledge of science and considerations of probability and chance play an increasing role.
New, as well as more traditional, technologies often dominate the workplace, and those with skills in these areas may have a competitive advantage in securing employment or promotion. Many countries have also identified a need for people with scientific or technological skills to replace those retiring in the near future. Beyond this, the general need is for a workforce that is flexible, willing to learn new skills, and able to respond positively to ongoing change. A good grounding in science, technology and mathematics is important here since many innovations are likely to be derived from scientific and technological research and development.
Science and technology education are required
for participation as a citizen in a democracy. Modern society is dominated by science and
technology, and citizens, acting as consumers and voters, are confronted with a
range of science- and technology-related issues. As consumers, we have to take
decisions about food and health, the quality and characteristics of products,
the claims made in advertisements, etc. As voters, we have to take a stand and
be able to judge arguments related to a wide variety of issues. Many of these
political issues also have a scientific and/or technological dimension. In such
cases, a knowledge of the relevant science or technology has to be combined
with values and political ideals. Issues relating to the environment are
obviously of this nature, but so, too, are issues relating to a wide range of
other matters, including energy, traffic and health policy. It is important
that social and political issues should not be seen as 'technical', and thus be
left in the hands of 'experts'. A broad
public understanding of science and technology is an important democratic
safeguard against 'scientism' and the domination of experts.
The above 'democratic argument' for scientific and technological education assumes that people have some understanding both of scientific and technological concepts and principles and of the nature of science and technology and the role they play in society. Among much else, people need to know that scientific knowledge is based on argumentation and evidence, and that statistical considerations about risks play an important role in establishing conclusions. In short, while everyone cannot become an expert, everyone should have the intellectual tools to be able to judge which expert, and what kind of arguments, one should trust.
A note of caution, however, is appropriate. Addressing the problem of recruiting of potential Nobel Prize winners and researchers to work at CERN or elsewhere may require quite a different educational strategy from that needed to promote a broad public understanding of science or the protection of wildlife and other natural resources. If so, the challenge is to combine these different concerns and strategies within a flexible education system that also accommodates the notion of life-long learning. The following questions indicate some of the choices that have to be made.
· Should one favour early specialisation, identification and recruitment of the more able?
· To what extent and to what age should one have a comprehensive system for all – or choose streaming and selection?
· Should one maximize individual freedom for pupils to choose according to interests and abilities – or should one postpone choices and hold on to a core curriculum of important contents to be covered by all?
· How should one support 'life long education' and develop adult education and on-the-job-training?
Science curricula are key factors in developing and sustaining pupils’ interest in science. There seems to be a broad agreement about the shortcomings of traditional curricula that still prevail in most countries.
The implicit image of science conveyed by these curricula is that it is mainly a massive body of authoritative and unquestionable knowledge. Most curricula and textbooks are overloaded with facts and information at the expense of concentration on a few 'big ideas' and key principles. There seems to be an attempt to cover most, if not all, parts of established academic science, without any justification for teaching this material in schools that cater for the whole age cohort. Many new words and 'exotic' concepts are introduced on every page of most textbooks. Although very few pupils will pursue further studies in science, preparation for such studies seems to be a guiding curriculum principle. There is often repetition, with the same concepts and laws presented year after year. Such curricula and textbooks often lead to rote learning without any deeper understanding so that, unsurprisingly, many pupils become bored and develop a lasting aversion to science.
Moreover, this textbook science is often criticized for its lack of relevance and deeper meaning for the learners and their daily life. The content is frequently presented without being related to social and human needs, either present or past, and the historical context of discoveries is reduced to biographical anecdotes. Moreover, the implicit philosophy of textbook science is considered by most scholars to be a simplistic and outdated form of empiricism.
It should also be noted (as in point 2 in the previous listing) that science is often seen by students as demanding and difficult. Scientific ideas are not always easy to grasp, and their understanding sometimes requires concentration and hard work over a long period of time. Many young people today in technologically advanced countries do not readily make the commitment necessary to learn science. If they are to make that commitment, pupils will need to be strongly motivated and sense that they are learning something worthwhile, interesting and valuable to them. This does not often seem to be the case. Although science per se can be seen as difficult, the demands of school science can, of course, be adopted to suit the age of the learners.
When pupils have a choice, the science curriculum has to compete for popularity and attention with other school subjects. Many of these subjects have qualities that meet the students' needs for meaning and relevance. The content of such subjects is less authoritarian, and it is easier to accommodate the opinions and feelings of the learners. This is seldom the case in school science as it is presently taught. The situation was well captured in a headline in the Financial Times some years ago:- ‘Science attracts fewer candidates. Students switch to newer subjects thought to be more interesting and less demanding’ (15th August 1996).
If scientific and technological education are to meet the needs of the learner and be seen as relevant and meaningful, it is important to know what the learners themselves find interesting and challenging. A number of research projects have tried to map these interests and challenges. Box 2 below contains a brief description of one such project, entitled Science and Scientists (SAS) which explores various aspects of relevance in the teaching and learning of science and technology.
The SAS-study (Science And Scientists) explores various aspects of relevance to the teaching and learning of S&T Some 40 researchers from 21 countries have collected data from about 10 000 pupils at the age of 13. The countries are, in alphabetical order: Australia, Chile, England, Ghana, Hungary, Iceland, India, Japan, Korea, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russia, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Trinidad, Uganda and USA.
The purpose of the study is to provide an empirical input to debates over priorities in the school curriculum as well as the pedagogies that are likely to appeal to the learners. The SAS-study is presented elsewhere (e.g. Sjøberg 2000 and 2002), but here are some of results that relate to interesting topics in the science curriculum. (One of the 7 items in the SAS-study). The questionnaire contains an inventory of 60 possible topics for inclusion in the S&T curriculum, and the children simply mark the ones they would like to learn more about.
Children in developing countries are interested in learning about nearly everything! This is possibly a reflection of the fact that for them, education is a luxury and a privilege, and not seen as a painful duty, as is often the case in more wealthy nations!
Some of the results are hardly surprising; they actually fit well with
what one stereotypically calls girls' and boys' interests. The surprise is, however,
that the actual difference is so extreme. Take learning about "The car and
how it works" as an example. In Norway, 76 % of the boys and 33 % of the
girls are interested. Japan is even more extreme, although the actual numbers
are much smaller: 36 % of the boys, and only 6 % of the girls are interested!
The results for the car-producing Sweden may cause some concern: 83 % of the
boys and only 32 % of the girls want to learn about the car. No country has
such a large difference between girls and boys on this particular item. In
spite of the great gender disparities, some topics seem to be high on the list
for girls as well as boys in most countries. Here is an indication:
Most popular among girls and boys in most countries are the following topics:
· The possibility of life outside earth
· Computers, PC, and what we can do with them
· Dinosaurs and why they died out
· Earthquakes and volcanoes
· Music, instruments and sounds
· The moon, the sun and the planets
Similarly, one can identify a list of the least popular (for girls and boys) in most (mainly the rich) countries:
· How to improve the harvest in gardens and farms
· How plants grow and what they need
· Plants and animals in my neighbourhood,
· Detergents, soap and how they work
· Food processing, conservation and storage
· Famous scientists and their lives
From this list we see that the concern to make S&T more relevant by concentrating on what is "concrete, near and familiar" is not necessarily meeting the interests of the children. They may, in fact, be more interested in learning about the possibility of life in the universe, extinct dinosaurs, planets, earthquakes and volcanoes!
One important result of the SAS-study is that to build on the interests and experiences of the learner, it may be necessary to abandon the notion of a common, more or less universal, science curriculum, in favour of curricula and teaching materials that are more context-bound and take into account both gender and cultural diversity.
The challenges facing science and technology education outlined above have been met in different ways. Many countries have introduced more or less radical reforms, and there has been support for curriculum development and experiment. The reforms have been directed at both the content and framing of the curriculum and at pedagogy, i.e., at teaching methods and the organisation of the learning processes.
There seems to be something of general weakening of the traditional academic influence on the organisation of the school curriculum and it content. An underlying concern, when ‘everyone’ attends school for 12-13 years, is that science and technology should contribute to the more general aims of schooling. The tendency, therefore, is to gradually redefine what counts as valid school science by broadening the perspective to give attention to some of the social and ethical aspects of science and technology. Some of the trends are discussed briefly below. Although listed separately, many are related and not all are found in all countries, but, collectively, they paint a picture of discernible change.
The preceding paragraphs make clear that the challenges facing contemporary science and technology education are multi-faceted. In addition, those challenges, and the strategies for overcoming them, are perceived differently by the different groups with a legitimate interest in science and technology education. The perspectives of industrial leaders are often different from those of environmental activists. It has also been argued in this chapter that the problems related to interest in, and attitudes towards, science and technology cannot be regarded as solely educational but need to be understood and addressed in a wider social, cultural and political context. As a consequence, the range of possible ‘solutions’ may be as large and diverse as the ways in which the problem is framed.
Despite this, it is possible to recognise some degree of broad agreement about the reforms that need to be undertaken. Agreement can be reached, for example, about the need to stimulate and maintain young children’s curiosity about natural phenomena and how things work. There can also be agreement that everybody would benefit from a broad knowledge of key ideas and basic principles in science and technology and an understanding and appreciation of the key roles played by science and technology in contemporary society. Knowledge and appreciation of scientific theories and ideas as major cultural products of humankind also probably also constitute an uncontroversial curriculum goal. This list could be continued, but these examples indicate that it should be possible for different groups to work together to achieve what is often called ‘scientific and technological literacy’.
Other issues are necessarily more controversial. How critical a stance should science and technology education adopt towards the involvement of science and technology with the authority of the state, with ‘sensitive’ military or industrial research, or with political activism? How far should one should permit, or even stimulate, early selection and specialization in order to identify and recruit talented students for advanced scientific and technological studies? It is the difficult task of educational and political authorities to balance often contradictory concerns, and, of course, to stimulate public debate about them.
Finally, if it is accepted that the problems of recruitment to, and attitudes toward, science and technology are deeply embedded in a wider social context, then those problems cannot be solved simply by reforming schools, teacher training institutions, universities or their curricula. Precisely because they are so deeply embedded, they are not amenable to easy one-off solutions. The need is for reforms that are context specific, embrace multiple approaches and are implemented over long periods of time. Initiatives will also have to be monitored, and their development and outcomes subjected to on-going evaluation that is informed by evidence and careful analysis.
Atkin J.M.; Black P. 1997. Policy Perils of International Comparisons. Phi Delta Kappan (September), pp. 22-8.
Cobern, W. W.; Aikenhead, G. 1998. Culture and the learning of science. In: B. Fraser; K. G. Tobin (eds). International handbook of science education. Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Dawkins, R. 1989. The Selfish Gene. (2nd Edition), Oxford, Oxford University Press.
EU 2001. EUROBAROMETER 55.2 Europeans, Science And Technology Brussels, Eurobarometer Public Opinion Analysis (available at http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg10/epo/eb.html)
Gross P.R.; Levitt N.; Lewis M.W. (eds.) 1997. The Flight from Science and Reason Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins Press.
Gross, P. R.; Levitt,N. 1998 . Higher Superstition. The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science. Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press.
Hobsbawm, E. J. 1995. Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991. London, Abacus
Irwin, A.; Wynne, B. (eds.). 1996. Misunderstanding science? The public reconstruction of science and technology. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Jenkins, E.W. 1997 Scientific and technological literacy: meanings and rationales. In: E.W. Jenkins (ed.), Innovations in Science and Technology Education Vol. VI. Paris, UNESCO.
Jenkins, E. W. 1994. Public understanding of science and science education for action. Journal of Curriculum Studies, Vol. 26, No.6, p.601.
Koertge, N. 1998. A House Built on Sand – Exposing Postmodernist Myths about Science. New York, Oxford University Press.
Latour, B. 1987. Science in Action. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.
Merton, Robert K. 1979. (original 1942). The Sociology of Science. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
NSB 2000. Science and Engineering Indicators – 2000. Arlington, VA, National Science Board, National Science Foundation.
OECD 2001a. Knowledge and skills for Life – First results from PISA 2000. Paris, OECD. (Reports are available at http://www.pisa.oecd.org/)
OECD 2001b. Education at a Glance, 2001. Paris, OECD.
Sjøberg, S. 2002. Science And Scientists: The SAS-study Cross-cultural evidence and perspectives on pupils' interests, experiences and perceptions-- Background, Development and Selected Results, Acta Didactica, No. 1 (2nd , revised, edition). Oslo, University of Oslo. (Available at http://folk.uio.no/sveinsj/)
Sjøberg, S. 2000. Interesting all children in the 'science for all' curriculum. In: R. Millar; J. Leach.; J. Osborne (eds.), Improving Science Education -- the contribution of research. Buckingham, Open University Press.
Sokal, A.; Bricmont, J. 1998. Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science. New York, Picador USA.
Solomon, J. ; Aikenhead, G. 1994. STS Education – international perspectives on reform. New York, Teachers College Press.
UNDP 2001. Human Development Report 2001: Making new technologies work for human development. New York and London, Oxford University Press. (available at http://www.undp.org/)
UNESCO 2000. World Education Report 2000. Paris, UNESCO. (available at http://www.unesco.org/ )
Wolpert, L. 1993. The unnatural nature of science. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press.
Ziman J. 1996. Is science losing its objectivity? Nature, Vol. 382, 29th. Aug., pp 751-4
Ziman, J. 1998. Why must scientists become more ethically sensitive than they used to be? Science. No. 282, pp.1813 – 14.
Ziman, J. 2000. Real Science – What it is, what it means. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
 This chapter is based on an invited contribution to Meeting of Ministers of Education and Research in the European Union held in Uppsala, Sweden 1-3 March 2001
 Science and technology are different, but related as forms of knowledge and as forms of activities. Science is concerned about developing general and universal explanations of reality; technology is concerned about finding workable solutions to practical problems. Technology is not the same as applied science, and scientific understanding does not always precede technological developments. In spite of the differences, the acronym S&T will be used in the following.
 The term 'liberal education' is here used as synonymous with the concept of Bildung (used in e.g., German and Swedish), formation used in e.g. French, dannelse (used in Danish and Norwegian) etc.