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A school needs you.

A School Needs You

As professionals we should be concerned about science education in our schools. Perhaps we should also be involved. Major initiatives are underway in the UK, USA and in Canada's provinces to give greater emphasis to science in all school grades. But the size of the task is enormous.

Most of our elementary school teachers were themselves casualties of a poor system of science education and chose arts and social science subjects in college and university. They are still daunted by science and associate it with memorization of facts. Its important as a process best learned by hands on experimentation is not generally appreciated. Thus, although we are awakening to the importance of science education for all ages as we cope with major societal issues of drugs, AIDS and environmental degradation, we need to transform the whole system of education. We could all help in this endeavour as parents, professionals and teachers.

The need for all graduates from high school to have a sound holistic understanding of science and technology goes beyond the issues cited. We need many more of them to opt for careers in science and engineering to become important workers in the creation of wealth. Global competition is driving all countries toward science-based innovation in products and services to maintain economic growth. Students need to appreciate that the relevance of science to their lives is that it is essential to enable them to continue to enjoy at least the same standard of living.

We regularly see gruesome statistics which demonstrate the decline of students' proficiency in math and science and our poor standing relative to other countries. Yet these are based on student performance assessments which use multiple choice and short response items for measurement. We not only need to change the way in which science is taught but the way in which true learning is assessed. What is learned from field trips, independent experiments and other hands-on activities is different in quality and content than that derived from reading science textbooks.

Fortunately business firms are increasingly working with the education system to improve this situation. The importance of informal education represented by the media, science centres and science fairs is also being recognized. Many professionals working in industry engage in the organisation of science fairs. A number of initiatives like BC's programme and the efforts of Dow Chemical in Sarnia to sponsor school visits by their scientists are also useful. It is important that these growing partnerships of adopt-a-school by a business and school trips to a science centre be integral with a sound curriculum being followed in the regular classroom. Such a curriculum stresses the importance of the processes of scientific investigation rather than simply outcomes. It recognizes that technology is as important as science -- the how as well as the why. It also deals with science in a holistic way noting its relevance in art, nature studies and even sport.

In Ontario important studies are being made as a new science curriculum is developing for all grades from kindergarten to grade thirteen. Science kits have been developed along with teacher's guides, frequent workshops, and a new 100-hour credit programme to better equip non-scientist elementary school teachers. It will take many years however to achieve confidence and proficiency among the thousands of teachers. It will also take more technology -- computer, networks, telephone hot-lines, video tapes, science resource centres and, in the spirit of science, much experimentation. Meanwhile the faculties of education are taking steps to equip their graduates with this science awareness and proficiency. As in other areas of new needs in university education the supply of capable faculty will be critical. Why not an NSERC industrial chair programme in science and technology education for new faculty educators?

Professionals in industry can help by offering their services to local schools and school boards. Many boards have science consultants or science directors and most are willingly forming partnerships with local firms. Companies need to be encouraged to give release time for their staff to give young students a feel for science either at their workplace or in the school laboratory or classroom.

At the Ontario Science Centre we are working closely with educators to help school science. We have many skilled science educators on staff -- including many arts graduates and appropriately perhaps, even drama graduates. With our resources we find motivation of the students is not difficult, but we wish to do more to motivate, equip and support the motivators -- our school teachers. We are only one place but Canada now has 13 Science Centres and 10 of these have opened in the last five years. We need more -- perhaps instead of building more schools.

My principal purpose is to encourage chemists, chemical engineers and chemical technologists to become active in school science. But active is the key word. As babies we all learned from a process of discovery; seeing, hearing, touching and exploring. You too can help our school students through such active learning about science and technology. And have fun!

Mark Abbott, FCIC

Director General,

Ontario Science Centre
COPYRIGHT 1989 Chemical Institute of Canada
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:science education
Author:Abbott, Mark
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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