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close this bookPopularization of Science and Technology - What Informal and Non-formal Education Can Do? (Faculty of Education,University of Hong Kong - UNESCO, 1989, 210 p.)
close this folderPapers presented at the Conference:
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentScience for all people: Some educational settings and strategies for the popularisation of science and technology - Harbans Bhola
View the documentNonformal education: A hinge between science and culture - Camillo Bonanni
View the documentThe popularisation of science and technology from an educational designer’s standpoint - Fred Goffree
View the documentPatterns of nonformal and informal education effective for the polarization of science and technology - Ana Krajnc
View the documentScience and technology in public adult education - Klaus Pehl
View the documentCompetition and complementarity between formal and nonformal education - Jean-Emile Charlier
View the documentIndigenous cultural tradition and the popularisation of science and technology - Bernard H.K. Luk
View the documentPopularization of science and technology: The cultural dimension - Cheng Kai Ming
View the documentThe role of Science Teacher Associations in promoting the popularisation of science through nonformal means - Jack B. Holbrook
View the documentPopularizing educational technology: The INNOTECH model - Jose B. Socrates
View the documentOut-of-school activities: The road to success - Cheng Donghong
View the documentEducation and technology transfer in Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, China - Gerard Postiglione
View the documentPopularization of science and technology - Kurt Prokop

The popularisation of science and technology from an educational designer’s standpoint - Fred Goffree

With thanks to the National Institute for Curriculum Development SLO, who through their technical and financial support enabled me to perform this study. SLO, Enschede, The Netherlands.


On the sides AB and BC of the vertical triangle ABC are the physical points D and E equal weight G. Connected by a cord which has passed on a pulley at T. What is the proportion between the forces by which D and E are pulled down along the sides AB and BC? We imagine that D and E form part of a string, on which physical points of weight G have been threaded at mutually equal distances, and ask what this string will be going to do. When it begins to move it will after having moved, look exactly as it did at first, so that the movement will continue. So perpetual motion is created, which must be regarded as absurd. So the string will remain in rest; this rest will not be disturbed when the pending part at A and C is removed. From this it follows that the part of the string at AB keeps that at BC in balance. Now, as the number of points along both sides are in proportion to the lengths of these sides, the forces at one of these points along either side will be inversely proportional to the length of those sides. (Simon Stevin’s Clootrans proof, 1586)

‘As a little boy I got to know nature in a world of fermenting peat and stiff reed rustling in the eternal wind, of silent pools and ditches with incessantly ripping water, and of drifting clouds passing quietly overhead in constantly changing shapes, or at times producing flashing lightning and rolling thunder, pouring down showers of rain in an alder-lashing tempestuous wind. Could one ever estrange from such a world?

Cartesian science creates a distance between this nature and the observer, between object and subject. I have come to think of the water of the pools and ditches as a liquid - a loose packing of atoms sticking together electrically and consisting of thin clouds of electrons around a nucleus - a firm packing of nuclear-bound hadrones, which in their turn consist of compact clouds of gluons around quarks. My world has been made of quarks. And this abstract science has created a vast distance from my chilhood’s experience.


(Andriesse, C. C., De Diefstal van Prometheus (Prometheus’s theft, only in the Dutch language, Amsterdam 1985).

1. Determination of standpoints

The author studied mathematics and later pedagogic In the intersection of these two areas he performed didactical research and development work. The results had to be made accessible to teachers training in mathematics. Now the question was how to use the developed materials in the classroom and how to add the scientific knowledge acquired to the maths teacher’s professional skill. The answering of these questions again led to an educational design: a Mathematics & Didactics curriculum for teacher training.

Meanwhile his attention was drawn to educational designing. Mathematicians have throughout the ages made more or less successful attempts to explain mathematics to others, laymen and colleagues alike. Each explanation, each attempt to make a mathematical invention accessible to others, is an educational design in itself!’ If a certain part of science can catch on with more or less outsiders depends on numerous factors. Just remember the problem with which Janos Bolyai was faced in the 1830s when he was trying to draw the experts’ attention to his invention, Non-Euclidian geometry. To be able to understand the new theory, it was necessary to know not only the language of science and Latin and to have insight into mathematics, but also to abandon the established world view.2 Something like this happened in the beginning of this century when physicists began to study the structure of matter. The quantum theory resulting from this study was incompatible with the classical image of mechanics which was developed by Newton and others. The determination of classical mechanics gave way to uncertainty, expressed in the uncertainty principles of Heisenberg and Schrodinger’s equation. The developments in this area, from Rutherford’s atom model to such applications as laser, compact disk and the tunnel electron microscope, were recently (April, May, June 1989) made accessible to a vast public via the ‘From Quantum to Quark’ course on Dutch educational television (Teleac). The author or the present paper was one of the participants in the course. He experienced personally what it meant to make acquaintance with natural science in a popularising way. The total course comprised 10 TV and 10 radio lessons of half an hour each and a beautifully designed course book. Educational material providing a reference basis for the realisation of an essential ‘learning project’, as was described by Allan Tough in the 1970s when a growing interest was shown in adults education. But the ideal the author had in mind with respect to adults education, could not be properly realized.3 What actually was lacking in this course from this point of view was the interaction with others, in which the knowledge acquired could have been shared, weighed and discussed with those others. With the above considerations as a background, the author started the preparation of the present paper. The situation regarding the popularization of Science and Technology in the Netherlands was made the object of a brief study. Educational designing, adults teaching, mathematics and physics, in this order of importance, determine the plan which affords the author a certain amount of safety.4 He is well aware that Science and Technology constitute an essential part of daily life in the Netherlands, and also that making them accessible to a vast public will also be followed attentively by the scientific world and could unduly get out of hand under pressure of commerce.

So he started out as an educational designer in the border area between two cultures. On the one side the (sub)culture of scientists speaking their own language, where the work is bound to strict rules of conduct, where publicising has become of vital importance. On the other side there is the culture of all those others who at least tolerate the scientists, perhaps encourage or even stimulate but certainly pay them and put their confidence in them or not. So they went in search of opportunities to materialise the interaction between these two cultures. Interaction based on information, communication and education in non-formal settings and with informal methods. In the following section the author from his background reflects on the theme ‘popularisation of science and technology’ and on the question ‘what can non-formal and informal education do?’. A number of ideas came up, which enabled him to take a targeted view of the situation presenting itself in Netherlands.

2. Reflections on the theme

2.1 On the popularisation of science and technology

In the Netherlands it is mainly the scientific journalists who determine the image of popularization, The profession of scientific journalist is still in its infancy; in the early 1970s the impulse was given by the scientific world itself.5 In the beginning it was limited in particular to popularising, elucidating and explaining the research, but it was not long until a critical standpoint was assumed. The so-called broad public debate on nuclear energy in 1978, initiated and subsidised by the Government, fits well into this picture. It was not only a matter of understanding better what was going on, but one should be able to join the discussion on the whys of the developments and the possible consequences thereof.6 A matter that is often ignored in the discussion, is the fact that ‘the public’ must have at least some basic knowledge of the matter in question and must have learned how to use the information supplied in practice. In this connection one could speak of cultural literacy.7 Against the background of cultural literacy the following characterisation of ‘popularizing’ gets a clear meaning: the image of scientific knowledge is simplified in such a way as to make the outsider understand the consequences, although he cannot reconstruct it himself. It is, of course, a question of how one wishes to interpret ‘understand’. In mathematic didactics it is customary to distinguish between the various kinds of understanding. A distinction which could possibly also be useful in the popularisation of scientific knowledge, viz.:

1. receptive understanding: one has been able to follow the argumentation, but cannot retell anything thereof;

2. reproductive understanding: one can reconstruct the argumentation, but the knowledge acquired is insufficient for application in a new situation;

3. productive understanding: by applying the newly acquired knowledge one can solve problems and even extend one’s knowledge.

There is also another approach to ‘understanding’ in mathematic didactics which may be useful when thinking about popularisation. It was the English mathematics teacher-psychologist Richard Skemp who, following the Norwegian teacher trainer, Stieg Mellin-Olsen, put forward another difference:

Instrumental understanding versus Relational understanding. In the first case one understands only ‘what must be done’. Each problem with an algorithm for finding the solution. Teachers can also give an instrumental explanation: tackle the problem in this way and you will get the correct answer. The real study of mathematics asks for more, for insight into relations and answers to why-questions. In this case we speak of relational understanding, one has insight into the matter one grasps the mathematical structure and can proceed on the basis thereof.

If popularising of scientific knowledge is intended to weave that knowledge into the existing culture, we must overstep the boundaries of receptive and instrumental understanding. Reports from the scientific journalistic world support this considerations.8

With levels of understanding, everything has not been said, however. It is also a matter of how science is understood in society. This means that not only scientific knowledge should be popularised and didactized, but also capita from the philosophy of science. In Dutch society, where scientific knowledge is regarded as the principal source of education, for example, there is the interesting question of how to make large groups realize that the old scientific ideal, viz. finding ‘the truth’, has meanwhile been abandoned. And also that a large number of the choices made within the scientific society, are not only based on internal and rational considerations, but inter alia also originate from ethical considerations or political pressure.

Science is the work of humans; this is the idea which, despite the enormous achievements in our century, stands out clearly. How these (sometimes ingeneous) people did their scientific work, what personal elements influenced the work, how progress was made and which role was played thereby by the interaction with colleagues, constitute the elements of a story that cannot be retraced in any scientific report whatsoever. It is a story which none the less should be told, like all those other stories in which culture is transmitted from one generation to another. Here we may expect interesting contributions from scientific sociologists.9 Information from ethnomethodological research in the places of scientific society where interesting work is performed, whereby use is made of conversations, logbook notes and interviews, are as many aids in the writing of these stories.

In addition to philosophy and sociology, the history of science can also be a rich source for those having made popularisation their aim.10 Alan Bishop, a renowned mathematics didactician in the U.K. breaks a lance for the history of mathematics in his recent book ‘Mathematical Enculturation’. Whoever wishes to see mathematics as part of our culture and starts organising education in mathematics along those lines, will not be able to get around those who invented mathematics and their stories. Now the personal acquisition of mathematical knowledge and skill requires more than just taking cognizance of stories about the origination of mathematics. Mathematics, as Bishop puts it, is ‘a way of knowing’. In current terms it is to be regarded as a technology, notably a symbolic technology. Mathematics is a toolbox as well as the skill to use it in all kinds of situations. A person wishing to make that technology his (intellectual) property, will have to practice mathematics himself and make (re)inventions himself. Although this demand exceeds the objectives of popularisation, the approach of mathematics as a subculture and the proposals he makes to get an enculturation process going, can also contribute to the popularization. The more so as a global movement has recently been started which has chosen ‘ethomathematics’, as they call it, as a starting point for mathematics education. Which means formal mathematics education founded on informal procedures and intuitive concepts. This observation takes us to the following section, in which we shall try to develop some insight in regard to nonformal and informal education, to what we could understand by this and what opportunities such settings offer in regard to the popularisation of science and technology.

2.2 What Nonformal and Informal Education can Do

A person elaborating scientific knowledge for educational purposes is called a (specialist or general) didactician. The didactician ‘s activities can best be indicated as ‘didactizing’. Those performing the same work on behalf of groups in society that do not acquire the information via formal education, are called information officers, whose task it is to popularize. The difference between didactizing and popularising is found in the different objectives. Also the possibilities and impossibilities of the settings (formal and non-formal) in which the results of didactizing and popularising are developed, are different.

If we take adults education as formal education11, the difference will fade, in particular if we consider the basic level of cultural literacy.

The levels of understanding of the foregoing section perhaps provide some clarity here. They lead to the distinction of levels in regard to didactizing and popularizing. Levels which on clear formulation of the objective and the target groups, become distinctly visible. In this case we would limit ourselves to the schematic drawing shown below.

Levels of popularisation and didactization and the extend of the target groups

For the introduction of a new technology the lowest level (with the largest target group) can be translated into ‘making users-friendly’. A problem will arise if the utilisation of the technology has negative results, for the environment for example. To large groups of users the critical discussion at one of the higher levels is notably inaccessible, with the possible consequence that those concerned refuse to consider other ecologically sound approaches. In the Netherlands this kind of risk is recognised, but little is done to improve this. New technologies can easily be introduced via informal education.

Trade and industry have shown the possibilities in regard to numerous household utensils and implements and even to the introduction of home and personal computers.12 The apparatuses and the daily environment offer as many opportunities to learn more efficiently than one can from the best educational course. In fact, non-formal education is at its best.

Is this also as easy in regard to information about: scientific knowledge? As long as the lowest levels are concerned at which the learner need not participate himself actively in the information (learning) process, there is no reason to assume why this should not be so. That informal education can do more was described by the Dutch author Klaas Schippers form his own experience, in booklet published on the occasion of the Boekenweek (Books Week) 1989, entitled: ‘Het Witte Schoolbord’ (The White Blackboard). In this booklet he describes how, as a ten year old after the great void of World War II, he got to know a new world via the white cinema screen. While formal education in the classroom continued as if there has been no liberation at all, he got, in the non-formal settings of the Amsterdam cinema theatres, ‘informally’ acquainted with many aspects of ‘his own’ culture.13 Led by what was offered by the films of that time, he learnt to see his environment from a different point of view. He saw much more, also more to learn from. The opportunity of watching films turned Klass Schippers’s own environment into a learning environment. It is curious to read which details of the pictures he still remembers. The informal education apparently left deep marks. So, what informal education can do is creating opportunities which can change the environment of daily life to a learning environment. In the Netherlands this insight is being translated into concrete measures. The ‘Bibliotheekproject’ (Library Project) of the Amsterdam University, commissioned by the ‘Nederlands Bibliotheek en Lectuur Centrum’ (Dutch Library and Reading Centre), is an example of this. It led to a ‘Gids voor bibliotheek en mediagebruik’ (Guide for library and media usage), whereby the utilization of all resources offered by the library is made more attractive and easier for a wider public. The following section tells about the way in which an increasing number of organisations and institutions are giving shape to the ideas referred to.

A remaining question, however, is what induces the general public to avail themselves of the opportunities offered. Like in education, the problem of motivation plays a role here. Klaas Schippers was intrinsically motivated to learn from ‘the white blackboard’; the spirits moving him were stirred up only from the outside. Was it perhaps the design of the learning environment or the stories with accompanying pictures, or possibly just the space allowed to him to put his own fancy and imagination to work that made this informal education so successful? Further investigation would seem useful here.14 In the foregoing, the idea of individual competition was already tacitly assumed. How can the individual, participating in today’s society be informed about and be involved in the results of science and technology? That is how the definition of the problem could at any rate be regarded. It was also one of the questions presenting itself in adult education. This question otherwise made the designers of material for adult education stick closely to the rigid scholastic approach of education despite their criticism on regular education. In response thereto Mr. De Zeeuw, professor of methodology of adults educational research at the Amsterdam University, suggested a change of views. Against individual competence he poses the idea of collective competence, instead of the (traditional) introductory model he suggests the participation model.

Let us now closely follow his thinking. By way of example we take the field of arithmetic in the context of a camping shop at the cute a’Azur in the south of France. Competent arithmeticians are a common phenomenon. They are capable of making mental calculations in virtually every situation. They sometimes choose playful methods just for the fun of it, which lead even more quickly to good results. They calculate in a relaxed manner and cannot be put off their stroke by lookerson. They often also see something special in numbers which others do not notice. They see, for example, that the number 37 has something particular: multiply by 3 it figures out at 111. And when ask to multiply 24 by 37, they answer 888, without hesitation. Competent arithmeticians feel up to any arithmetical problem; they calculate skilfully, efficiently, relaxed and with pleasure. They do a lot of ‘mental’ calculating and know exactly when the moment has come to resort to pencil and paper. At times they can also be seen using calculators.

The cash girls of the camping shop always use the adding machine, which even indicates the change to be returned to the customer When she is running out of small coins, she does the calculating herself. For example, the customer owes an amount of Frs 31.35 and offers a Frs 50 note, upon which the girl asks: have you got Frs 1.35? If he has, she keys in ‘Received Frs 51.35’, and reads out: ‘Return Frs 20.00’. These girls are highly competent to make calculations, although a great deal of the competent mental arithmetician’s performance remains a secret to them.

Some school masters in the Netherlands are rather fussy about this; as they see it, these girls are not competent to do arithmetical work at all. There are even adults who had not properly learned arithmetic at school and who primarily refuse to use a calculator. They want to learn what they missed at school and regard the calculator more or less as a prothesis to offset a handicap. Now back to the camping shop. Sometimes one of the cash girls must assist at the bread counter in the back of the shop. The croissants are put in a bag and the shop assistant notes down on the bag the amount to be paid. One croissant costs Frs 3.20 and the number of croissants bought is somewhere between 1 and 16. This takes a lot of figuring, with the cash desk so far away! No way! At the bread counter they have a table with the prices from 1 u/i 20 croissants, which is continually consulted.

Mr. De Zeeuw would say that the girls in that shop are competent arithmeticians. And he observes that the arithmetic competence has got a new face, a different character due to the presence of the apparatus. To many members of society, however, the possibilities of the calculator still remain hidden. In this regard De Zeeuw speaks of the background of a competence. He then declares that in certain cases it can be very useful to change the character of a competence by changing the background, by finding possibilities in it. This applies not only to arithmetic, but also to motoring, planning a journey or preparing a meal, to mention only a few things. New knowledge and new technology may change the nature of competences. To this end changes must be made in the backgrounds of the traditionally defined competences and one has to learn things that are different from those one was used to. Thereby problems can present themselves as schoolteachers showed in the case of the pocket calculator. The fact that things in the non-formal atmosphere of the camping shop apparently went well, is encouraging and demonstrates the importance of the influence of the context on the motivation to learn.

De Zeeuw goes even further. He observes that in our society the opinion is held that those ‘entering’ society must have achieved competence in regard to a certain supply of knowledge. Hence the school for juveniles and brush-up courses for adults who in some way or other missed the boat at school. Those who hold this opinion, base their ideas on the so-called introduction model. Education, schooling or training precede the introduction of any part of society whatsoever. One can also take a different view by not beginning to think in terms of the minimal individual competence which everyone should have to be able to function properly in society, but by finding out to what extent the collective competence of society can grow. Together people have a vast amount of knowledge and know-how at their disposal and it is advisable for individuals to profit from it and, if possible, to contribute to it. This can be realized by participating in activities in society. Those who wish to buy a motor-car, make inquiries at the Automobile Club, the dealers and the exchange, the traveller can avail himself of the opportunities offered by the travel agency, and cookery books, cookery columns in the papers and Cooking with Nelly on TV make a real cook out of the culinary amateur. In order to make the vast amount of knowledge and know-how accessible to a wide public, opportunities must be provided for many to take part in activities. De. Zeeuw in this connection therefore speaks of the ‘participation model’. Changing the drawbacks of competences, giving elucidations to it and enabling inspiring activities to be performed is what can be done informally.

In the following section an insight is given into the Dutch situation. We can then also evaluate the chances of the participation model in the Netherlands.

3. Popularising in the Netherlands

3.1 random choices from history

The Netherlands have a rich history in the field of natural sciences and in attempts to involve major groups in society in the development thereof. This history is described in detail (and in a popularizing way) inter alia in the book ‘In Stevin’s footsteps’ by Prof. K. Van Berkel (Amsterdam, 1985). Simon Stevin (1548-1620) can indeed be regarded as a shining example. He lived in a period when science and the (often technical) applications thereof were regarded as a whole. This led, amongst others, to the circumstance that he on the one hand gratefully availed himself of the brainwork of such classical scholars as Euclid and Ptolemeus, and on the other hand aimed at major user groups through his work. This peerless didactician (see also the clootcrans proff on the cover of this paper) wrote in the national language (and not in the language of the scientists) and paid every attention to the presentation. Of his works we mention ‘Beginselen der Weegkunst’ (1586) (Principles of the Art of Weighing) about statics, and ‘De Thiende’ (1585) (The Tenth) in which the introduced decimal fractions and their application to ‘stargazers, land surveyors, carpet measurers, wine measurers, body measurers, mintmasters and all merchants’. Science was an ‘engineers’ science’ also in the centuries thereafter. In 1736 it was the physicist Petrus van Musschenbroek (Apparatus of Musschenbroek, the pyrometer), who made an attempt to make the Newtonian physics and Bacon’s ideas about ‘experimental physics’ accessible to a wide public. He wrote ‘Beginselen van de Natuurkunde, beschreven ten dienste van de landgenoten’ (Principles of Physics, written on behalf of fellow-countrymen). The state of affairs in physics in this 18th century was such that popular scientific readings were held throughout the country. An essential condition was the possibility of demonstrating physical tests. For instance Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, who came from Danzig and settled in Amsterdam in 1718, showed all kinds of variants of barometers and thermometers. An interesting incidental fact was that there was question of an interaction between the ‘scientists’ and ‘the public’, because also amateurs from the public made contributions to the development of science, as is now the case again with the computer science in our era. In the second half of the 18th century ‘learned societies’ (such as the Wiskunding Genootschap (Mathematical Society)), which until this day have developed certain activities for a small group of interested persons and also the Dutch Society of Science were fondled. From that moment popularization was institutionalized. Prize contests are held, discourses are published, natural-scientific collections are built up and lectures are given. What the Society wished to promote was practical science. The formulation of the fist prize contest (1753) is a good example of this: ‘To what extent have the Dutch rivers got bogged down since the beginning of this century? In what way can the sand and mud flats that have settled on the bottom be removed and bogging down be prevented?’

Due to the interactive nature of the popularisation and the dominance of the Societies over University science-practising, popularising could also have an adverse effect on the development of science. What formerly was easily ‘explainable’ via demonstrations, for example, were subjects from optics. But the abstract mathematics of Newton, Bernoulli and Euler did not offer these possibilities. Therefore the core of Newton physics, the mathematical description of natural phenomena, had to be passed over. This to a certain extent applied equally to the growing complexity of the experiments. For example, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopy could not be made accessible to a wide public because of the inimitability of the observations. As a result, interest in science dwindled. The bottom fell out of it, so to say.

Gradually university science was getting more chances to develop, and from then on a new (sub)culture came into being. Scientists began to withdraw into the ‘ivory tower’ and hardly bothered to respond to ‘outside’ rumours. Every now and then the general public hears something of which the essence and sometimes also the ready-for-use results remain hidden. In the second half of the present century, as already observed, the necessity of giving information and of interaction with society stood out clearly. By and by the Government economies which in particular also affected the universities, have given to information a commercial aspect: he who can credibly ‘sell’ ‘his’ science can be assured of the necessary subsidy.

One interesting moment from the history of popularisation should not remain unnoticed here. It was way back at the end of the 18th century, at the time when the aftermath of the French Revolution was beginning to make itself felt in the Netherlands. Before 1795 each region had its own weights and measures, which were strongly determined by the various contexts in which measuring was done. The names of the weights and measures had a ‘couleur locale’ and were hardly interchangeable. From the point of view of the national authorities this was intolerable and at the time of the French Oppression measures were consequently taken to introduce the ‘Metriek Stelsel’ (Metric System). In 1802 Johannes Henricus Van Swinden, professor at Franeker and Amsterdam, was commissioned to write a ‘Verhandeling over Volmaakte Maten en Gewichten’ (Treatise on Perfect Weights and Measures). Although Van Swinden had been chosen for his extensive expert knowledge and didactic qualities, this did not work properly. In 1809 Louis Napoleon therefore dictated the introduction of the metric system. Even this did not work and in 1812 also the old measures were again allowed in official documents. It was not until 1820 when the metric system was definitively introduced. Although even till this day the old surface and contents measures are occasionally still being mentioned in rural regions.

What does history teach us within the scope of popularisation and education? First of all that, where technology and science go together, the provision of information is facilitated. This is strengthened further as soon as it becomes possible to give demonstrations with apparatuses and equipment. It is, however, rendered more difficult if the application of abstract symbolices such as mathematics becomes necessary. If giving information alone is no longer sufficient and a wide public must be convinced that they have to change to other customs, other educational tunes should be changed to. If, moreover, a symbolic technology is concerned, such as the introductions of the metric system (and at an earlier time the introduction into Europe of the Arabic figures to replace the Roman figures), it is very much the question if the limited possibilities of informal and non-formal education are indeed sufficient.

3.2 the current situation in the Netherlands

Here, too although to a lesser extent than regard to history, we have to limit ourselves to some striking examples. Of particular interest are the example in which invisible elements of science and technology are brought to the fore for a wider public to enable changes to be made in the backgrounds of competences. They contribute to a better insight into the aforementioned participation model and the idea of collective competence.

3.2.1 non-specialist publications

In the radio lessons ‘Van Quantum tot Quark’ (From Quantum to Quark) by the Nederlandse Educatieve Televisie (Dutch Education Television) ‘Teleac’, a number of non-specialist books on quantum physics were discussed. ‘The Dancing Wu-Li Masters’ by Gary Zukav and ‘QED. The Strange Theory of Light and Matter’ by Richard Feynman (both books translated into Dutch) are outstanding example of publications which can show up well within the scope of an informal course. To any person interested they offer an opportunity to develop the work of the course into a substantial ‘learning project’. This applies equally to several other publications available in the Dutch language. As examples of books given for a birthday present to the interested laymen in the Netherlands we would mention in this respect: Rudy Rucker: The Fourth Dimension, 1984; Hoffstatter: Godel, Escher, Bach, 1979, and Nigel Calder, Einstein and the Universe, 1979.

3.2.2 Educational television

In ‘Teleac magazine’, Spring 1989, were announced: De Twaalf Provincien (The Twelve Provinces) (geography of our own country), Geschiedenis van Rusland (history of Russia), de Trojaanse Oorlog (The Trojan War), De Karen Dertig (The 1930s), de Planeten (The Planets), Van Quantum tot Quark (From quantum to Quark), zelf Mode Maken (making Your own Fashion), Grafische Technieken (Graphic Techniques), Financieel Management (Financial Management), Effectief omgaan met Conflicten (Effective Handling of Conflicts), Rechtswijzer (Law Guide) (practical information about laws relating to persons and families), Ouderen Wijzer (Guide for the Elderly) (practical information for persons of and over the age of 55), Meer Culturen en Erflaters (Multiple Cultures and Testators); three language courses: Taal van alledag (Everyday Language) (elimination of illiteracy), Latin (Roman language and culture) and Andiamo (holiday course in Italian). For the nest season a Dutch version of the American program ‘The Mechanical Universe’ has been announced in addition to other programs. Besides Teleac, also-the Radio Volks Universiteit (Radio Adults University) presents popularising programs. On August 8 the Dutch TV viewers could see a one-hour program in which the latest novelties in the field of ‘electronics in the household’ were shown. In this program three families were followed in their own households (with a.o. telephone, video recorder, video camera, magnetron, computer, modem, electronic shopping, CD player); they visited a ‘house of the future’ and commented on it.

3.2.3 Informal course work

The above-mentioned RVU originates from the long-reputed Dutch Adults Universities. They offer an extensive range of courses: To suit all tastes. At present local, often Municipality- subsidized courses are held, from elementary English to philosophy, from illiteracy elimination courses to art history. And, within the scope of popularisation, also informatics for women.

3.2.4 Technique museums

The big cities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Eindhoven each have a more or less well-known technique museum. The Evoluon at Eindhoven (the place where the cradle of the Philips concern stood), the Amsterdam technique museum ‘t NINT, the Utrecht University Museum and Museum at the Hague are doing their utmost to create a kind of interactive science and technology centres according to a British model. So more workshops than comic strip, with the object of making the public occupy themselves (inter)actively with science and technique. They also make use of technique themselves, audio-visual media in particular, to show the exhibited objects in many subtle distinctions. But the context of a museum, with its casual and often unprepared visitor, is hardly suitable for intensive acquisition of complicated knowledge. Only if the possibilities of a museum as a workshop can be utilized in a wider scope, can a certain amount of profundity be achieved. The museum may be said to bring otherwise invisible objects to the fore, but changes in the background of certain competences require more energy than is in general invested in a visit to the museum.

3.2.5 Federation lye Jonge Onderzoeker’ (The Young Researcher)

In 1967 a Dutch broadcasting corporation according to the US Science Fairs model organized a contest for young researchers. Two years later the Stichting ‘De Jonge Onderzoeker’ (the Young Researcher) was established, to which Prince Bernhard, husband of the then queen Juliana, was appointed honorary chairman. In the years between 1970 and 1985 the Foundation issued a periodical of its own and organised local ‘juvenile laboratories’ in particular. (The first in 1969 at the Evolution at Eindhoven.)- The Foundation has meanwhile been changed to a Federation of the local foundations which are kept going through sponsoring and municipal contributions. Until this day the periodical ‘De Jonge Onderzoeker’ has been published as a quire of the popular-scientific periodical ‘Mens en Wetenschap’ (Man and Science).

The activities of ‘De Jonge Onderzoeker’ may be regarded as popularisation of science and technique for young people, the activities are performed in nonscholastic settings and inspire an indeed small group of youngsters to make major intellectual efforts on different levels. Things that remain hidden in the education programs of the various schools (mainly creative occupation with concrete material in projects) are limelighted in the juvenile laboratories. For a few years now attempts have been made to rouse the interest of girls as well (‘Techniek 10’ for girls only and the Foundation ‘Jeugd en Techniek’ for girls and boys alike). Annually, contests are organized as well as the ‘Dutch Science Week’ for juvenile European researchers, but also contacts are established with other countries: young dutch researchers are sent to workshops abroad and assistance is rendered in the equipping of juvenile laboratories (of which there are twelve in the Netherlands and where one or more of the following subjects are being studied: chemistry, electronics, geology modelmaking, biology, photography, computers, physics, rocket construction and video), whereby the Government assists in developing a curriculum for the subject ‘Techniek’, which will be introduced before long in secondary education.

3.2.6 The subject ‘Techniek’ in the secondary curriculum

Although with this subject we have entered the field of formal education, this must not remain unmentioned here. Formerly, ‘Technique’ featured only in the curricula of vocational schools, and physics teachers of the other school types hardly got round to technical applications. Now well-known utensils are becoming subjects of technical studies, both practically and theoretically. If this subject fulfils what it promised, all Dutchmen will get a certain degree of technological literacy, which will at least facilitate and hopefully encourage the digestion of popularized scientific information in extracurricular settings. What has so far been developed in the curricula for technique is, however, making a very schoolish impression. This is inter alia the result of the elaboration in non-interesting details of lists of objectives. It has appeared to be still impossible to include in these lists the ‘ creative room’ of De Jonge Onderzoekers.

3.2.7 Delta Expo

Different from the Technique Museums in the Netherlands are the visitors’ centres, which give an introduction to a nearby phenomenon. They are found in nature parks and nature reserves, e.g. the wadden Sea in the far North of the Netherlands. A special place is held by Delta Expo in the Netherlands, of which a substantial part lies below sea level, and which has of old fought a heroic battle against the water. Dikes were built, the dunes along the seashore were strengthened, lakes were converted to fertile polder land, a large dam was constructed in the north of the Netherlands and vast parts of the then closed-o ff sea were impoldered. After the devastating flood of 1953 a new and ambitious plan was made to protect the North Sea shore in the Southwest Netherlands for ever against the sea: the Delta plan, which received international attention. One of the last major feats was the construction of a flood barrier to protect the coasts against the violence of the waves during the numerous autumnal storm tides on the one hand and to regulate the water level flexibly up to a large distance on the other. In the vicinity of this product of technical expertise and scientific thinking a permanent exhibition was established where at three different levels historical, hydraulic, geographical and ecological knowledge can be acquired. The implements, (scale)models, pictures, outlines, diagrams and sounds presented on the floors of the exhibition space, are shown in practice when one looks out of the window or, even better, if one takes the time to visit the flood barrier by round-trip boat. The designer, Jan van Tooren, based this project on a very special philosophy. One of the ideas developed therein is that visitors should be enabled to form their own opinion on this technology and its consequences in regard to society. This is to a certain extent in contradiction to what the principal, the Public Works Department, had in mind.

Visitors centres worldwide can give particulars about intensive-information methods. The idea that the visitor should be enabled to plot his own ‘educational path’ through/on/in the phenomenon. It is not inconceivable that ‘visitors centres’ present a good metaphor for popularizing science and technique at one of the higher levels.

3.2.8 Daily papers

In 1981 one of the principal dutch daily papers, ‘De Volkskrant’ (People’s Newspaper) was the first to insert a special quire ‘Wetenschap en Samenleving’ (Science and Society). In 1986 it appeared to be worthwhile to compile a selection of 50 articles from quires of the previous year in ‘Jaarboek 1986. Wetenschap en Samenleving’ (Yearbook 1986. Science and Society). In June 1989 this book was obtainable in a supermarket at 6.5% of the original price. The 50 articles feature 11 main subjects: astronomy, space travel, landscape, hydraulics (a.o. ‘De faalkans van de storm-vloedkering’ (The chance of failure of the flood barrier)), energy, environment, medical developments, physics (a.o. ‘Kijken in het binnenste van een atoomkern’ (Looking into the inside of an atomic nucleus)), biotechnology, computers and miscellaneous subjects. What is keeping scientific journalism busy at the moment? To get an idea of this, we consulted another well-reputed daily paper, NRC-Handelsblad. This paper also has a weekly quire: ‘Wetenschap en Onderwijs’ (Science and Education) It as a rule consists of a small number of leading articles, an extensive book review, the typification of a certain instalment of a popular scientific periodical, a larger number of short informative reports (from a.o. textile dyeing, chips for navigation systems and the problems concerning potable water) and occasionally an in-depth discussion of an interesting dissertation. Also the irregularly appearing column ‘Reken Maar’ is highly interesting because people are made to think about and to make calculations based on quantitative data which are usually accepted as a matter of course.

The following enumeration of titles of some leading articles in the quires of June 13 to June 25 (1989) inclusive could perhaps give an impression (mind that a holiday period is concerned here):

Mathematical models with the computer
Jaw-bone inflammation and antibiotics
Aids and other veneral diseases
The academic debate
DNA fingerprints under fire
The history of transvestism
Flying kites with satellites
The problematic place of natural sciences in society
Video camera and its significance for anthropology
Abortion pill works, but may not
Pausiana’s travel guide for Greece re-instated
Exotic plants and animals in the Netherlands
Life after the construction of the flood barrier
Herman E. Daly and his Plimsoll line for economy
Information of Central Statistical Office too expensive
Prions are perhaps not very rare
First gen therapy with man meets substantial opposition

Characteristic of the leading articles of both daily papers is that:

- they have been placed in a social-economic context

- numerical data are preferred as eye-catchers

- attention is paid to possibilities of application

- future developments are anticipated

- explanations in outline of problem definitions and principles are given

- also information about the history of the development is given

- sometimes brief theoretical remarks are inserted (leV=..)

- functional or non-functional illustrations are inserted to enliven to article

- the motive is often found in a forthcoming congress or a controversial article, sometimes it is the scientists themselves who seek publicity.

On account of the prescribed small extent of some articles in daily papers and the lack of foreknowledge of the general public, the articles usually have to be limited to ‘information in outline’. Yet the authors must also reckon with expert readers, not only by avoiding mistakes, but also as regards the contents of the information. In certain articles both levels can be recognized; they are real examples of expert didactization.

3.2.9 The Stichting Publieksvoorlichting over Wetenschap en Technologie (Foundation for Public Information about Science and Technology)

This foundation was formed in 1986 on the initiative of the Dutch Government. In the Netherlands of the early part of the 1980s it was planned to give science and technique a broad social basis for innovative reasons. For the first 5 years of its existence the Stichting will provisionally be subsidized by the ministries of Onderwijs & Wetenschappen an Economische Zaken (Education & Sciences and Economic Affairs) to an annual amount of Hfl 5 million; it has an independent status. Honorary chairman is Prins Claus, queen Beatrix ‘s husband. The other Board members are experts from the world of science, the media and trade and industry. There are 12 office workers.

The purpose of the foundation is to promote the provision of information to a wide public about developments in the fields of science and technique and to promote independent formation of opinion through all kinds of activities. An interesting thought is the idea that in certain cases this will succeed better ‘by explaining why and how science and technique have produced a certain thing than by explaining exactly how it works’.

The Stichting has also chosen the following lines of approach: scientific, social, cultural, human (the developments are mainly determined by persons) and global (with the consequences for the Third World). The planned activities for 1989 include: stimulation of radio and TV programs (the program ‘Van Quantum tot Quark’ was subsidized with Hfl 170,000), releases of agendas of activities to the press, issuance of a Newsletter, insertion of articles in door-to-door papers, assistance in arranging exhibitions, setting up a data bank, co-operation with other institutions in this field, giving information to scientific journalists, organization of workshops and study tours for journalist, assistance in organising press conference, organization of public days, programming of the National Science Week and maintenance of the ‘Science Line’: any one having a question in the fields of science and technique can phone 06-821.21.44 at Hfl 0.20/minute. Information is also supplied in writing.

In arranging the activities the arrangers go about in a target group-oriented manner. They expressly do not aim at motivating non -interested persons and those with a low educational level, or at providing a cultural literacy basis. This is the task of regular education, they argue. As the Stichting is still in its, infancy it is impossible to give a characteristic of its work as yet. In 1991 an evaluation will be made in connection with the possible continuation of the Stichting. PWT co-operates with inter alia NOTA, a government organisation engaged in investigations concerning the possible social consequences of the introduction of new technologies.

3.2.10 Science Policy

Since 1978 the Government has issued the periodical ‘Wetenschapsbeleid’ (Science Policy) in six editions per year. As stated in the colophon, it aims at ‘promotion of the knowledge of and formation of opinion on science policy in the Netherlands. In this quality the publication contributes to the propagation of information about this subject and is intended to contribute to the discussion on the science policy to be conducted. ‘ So information is given about the Government’ s doings, and also articles with opinions of others are included. The main purpose is to keep the discussion in the Netherlands going on basis of correct and factual information.

4. Conclusion

The foregoing is not the result of a thorough study, because the time available therefor was too short. Yet the cursory study in the Dutch territory has revealed some matters that may offer a contribution to the practice and theory of popularizing. First of all there is a low interest in basic insights, skills and attitudes ‘the public’ need to be able to profit from science information. In and outside the normal education patterns the propagation of a cultural literacy can be engaged in. The Dutch development in regard to De Jonge Onderzoekers and the new subject Technique indicate a possible direction. The idea of ‘room’ for personal fantasy and creativity is important. But also on the level of information it should be possible to do more in the Netherlands. In the centre of this will certainly be the motivational problem: how to persuade people of that target group to participate.

Secondly, a more detailed elaboration of the participation model would be useful. The objective is to change the appearance of competences by making changes in their background. Here the stories fit in of those who are already following the right track, richly illustrated stories with which one can identify oneself.

Next, those who are willing should be enabled to materialise thorough ‘learning projects’ in their own surroundings. Opportunities to acquire knowledge must not remain hidden, lucid information on this point is essential. Local ‘public welfare’ and public institutions should attune their offers to each other so that the information flows could strengthen each other.

In non-specialist articles the stories of scientists as ‘ordinary people’ with all their hopes and doubts, should also be inserted. But also what is actually being performed in the field of science, what is so special about it and the possible consequences should not remain unmentioned. Popularizing in this case means telling stories, giving explanations and opinions.

Finally the visitors centre, as can be seen in many places worldwide, is an inspiring metaphor for educational designers for the higher levels of popularizing. Here A RISC TRIP is made possible in natural surroundings converted to a ‘learning environment’.


Van Berkel, K., In het voetspoor van Stevin. Geschiedenis van de natuurwetenschap in Nederland 1508-1940 (In Stevin’s Footsteps. History of natural science in the Netherlands 1508-1940), Boom, Amsterdam/Meppel, 1985

Bishop? A., Mathermatical Enculturation. A Cultural Perspective on Mathematical education, Kluwer Academic Press, Dordrecht, 1988

Goffree, F. and H. Stroomberg (eds.), Creating Adult Learning, Theoretical and Practical Communications on Educational Design for Adults, SMD, Leyden, 1989

Nieuwendijk, G. (ed.) Jaarboek 1986, Wetenschap & Samenleving (yearbook 1986, Science and Society), De Volkskrant, Omniboek, The Hague, 1986

NRC Handelsblad, katern Wetenschap & Onderwijs (Science & Education quire) 13-6-’89 u/i 7-8-’89, Rotterdam, 1989

PWT, Werkplan (Planned Activities) 1989 and Jaarverslag (Annual Report) 1989, Utrecht 1989

De Zeeuw. G., De Verborgen Vaardigheden (The Hidden Skills) in Van der Zee a. o., Volwasseneneducatie. Dilemma’s en Perspectieven (Adults Education, Dilemmas and Perspectives), Boom, Meppel, 1984


1 Great Impression is made by the subject that enable non-experts to help thinking expertly on the subject. David Hilbert (1862-1943), for example, designed a magnificent science fiction story to explain the concept of ‘infinite’ and in 1884 the Victorian schoolmaster Edwin Abbott wrote a ‘Romance of Many Dimensions’ (Flatland) to give an even larger number of readers than Hilbert had in mind, an insight into ‘the fourth dimension’.

2 More generally known in this connection is the tragic history of Galilei who, with his concrete observations and intelligent interpretations did not succeed in convincing the seventeenth century’s theologists that only Copernicus’s vision on the solar system was correct.’

3 This idea was described earlier in the introduction of the recently published book ‘Creating Adult Learning;’. The substance of it is that adults should be enabled to arrange their own learning as ‘A risc trip’ through a learning environment. ‘A RISC TRIP’ as a symbolic abbreviation (acronym) stands for Activity (the central issue of learning), (taking) Risks, (being) Intentional, (making) Selections and Constructing (new possibilities). To this e ffect the educational designer creates Tasks, the possibility of Reflections and Interactions and stimulates the making of Productions of one’s own.

4 He realises also, however, that he notes down these rules with the aid of the ‘Words’ word processing program of the screen of the Apple Macintosh Plus, that the discussion on the construction of an increasing number of motorways because of the excessive growth of the car fleet is also his concern, that the information of the Scientific Annex in his newspaper on the just established dioxine poisoning of milk concerns his own environment, that the consequences of the Tsjernobil calamity are still noticeable also in the Netherlands, that Tsjernobil cannot be included in the results of the totally fallen-through ‘broad public debate’ which was started in 1978, on nuclear energy, that information about Aids is also addressed to his children and that the sale of CD players, video recorders, walkmans, personal computers, alarm systems and more of these technologic al wonders are far beyond expectations in the Netherlands. But also that in consequence of the Government economies all Dutch scientists have to sell their products as well as possible to society and that commerce has meanwhile shown Show you can sell ‘whatever or ‘whomever’.

5 A milestone is the inaugural lecture held by Prof. Dr. B. Smalhout, anaesthetist, entitled: ‘Death on the table’, in which in fact for the first time in the history of medical science a vast public was informed about errors made in the operating room. The principal daily papers in such cases give increasing space to scientific information until in the 1980s insertion of weekly quires was proceeded to: ‘Wetenschap en Samenleving’ (Science and Society) (De Volkskrant) and ‘Wetenschap en Onderwijs’ (Science and Education) (NRC-Handelsblad).

6 One if the bestknown scientific journalists in the Netherlands is S.Rozendaal (Elsevier). He quotes a statement of the antibiotics researcher Rene Dubos, in which the task of scientific journalism stands out clearly: ‘The kind of scientific knowledge that the general citizen needs is not the technical knowledge of the general citizen needs is not the technical knowledge of the processional scientist, but a general conception which helps him to recognize and evaluate the social consequences of science and technology and which enables him to anticipate it to a certain extent. For if this conception is not anticipate it to a certain extent. For if this conception is not forthcoming, people will increasingly have to reconcile themselves to the tyranny of the expert, who thus becomes a person taking decisions without being answerable to society. Participation of the public in the decision-making process concerning scientific problems is probably essential for the coherence of the democratic societies and for the survival of their institutions’.

7 In the Netherlands this is meanwhile also being done in the discussions on the final terries for basis formation. Basis formation (only recently invented, not yet fully fleshed out and by far not yet realized is education in which all Dutch citizens should participate and which is completed at about the age of 15. In the curriculum of this basis formation the subject ‘Technique’ has, otherwise for the first time, been included.

8 For making the new technological products accessible, matters may be a bit different. I understand my word processor instrumentally, but I do not know what to do within narrow scopes. If something unexpected happens again when, for example, a piece of text suddenly seems to have disappeared, I am on the verge of despair because I have not the slightest relational insight. Still I have a feeling that I am reasonably happy with this technology; with the aid of the guide book I can even make footnotes!

9 It is they who since the 1970s have also drawn scientific knowledge itself into their considerations because (a.o. since Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) the insight has taken root that the development of scientific knowledge is in particular also of social concern.

It is not the (naturally determined factual) knowledge which determines the interaction among the scientists, but the interaction which to a substantial degree determines what scientific knowledge actually looks like.

10 At the moment it is being planned in the Netherlands to insert short stories from history (I am thereby thinking of such illustrious persons as Ampere, Archimedes, Boerhaave, Bohr, Boyle, Buys Ballot, Casimir and Copernicus, to mention only the As, Bs and Cs) in door-to-door papers. The numerous readers of these papers, which are distributed in particular for product-advertising reason, will undoubted in particular for product-advertising reasons, will undoubtedly recognize the names of streets and squares that have been named after these celebrities. Curiously enough, these names do not occur in the history books at school and no more were the persons mentioned when the results of their scientific efforts were introduced as subject material in the classrooms.

11 Rather recently all activities, such as illiteracy elimination, parents’ retraining, women orienting themselves in society, arithmetic for beginners, etc., in the Netherlands were institutionalised and legally regulated.

12 Following the initially long-term study courses of programming languages or difficult word processors, one-afternoon instruction at the dealer’s home is now sufficient. And after the user has succeeded in mastering the principles, he gradually extends his knowledge further.

13 Thus, for example, not until two years after the liberation of 1945, he for the first time sees, via the famous Carol Reed movie The Third Man (starring Orson Welles), what and how World War II actually was.

14 Extensive experience with contemporary young persons and their dealing with the new technology has yielded sufficient practical wisdom to relieve research form the pre-scientific part. In the perspective of the problem formulation of this conference, investigations should be given the nature of development research. Then the question is: What does the practice of informal learning teach us in regard to the arrangement of non-formal learning environment? The answer should be given in form of instructions and clues for educational designers. Key conceptions are: learning environment and action support.