A bird's-eye view

11th September 1998 at 01:00
Science education in the 21st Century
Edited by D L Thompson
Arena #163;35

Each of this book's 14 chapters deals with a single aspect of current debates on the teaching of science. The overall aim is to encourage reflection on the subject's future. But the wide range of topics, and a limit of about 15 pages per chapter are barriers to success.

Each chapter is authoritative and a useful resource within its own terms of reference. The one on science's image is a particularly good example of a review of research, and another, which gives a clear outline of how the Internet works, with a list of 14 useful sites, is valuable. The book provides short reviews on the state of play on such topics as European BioNet, GNVQ science, interactive science centres, the sad story of teacher training, and special needseducation in science.

Some chapters go further and give details of particular research or development work by the authors, as in those on science and society, industry as a resource, and Sheffield Hallam's project on the Pupil Research Initiative. The chapters on primary science, the future of physics teaching, and gender and science promise more, in attempting to develop arguments about the direction of policy, but they are too short to carry it through.

So while most chapters give a bird's-eye view of the territory, only a few bring out the main areas of controversy or uncertainty, or develop weighty arguments about the ways in which science education should change. Indeed, imaginative speculation on the shape of education in the 21st century, or the effects of social and technological change are thin on the ground. But here again the limited length of the chapters makes this difficult.

There are other limitations. For example, only one article gives more than five references to publications outside the UK. And the place of science in the curriculum as a whole receives no more than a passing reference.

Overall, further co-ordination is needed to create a vision for the future. An example might be addressing the question, central to any strategy for reform, about how pedagogy and the professional action of teachers might have to change.

More than half the chapters raise relevant issues, but no piece attempts to make a coherent synthesis. Similar syntheses are needed to bring together the ideas about goals for science education and the problems of optimising national systems for curriculum-planning and assessment. This collection will serve as a useful primer for many of the main areas of the debate, but the debate itself is left to be engaged elsewhere.

Paul Black is professor of science education at King's College, London

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