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Science Education Review

About the Science Education Review


Good – i.e. effective and stimulating – science education is fundamental for the future of science and for the ongoing development of the global knowledge society. There is concern in many countries that the overall level of scientific literacy is poor and that children are not being attracted to scientific studies and eventual careers as scientists. Given ICSU’s mission of strengthening international science for the benefit of society, science education is an area of obvious interest.

In preparation for the ICSU Strategic Plan 2006–2011, a Priority Area Assessment (PA) on Capacity Building in Science was completed in 2006. When this was considered by CSPR and the Executive Board, it was felt that a potential future role for ICSU in relation to science education needed further reflection. A particular issue of debate was the educational level (primary, secondary, tertiary) at which actions from ICSU might best be focussed. In the end, it was agreed that an ad hoc group should be established to define ICSU’s future role in relation to science education (ICSU Strategic Plan 2006-2011, pp.36–37).

ICSU has historically supported dedicated activities in science education, the most recent of these being a Committee on Capacity Building in Science (CCBS, 1993-2006) that focused on ‘hands on’ primary school education and was reviewed as part of the PAA exercise. This committee was disbanded in 2006, although the programme is continuing under the aegis of the Inter-Academy Panel.

Many of the ICSU Members—both National and Unions—also have a strong interest in science education, mostly focussed at the tertiary and post-graduate level. And some of the ICSU Interdisciplinary Bodies, for example the International Polar Year, have developed active science education networks. The Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean has initiated a specific planning exercise on Mathematics education. A key issue for this review is to identify whether there is any added-value that ICSU, at the global level, can bring to these various actions.

Science education has many stakeholders. At the international policy level, within the UN system, UNESCO has the primary responsibility for both education and science and it a natural partner for ICSU. However, with the exception of a few isolated activities, a productive partnership in science education has not been developed. To what extent ICSU can, or should, be focussing on education policy issues is unclear. It is perhaps at the operational education level where ICSU actions to date, have had the greatest impact (e.g. via CCBS) and here there are a multitude of players, from national and local governments to institutions and individual teachers/lecturers. Increasingly, students and other citizens are also ‘self educating’ using the Internet. Informal education or learning is an area where the ICSU constituency could also conceivably play a role.

The Review process

It was thought timely for ICSU to consider its role in science education as the planning began for its next Strategic Plan. A review was accordingly commissioned by the Committee for Scientific Planning and Review (CSPR), and an ad-hoc Review Panel constituted for the purpose with given Terms of Reference.

The Review Group met three times in Paris during the course of 2010-early 2011, and developed successive drafts of its report.

In March 2010, the Panel Chair, Roberta Johnson, invited all ICSU National Members, International Union Members and Interdisciplinary Bodies to provide their views and experiences on science education, and the role that ICSU might play in the field in the future. A short questionnaire was sent with the invitation, and some 30 replies were received by the 30 April deadline. The responses were analysed and provided background to the deliberations of the Review Panel. The compiled responses are available to ICSU Members and Interdisciplinary Bodies after logging in.

On 6 December 2010 the Review Group sent out the final draft of its Report to the ICSU family, inviting comments and suggestions. All feedback received by the deadline of 18 January 2011 was taken into consideration as the Panel finalized its text at the third and final meeting on 2-3 February.

The Review Group submitted its Report to the 21st Meeting of CSPR, During the course of the latter's discussions the Committee supported the conclusions of the Report and emphasized the need for direct involvement of scientists in science education and the use of innovative approaches. Science Education might form a required element in all future interdisciplinary programmes of ICSU. It was recognized that the International Unions and ICSU Regional Offices would have an important role to play in any science education initiative.

On the understanding that modifications reflecting the CSPR discussions would be made to its text, it was decided to approve the Report of the Review Panel, endorse the Recommendations therein, and submit the document to the ICSU Executive Board.

At its 104th Meeting, the Executive Board expressed its appreciation for what it felt was an excellent report but, after much discussion, decided not to propose a new initiative dedicated to science education at the General Assembly.  Rather, it was agreed that science education should be integrated across all relevant ICSU science activities.

The Report of the Review Panel is now available in final form here.

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