Humanistic science education : moves from within and challenges from without

Fensham, Peter J. (2006) Humanistic science education : moves from within and challenges from without. In Ayob, Aminah (Ed.) Proceedings of XII IOSTE Symposium, International Organisation for Science and Technology Education (IOSTE), Penang Grand Plaza Parkroyal Beach Resort, Penang.

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For a number of years now it has been evident that the major issue facing science educators in the more developed countries of the world is the quantitative decline in enrolments in the senior secondary sciences, particularly the physical sciences, and in the number of higher achieving students applying for places in universities to undertake further studies in science.

The deep malaise in school science to which these quantitative measures point has been elucidated by more qualitative studies of the students’ experience of studying science in secondary school in several of these countries (Sweden, Lindahl (2003); England, Simon and Osborne (2002); and Australia, Lyons (2005)). Remarkably concordant descriptions of these experiences can be summarized as:

School science is: • transmission of knowledge from the teacher or the textbook to the students. • about content that is irrelevant and boring to our lives. • difficult to learn in comparison with other subjects

Incidentally, the Australian study only involved consistently high achieving students; but even so, most of them found science more difficult than other more interesting subjects, and concluded that further science studies should be avoided unless they were needed for some career purpose.

Other more representative confirmations of negative evaluations of the science curricula across Australia (and in particular states) are now available in Australia, from the large scale reviews of Goodrum, Hackling and Rennie (2001) and from the TIMSS (2002). The former reported that well under half of secondary students find the science at school relevant to my future, useful ion everyday life, deals with things I am concerned with and helps me make decisions about my health.. TIMSS found that 62 and 65 % of females and males in Year 4 agree with I like learning science, but by Year 8 only 26 and 33 % still agree.

Students in Japan have been doubly notably because of (a) their high performance in international measures of science achievement like TIMSS and PISA and (b) their very low response to items in these studies which relate to interest in science. Ogura (2003) reported an intra-national study of students across Years 6-9 (upper primary through Junior High); interest in a range of their subjects (including science) that make up that country’s national curriculum. There was a steady decline in interest in all these subjects which might have indicated an adolescent reaction against schooling generally. However, this study went on to ask the students a further question that is very meaningful in the Japanese context, If you discount the importance of this subject for university entrance, is it worth studying? Science and mathematics remained in decline while all the other subjects were seen more positively.

It is thus ironic, at a time when some innovations in curriculum and other research-based findings are suggesting ways that these failures of school science might be corrected, to find school science under a new demands that come from quite outside science education, and which certainly do not have the correction of this malaise as a priority.

The positive curricular and research findings can be characterized as moves from within science education, whereas the new demands are moves that come from without science education. In this paper I set out these two rather contrary challenges to the teaching of science as it is currently practised, and go on to suggest a way forward that could fruitfully combine the two.

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ID Code: 28420
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Humanistic Science Education, Senior Secondary Science, Physical Sciences, Science Educators
Divisions: Past > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2006 Please consult the author.
Deposited On: 05 Nov 2009 00:48
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2013 08:09

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