Science study sets out five key elements

5th April 1996 at 01:00
Science in schools needs to be more relevant to the everyday lives of pupils and move away from producing "mini-scientists", according to a new report. More emphasis should be placed on encouraging curiosity and fostering a critical awareness of science in society.

The philosophical shift is outlined in Science Education in Scottish Schools: Looking to the Future, a discussion paper from the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum. The report, the first to cover curriculum issues from the ages of five to 18, aims to define the scope of science education in the next century.

James Graham, former director of education in Grampian, who chaired the science review group that produced the "landmark" report, believes the goal is to develop "scientific capability". "We should not be in the business of creating mini-scientists. Science has been too academic over the years. What matters is that schools make the average citizen more comfortable with science," Mr Graham said.

The report identifies five key elements that make up the "human side" of science: * Scientific curiosity - an enquiring habit of mind.

* Scientific competence - ability to investigate scientifically.

* Scientific understanding - understanding of scientific ideas and the way science works.

* Scientific creativity - ability to think and act creatively.

* Scientific sensitivity - critical awareness of science in society, combined with a caring and responsible disposition.

"People think science is about absolutes, but science is about doubts and worries and fears and the balance of probabilities," Mr Graham said. "What we are doing here is seeking to create a sound philosophical base which future frameworks can build upon. This is an opportunity to step back and look up at the mountains and the blue sky. We are trying to achieve a major cultural shift through the discussion of ideas on what science education is all about. "

The report is likely to have far-reaching implications for teacher training, particularly in the primary sector, and will require changes in examination and assessment procedures. Denis Stewart, the curriculum council's director and a former chemistry teacher, said: "We need to stand back to look forward. At the moment there is a sense of science being handed down, rather than something that is constructed, debated and involves creative thinking."

The council asked the review group to produce a robust framework of ideas, rather than a detailed action plan. "Education should be trying to change itself, to make itself more appropriate for young people," Mr Stewart said. The report outlines four essential conditions for successful learning in science: ethos, curriculum, "enthusiastic and knowledgeable" teachers and well managed resources.

The ethos in classrooms should be challenging and supportive, characterised by "open and trusting relationships" and "enterprising, constructive thinking".

The curriculum should "allow adequate time for well contextualised approaches to science in which there are opportunities for debate, discussion and reflection, for creative investigative work and for the development and applications of ideas".

Schools should have links with working scientists and provide technical and support staff.

The report states that there is a need for a "structural and cultural change" in the curriculum and in the way science is taught. Current provision in S3-S6 is said to be heavily biased towards understanding and competence, and neglects creativity, sensitivity and curiosity. Training for primary teachers is another priority, together with further research into children's learning in science during the early years.

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