What, how and why : reconceptualising science education.
Thesis DisciplineScience Education
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis proposes a reconceptualisation of science education. Compulsory science education should be seen in the broad context of general education, and science education should share the social goal of enhancing democratic society. The reproduction and transformation of social institutions is affected by the way people live their lives, and people's daily decisions and actions are shaped by their world-view. By developing citizens with a science-compatible world view, and with the ability to think rationally and critically, science education can contribute to social change. The way science is portrayed to learners will influence their world-view. Science cannot be characterised by a simple, fixed method, nor is it just an alternative way of viewing the world. Science is best presented as a way of thinking, and as a conscious search for the truth. Citizens' critical attitudes and sense of justified scepticism will be suppressed if science education reinforces a positivist view of science. Alternatively, post-modernist teaching pushes scepticism to a level where it will destroy people's belief in 'meta narratives' such as the democratic project. Learning science involves gaining a measured commitment to a theoretical position, and also involves knowing when to change this commitment. In the classroom, teachers may make moderate use of the authority of science, providing they are inducting children into science and not indoctrinating them. There is a fine line between induction and indoctrination, and science education outcomes depend on teachers' decisions made in a very complex environment. Teachers often face legitimate but conflicting educational demands, and this creates a 'dilemma' for which educational theory alone is unable to provide solutions. A model is presented in which there is considerable scope for teacher autonomy, and for teaching decisions to be based on craft skills and local knowledge. However, 'developmental research' does offer a mechanism for advancing pedagogical knowledge and teacher wisdom. The thesis concludes that, despite criticism of the present New Zealand science curriculum, and despite primary teachers' lack of expert scientific knowledge, there is potential for progress. However, progress is contingent upon the provision of clear goals for science education and, particularly for primary school teachers, the provision of appropriate support.