Hot disputes on global problems

12th May 1995 at 01:00
Role play is an effective and exciting way to explore how science affects the wider world. Phil Riding explains. We want to make science more relevant to our students, to show them that science isn't just an activity for wild-eyed men in white coats. We want them to realise that knowing science can help them understand their world better and help them solve everyday problems and improve their quality of life. We want to demonstrate that science can also be limited, that it can't solve all our problems, and that it can bring problems of its own. But how?

I'd like to argue that a particularly powerful way of doing this, and of challenging many of the stereotypes students have about countries of the South (developing countries), is to present science in a global context, using development education resources. There are materials produced by a number of organisations, such as Oxfam and Christian Aid, that are characterised by both their content - the causes of poverty, the challenging of stereotypes, the relationship between the North and the South, and so on - and by the active and collaborative model of learning they encourage.

By using these materials, science teachers can start to address some of the issues and make the kind of "global awareness - local action" link that challenges the feelings of helplessness that young people often experience when faced with the enormous social and environmental problems that afflict their world. Development education materials are available, along with advice on how to use them in the classroom, through a network of development education centres throughout the UK; many of them have a scientific content and can be used more or less "off the shelf".

What does this global science look like in the classroom? There are a number of strategies a teacher can use to introduce the wider world into their lessons, but one very effective way is to use role play. When children are put into the shoes of others they experience a world with different problems and challenges to their own, and can begin to see the world through others' eyes.

One such exercise for primary schools puts children in the position of families in an East African village. The village has four sources of water of varying reliability, cleanliness and accessibility. Each group of students, as a family, makes decisions on how to supply themselves with water taking these factors into account, as well as the number of available "carriers" (traditionally women) in the family. They do this over four seasons, two wet and two dry - adapting their decisions to the prevailing conditions. The role play raises a variety of issues - social, to do with gender roles in the village, technological ones concerned with the transport of water, and biological ones related to ensuring a healthy water supply free of diseases.

In secondary school, development education activities can help rekindle an interest in science by bringing it to life. During simulation game activities pupils often find themselves hotly discussing scientific concepts without any prompting.

One example that comes to mind is an activity based on how countries decide on an energy policy. Groups of pupils represent countries and the aim of the exercise is to produce the basic energy requirements of that country and then to increase living standards by producing excess energy. They do this by buying power stations and fuel using a form of currency they have to physically manufacture themselves.

Some "countries" have all the materials needed for this, while others lack them. The activity allows for the facilitator to alter the cost of fuel etc and to introduce natural disasters. This activity does require a morning or afternoon session devoted to it, and does require some preparation - but done as a whole-year activity it provides plenty of material for work in maths, English and geography, as well as science.

However, there are many resources available that do not require the setting aside of blocks of time, or the "complication" of role plays or simulations - the Association for Science Education has produced a wide variety of materials with a global dimension as part of their Science and Technology in Society (SATIS) project. These are self-contained and many easily fit into an hour's lesson, perhaps with follow-up homework.

If you are a science teacher interested in introducing these types of materials into your teaching, then contact the Development Education Association for details of your nearest development education centre. The South Yorkshire Development Education Centre has produced two issues of the Global Science Review that contain descriptions and reviews of materials suitable for the science classroom. You can contact the centre on 0114 265 6662.

Looking into the future, the linking of schools across the world by e-mail and other electronic communications will open up the possibility of schools working together on global experiments, sharing their results and experiences.

* Development Education Association, 3rd Floor, 29-31 Cowper Street, London EC2A 4AP. Tel: 0171 490 8108 * Association for Science Education, College lane, Hatfield, Herts, AL10 9AA. Tel: 01707 267411 Phil Riding teaches science at Abbeydale Grange School, Sheffield.

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