News: News Archives
Seminar at AAAS Focuses on
International Science Education
How can South African kids be inspired to pursue careers in science? How can European children learn to operate as part of a European union, yet learn their lessons in an educational arena characterized by enormous linguistic and cultural diversity?
These are just some of the issues discussed during the meeting of the Consortium of Affiliates for International Programs (CAIP), a multidisciplinary network of engineering and scientific societies interested in the international dimensions of their disciplines.
Entitled "Science Education Around the World," the meeting focused on primary and secondary education in the United States, Europe, and several developing countries, including Indonesia and South Africa. The event, which was sponsored by AAAS, was held on 4 October at AAAS headquarters in Washington, DC.
Josef de Beer, a professor of science education at Vista University in Pretoria, South Africa, presented some of the main challenges that South Africa has to face in order to improve primary and secondary education. He cited the need for a workforce trained in engineering and the sciences, as well as for improved methods of teaching science and mathematics. The country must also overcome the obstacles posed by poorly-equipped schools and inadequate facilities and textbooks. Josef de Beer reported some good news, however, about an educational software program that has been used in several schools in South Africa, with funding donated by foreign companies.
"The interactive capabilities of the software has provided amazing results when we’ve used it to teach science to kids in a language other than their mother tongue," de Beer said. He noted that in a country that has 11 official languages, the program has been very helpful.
De Beer also reported on major efforts to develop better curriculum materials that take advantage of local and regional knowledge and experiences that students have. This Africanization of the curriculum may be as simple as using local trees to illustrate a lesson on botany, rather than using trees native to, perhaps, Northern Europe. De Beer said that the information in the textbooks is reinforced through the distribution and use of portable and inexpensive science kits.
Luis De Vos, professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium showed that poor countries are not alone in facing major challenges to improving science education. Europe today is a complex mosaic comprised of more than 15 countries.
"Each European country has different class schedules and calendars," De Vos said. "Standards and periods of vacations are different, and the age requirement for each grade varies substantially."
Much like South Africa, the European Union recognizes 11 major languages. To overcome the barriers of language and culture, several programs have been created to facilitate the mobility, communication and education in Europe. Every student is expected to begin learning a foreign language in the first grade. Currently, European children in secondary school study an average of 1.5 second languages. As might be expected, 60% to 70% of the students in primary school study English. In secondary school, almost 100% of the children study English. French is the second most popular language taught in school followed by German and Spanish.
"How much education do citizens actually need?" John E. Penick asked rhetorically. Responding to his own question, Penick, a former president of the National Association of Biology Teachers, noted that most of the group would agree that education should be available for all. He argued, however, that no evidence exists of a relationship between higher education and national development. Citing the case of Indonesia, Penick said, "Indonesia has invested alot of money in tertiary education and has produced a crescent number of PhDs." But with no new jobs, he noted, many of the students leave school with only aspirations and expectations.
Penick’s observations drew a comment from a member of the audience, who pointed out that a growing number of jobless well-educated young adults could pose a threat, contributing to political instability worldwide.
The last speaker was George DeBoer, Deputy Director of Project 2061, an initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) dedicated to helping reform K-12 education nationwide. The Project uses the return of Halley’s Comet in the year 2061 as a metaphor for long-term reform.
"Project 2061 takes a long-term systemic approach to education reform that includes the establishment of clear and specific learning goals for all students along with textbooks and tests that are carefully aligned to those goals," DeBoer said. The project also develops tools and resources that can be used by teachers and curriculum developers to make science, mathematics, and technology education more effective and that will bring us closer to the goal of science literacy for all.
Marcia L. Triunfol
8 October 2002