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Nuffield Foundation’s report on Science Education in Europe

Why in recent times do fewer young people seem to be interested in science and technical subjects? Does this problem lie in wider socio-cultural changes or within science education itself? Is the issue common across Europe, or are there differences between countries? The Nuffield Foundation organised in 2006 two seminars investigating these questions and the results are summarised in the recently published report “Science Education in Europe”.

The main argument of the report is that schools’ science education has never provided a satisfactory education for the majority, and that it should be re-imagined.

Re-imagining the science education includes considering how it can be made fit for the modern world and how it can meet the needs of all students – those who will go on to work in scientific and technical subjects, and those who will not. The report suggests how this might be achieved in form of seven recommendations:

  1. The primary goal of science education across the EU should be to educate students both about the major explanations of the material world that science offers and about the way science works. Science courses whose basic aim is to provide a foundational education for future scientists and engineers should be optional
  2. More attempts at innovative curricula and ways of organising the teaching of science that address the issue of low student motivation are required. These innovations need to be evaluated. In particular, a physical science curriculum that specifically focuses on developing an understanding of science in contexts that are known to interest girls should be developed and trialled within the EU.
  3. EU countries need to invest in improving the human and physical resources available to schools for informing students, both about careers in science – where the emphasis should be on why working in science is an important cultural and humanitarian activity - and careers from science where the emphasis should be on the extensive range of potential careers that the study of science affords.
  4. EU countries should ensure that:
    a. Teachers of science of the highest quality are provided for students in primary and lower secondary school;
    b. The emphasis in science education before 14 should be on engaging students with science and scientific phenomena. Evidence suggests that this is best achieved through opportunities for extended investigative work and “hands-on” experimentation and not through a stress on the acquisition on canonical concepts
  5. Developing and extending the ways in which science is taught is essential for improving student engagement. Transforming teacher practice across the EU is a long-term project and will require significant and sustained investment in continuous professional development.
  6. EU governments should invest significantly in research and development in assessment in science education. The aim should be to develop items and methods that assess the skills, knowledge and competencies expected of a scientifically literate citizen.
  7. Good quality teachers, with up-to-date knowledge and skills, are the foundation of any system of formal science education. Systems to ensure the recruitment, retention and continuous professional training of such individuals must be a policy priority in Europe.

For further information, download the report here (PDF file).

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