Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 4, Issue 2

Rethink Science Education


Secretary, International Council of Associations for Science Education
Visiting Professor, University of Tartu, Estonia


  • Introduction
  • Relevance
  • A New Philosophy
  • Implications for Teaching
  • End note
  • References

  • Introduction

    Whereas change in school science is slow, the pace of scientific and technological development within society is great, so much so that there is a danger that the changing world leaves science education behind. This is not only in terms of content and its related conceptual understanding, but also in its approach, its field of operation and the skills demanded of the teacher. In addressing these concerns, research in a science education context has tended to focus on the following problem areas:

    (a)  the unpopularity of science subjects among students, where less and less students are thinking about careers in science and further study in science related areas (Krajcik et al., 2001; UNESCO,1999);
    (b) the irrelevance of science for students as taught in schools. Students do not see science useful for their lives and future developments (Osborne & Collins, 2001; Holbrook, 1998; Pak, 1997; Yager, 1996);
    (c) the static nature of the science content, overloaded with facts and theories taken from the past (Krajcik et al., 2001; Rannikmae, 2001). This bears little relationship with everyday needs;
    (d) student perception of school science as dominated by content with too much repetition and too little challenge (Osborne & Collins, 2001; Sjoberg, 2001);
    (e) isolation of science education from the values components of education and communication. Science education tends to be portrayed as value free, yet at the same time, the community needs increasingly to address moral and ethical issues and related problems (Anderson, et al., 1992; Holbrook, 1992; Layton, 1986);
    (f) teaching that is lacking attention to higher order learning among students has limited the development of problem-solving and decision-making skills among school graduates (Anderson et al., 1992; Zoller, 1993; Tal et al., 2001).

    These areas of focus are interrelated, even though they are addressing and highlighting issues in different contexts of science education. In general, all can be discussed within two domains: teacher's lack of training to teach higher order cognitive skills (problem-solving, decision-making) to students, and concerns for the context in which the science content is taught by teachers.

    It seems there is a need to rethink the rationale for teaching science in schools. Essential to this is determining the meaning of "science education", or "school science" and its relationship, if any, to other subjects in the school curriculum. A major consideration is to consider the place of science education within the context of education as a whole. Students go to school to be educated, or if you prefer, all that happens in schools is related to education. This on the face of it is similar to the perceived need for a paradigm shift in education to meet the need to become contextualised multiple intelligence citizens (Cheng, 2001) , but while Cheng concentrates on science learning strategies and the role of the science teachers, the need seems to go much deeper. There is a need to question the role of science education within education.

    The role of science education

    Is the role of science education to provide one part of education, such that the sum of the parts (the various subject offerings and other aspects) adds up to the total ? In this concept, each part is playing its own, specific role. All too often the teacher perception seems to reinforce this view. Or is school science to be considered as addressing the goals of education and is thus to be viewed as a subdivision of education ? In this concept, each sub-division is trying to meet all, rather than some, of the stated goals of education.

    With sub-divisions geared to reinforce all goals of education, these sub-divisions can vary from one system to another. The actual sub-division studied is not so crucial and there is scope for integration, thus limiting in-depth conceptual study in favour of a wider view of the education provision The rethink needed to make science education more popular and appropriate is that the totality of the goals of education apply to all sub-divisions i.e. each of the subject areas within the curriculum. It is thus proposed that all subject areas need address the same goals of education and in this way each cover the full width of the education provision stipulated in policies within a system.

    Thus, for example,

    And it follows:


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