The quality of school education in science and technology has never before been of such critical importance to governments. There are three imperatives for its critical importance.
The first relates to the traditional role of science in schooling, namely the identification, motivation and initial preparation of those students who will go on to further studies for careers in all those professional fields that directly involve science and technology. A sufficient supply of these professionals is vital to the economy of all countries and to the health of their citizens.
The second imperative is that sustainable technological development and many other possible societal applications of science require the support of scientifically and technologically informed citizens. Without the support and understanding of citizens, technological development can all too easily serve short term and sectional interests.
The third imperative derives from the changes that are resulting from the application of digital technologies that have had the most rapid, the most widespread, and probably the most pervasive influence that science has ever had on human society. We all, wherever we live, are part of a global communication society. Information exchange and access to it that have been hitherto the realm of the few, are now literally in the hands of individuals.
When you add to these imperatives, the possibility that a more effective education in science and technology will enable more and more citizens to delight in, and feel a share in the great human enterprise we call Science, the case for new policy decisions is compellingly urgent. What follows are the recommendations for policy makers to consider about improving science and technology education.
In the full document, a background is provided to each set of issues, including the current state of science and technology education.
1. SCIENCE IN SCHOOL AND ITS EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES
1.1 As a first priority, policy makers should consider what are the educational purposes that science and technology education can best provide for students as they move through the stages of schooling.
When these specific purposes have been identified and determined, the curriculum designers should work with teachers to select the content, and methods of teaching and learning, and assessment modes that are most likely to achieve these purposes at each stage of schooling. At some stage in the secondary years, the distinction will need to be made between optional courses in the sciences that prepare for further tertiary study and S&T courses that aim to meet the needs of all students for citizenship in modern society.
2. ACCESS AND EQUITY IN SCIENCE EDUCATION
2.1 Policy makers should consider, within whatever funding is available, how to maximise the number of students whose science and technology education is in the hands of able science teachers.
Quality science learning time, albeit less, is preferable to the damage done by underequipped science teachers. To achieve this goal of access and equity in S&T education, professional development priority should be given to raising the content knowledge and confidence of the weaker of S&T teachers.
Science Teacher Associations as representative bodies for science and technology teachers have insight and experience of the present problems associated with access to S&T education. They should take practical responsibility for ensuring that their members are equipped to remove any implicit barriers in their teaching that limit access and exclude some groups of students.
2.2 Policy makers should review the participation of boys and girls in S&T education and seek to implement actions that will reduce the explicit and implicit factors that still disadvantage girls in their access to the fields of S&T as interests and careers.
The “Missing Half”, namely girls and women in S&T was first recognised in the 1980s. Some progress has been made but there are still real opportunities in most countries to include more of this half of humanity in these great fields of human endeavour.
2.3 Policy makers should consider means of overcoming cultural disadvantages that some groups of students experience specifically in science and technology education.
For example, modern science could be taught as the common powerful knowledge for understanding and operating in the natural world, but other important sources and ways of expressing knowledge about nature should be acknowledged and valued.
3. INTEREST IN AND ABOUT SCIENCE
3.1 Policy makers should make the issue of personal and societal interest about science the reference point from which curriculum decisions about learning in science and technology education are made about content, pedagogy, and assessment
In the early years, the opportunities that science and technology education offer to develop the natural curiosity and creativity of young students should be central to the curriculum’s intentions. In the secondary years the role of S&T in the students’ worlds outside of school should play a powerful motivating role.
Paralleling these curricular decisions about affect and science, practices that inform students and their parents about the exciting prospects of science–based careers need to be developed in school and among the wider public.
4. HOW TECHNOLOGY RELATES TO SCIENCE IN EDUCATION
4.1 Policy makers should consider mandating that science education should move progressively (as has been done in several countries) towards a real world, “Context-based” approach to the teaching and learning of school science at all levels of the school curriculum.
It should be noted that this movement will continue to be built on a strong conceptual base of science, but with the added benefits of deeper learning that enables this conceptual learning to be mastered to the point of being to be applied in novel situations.
5. THE NATURE OF SCIENCE AND INQUIRY
5.1 Policy makers should consider what will encourage a better balance between teaching science as established information and those features of science that are referred to as the Nature of Science.
Genuine scientific inquiry in school science should be encouraged at all levels as a means of giving students experience of scientific procedures that epitomise the Nature of Science. This experience of scientific inquiry, in its extension to real life situations, will ensure the important interplay of science and technology with other types of knowledge and with values as they are held in society.
6. SCIENTIFIC LITERACY
6.1 Policy makers should consider replacing the generic use of “scientific literacy”, as a goal of school science education, with more precisely defined scientific knowledge and scientific abilities, that have meaning beyond school for the students at each of the stages of schooling, for example, lower primary, upper primary, lower secondary, the last years of compulsory schooling and the final secondary years.
For students in the later years of schooling consider introducing at least two science courses, one designed for all students as future citizens, and the other designed for students with future studies in the sciences in mind.
7. QUALITY OF LEARNING IN SCIENCE
7.1 Policy makers should consider changing the assessment procedures, as critical curriculum factors, in ways that will encourage higher levels of learning as the intended outcomes of school science and technology.
8. THE USE OF ICT IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION
8.1 Policy makers should consider the cost, provision and maintenance of ICT across the school system in terms of the educational benefit and equity it will bring to schooling in general and to science and technology education in particular.
In revising the curriculum for science and technology, an explicit emphasis will be needed on those aspects of these areas that these ICT tools now make possible.
9. DEVELOPMENT OF RELEVANT AND EFFECTIVE ASSESSMENT IN SCIENCE EDUCATION
9.1 Policy makers should consider how the intentions of the science curriculum for students’ learning can be more authentically assessed, both within schools and externally, by the use of a wider variety of assessment tools.
10. SCIENCE EDUCATION IN THE PRIMARY OR ELEMENTARY YEARS
10.1 Policy makers should consider a quite different curriculum for science and technology in the primary years, that engages the considerable pedagogical skills of these teachers, provides their young learners with a series of positive and creative encounters with natural and human-made phenomena, and builds their interest in these two areas of learning.
11. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF SCIENCE TEACHERS
11.1 Policy makers should consider the policy implications (financially and structurally) and the benefits in establishing the provision of ongoing, focussed professional development in science and technology and their teaching, as an essential aspect in the careers of all science teachers.