2000: and one step beyond the aseptic arena

9th May 1997 at 01:00
The moratorium on change has enabled members of the Association for Science Education to focus on the shape of the science curriculum for tomorrow's citizens and the implications of scientific discoveries for society. Some important principles have emerged. For the future science curriculum, these principles form a rationale - something which is insufficiently stated in current national curriculum documentation. In response to the key question

"Why study science?" four purposes are seen as important: * cognitive skills in problem-solving * attitudes towards the natural and physical world * knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas * practical skills in investigations It is not surprising that an understanding of scientific ideas and an exposure to practical and investigative skills are seen as important. They are given high status in the current national curriculum and teachers recognise the necessity for learners to leave formal education with a good understanding of key scientific concepts and methods.

However, problem-solving and attitudinal dimensions need to be more clearly emphasised. Pupils of all ages are exposed to scientific issues daily, from considerations of healthy living to making sense of gene technology and BSE. Science is not value-free and aseptic. It involves humans in generating, using and evaluating evidence. The curriculum needs to reflect this.

Science education should develop abilities in cognitive areas such as: questioning, systematic reasoning, logical problem-solving; making informed judgments; constructing arguments; communication. Similarly, primary and secondary science education should assist pupils' development: curiosity, wonder and excitement towards science; sensitivity to living things and the environment; social responsibility through evaluation of the contribution of science to the quality of life.

Support for cognitive and attitudinal development is tempered by concerns about how to address these issues in a content-dominated curriculum. Teachers would like to give learners more opportunities to: put forward and discuss their own ideas with peers and with the teacher; use secondary sources to read and reflect; use role play, discussion and other activities where pupils can explore the impact of science in society; and become independent learners.

The final phase of consultation will examine balance across these four identified purposes, and the need for strategies and activities that develop thinking skills and evaluation of evidence; strategies and activities which examine values and attitudes towards science and its applications; and strategies to evaluate pupils' attitudinal and skill development.

School performance in national assessment is regarded by teachers as an important outcome of the national curriculum: if abilities are not assessed they will not be taught properly. Should attitudes be assessed? Can suitable strategies be used for assessing learners' abilities in judgment forming and evidence evaluation?

The purposes of science education are just part of the ASE's curriculum review. Other questions include: Should there be a differentiated science curriculum at Key stage 4? Can we identify the key ideas in science that should underpin the content of the science curriculum? How does information technology assist in enhancing progress in science? What is the distinctive contribution of science education to environmental education?

The ASE will be holding a conference in the autumn at which science educators in all areas of the UK will be represented. This will culminate in a clear position statement on the rationale for science education for 2000 and beyond, which will be presented at the ASE Annual Meeting in Liverpool in January.

For further details contact Dr Colette Baird at the ASE, tel: 01707 267411

Mary Ratcliffe is chair of the Association for Science Education. Des Dunne is chair of the ASE Science Education 2000+ Steering Group

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