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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
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Science and technology in public adult education - Klaus Pehl

THE VOLKSHOCHSCHULE: A Public Institution for the Provision of Adult and Continuing Education

Life-long learning must not be a purely private undertaking. The further education of adults is a fundamental community task. In the Federal Republic of Germany exist 860 public institutions for adult education which are supported by the local and regional bodies. They are called VOLKSHOCHSCHULEN (VHS). In 1988 the VHS ran 400 th. courses with 12.8 mill. lessons and 5.6 mill. participants (Figure 1). Each of-the VHS is relatively autonomous in planning and running its programmes. Besides the high percentage of courses which are open for everybody the work with special target groups forms an integral part of the programmes. The contents of the courses spread over various areas with different proportions are (Figure 2):

- socio-cultural education
- vocationally oriented further education
- learning of languages
- leisure activities
- health education
- school-leaving certificates.

Sciericezand technological courses have gained 7 percent by 1988. Most of them are vocationally oriented or prepare participants for vocational training.

In order to match the differing expectations of adults there is a great variety in learning objectives and methods. Adults have the opportunity to

- acquire measurable knowledge and skills
- get information and orientation
- exchange experiences and opinions
- acquire perspectives
- receive stimulations towards social activity
- progress towards self-knowledge.

These objectives are not necessarily connected with particular areas of content. Every course can be a mix depending on the needs of the participants.

The degree of standardisation ranges from late acquisition of school-leaving certificates to courses where the participants themselves decide what and how to learn. There are different types of involvement for participants as

- courses of instruction
- study groups
- conversational circles
- autonomous working groups
- series of lectures.

Two thirds of the courses take place in the evening. An increasing number of courses are

- daytime courses

- weekend seminars

- long-term full-time courses

- one week seminars within the framework of paid educational leave - short and extended study trips

- exhibitions

- opportunities for individual studies.

According to the federal structure the VHS have formed regional associations in order to coordinate their programmes and to voice their interests and demands. Depending on the particular legislation of the Federal Lander the VHS are supported financially by the Lander governments. These regional VHS-associations constituted the German Adult Education Association (DVV) in 1953. Its main task is the representation of common interests of the 11 Lander federations of the VHS and the promotion of their pedagogical and organizational efforts. Besides an office in Bonn providing contact with the Federal administration and other associations dealing with adult education, three departments (Figure 3) are dealing with the improvement of the quality of adult education work at German VHS and with the promotion of international cooperation.

Department for International Cooperation

The Department for International Cooperation of the DVV supports, with the financial help of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation, adult education in Africa, Asia and Latin America (c. booklet).

Adolf - Grimme - Institute

The institute carries out innovative tasks in the area of multi-media falls. The Institute is arranging and awarding the “Adolf-Grimme-Prize” for the DVV. This television prize is regarded as the most regarded television contest in the Federal Republic.

Pedagogical Institute (PAS)

Founded in 1957 the PAS receives institutional support from both the Federal and Lander governments by now. The institute works as a scientific service organisation linking scientific research and practice of continuing education. Innovative work is financially supported by means of project-linked grants from the Federal Minister of Education and Science. It was in this context when in 1970 the PAS started its activities in the area of science and technology. As a part of the VHS-Certificate System (Figure 4) Curricula for adults in mathematics and electronics were developed and evaluated. Manifold activities followed. As a result of these the need of pedagogical planning in this area was recognised. So persons mostly with a university degree in science were employed to adjust the programmes fit to the needs of those to whom the courses were addressed. From 1976 on the Pedagogical Institute of the DVV has organized yearly conferences to discuss innovative concepts and to exchange experiences. On the basis of these contacts and the different project-like activities in course development in cooperation with the VHS and interested teachers I will try to give a survey of the situation of science and technology in non-formal adult education in the Federal Republic of Germany. It is not my aim to present proudly on occasion of this conference the work of the German VHS, the German Adult Education Association and the Pedagogical Institute. I will try to concentrate on the problems, the difficulties and the open questions that I noticed over the years. The few solutions might be restricted to the situation of the Federal Republic of Germany, and it may be doubtful to what extent they can he transfered. In spite of the fact that the popularization of science and technology is pursued to a large extent in the context of vocational training organized by various companies my outline will be restricted on VHS as public institutions with an open access.

Science and Technology as a Part of the Programme

The classic natural subjects mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology have had a long tradition in the general educational system for many decades. A subject called “Polytechnique” is taught only in the so-called “Hauptschule’’ or “Realschule”, secondary school level I till age 15 or 16, not in the secondary schools level II till age 19. Informatics as an independent subject exists only in the last two years of level II.

In comparison with the programmes of VHS the main difference between formal education and adult education is easily recognizable, especially so when considering the development over the years.

The programmes of the VHS are developed according to the needs of adults. The traditional structure of subjects is therefore broken up. For adults there must be a recognizable relationship between the content of the learning programme and their perspective of life. It is the relation to their vocational qualifications which mostly makes adults participate in courses. They want to acquire new knowledge and new skills in order to

- get better paid jobs or jobs with better working conditions

- refresh their qualification profile because some of their knowledge is getting Obsolete

- get a job after some time of unemployment

- get a first job after initial vocational education without success in the first step

- get a firm who accepts them for vocational initial education or because new technology is implemented in their surrounding and they do not want to loose their jobs.

So it is the applicability of the knowledge which is of great importance. The last four reasons are of an increasing importance since the beginning of the eighties when the phase of structural unemployment started in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Not every course in science and technology is strictly oriented towards the needs of vocational qualifications. There are always adults who are strongly interested in some special topic (short wave radio, astronomy). In most cases these topics are connected with a hobby they are occupied with in their spare time.

In addition to what has been said the participation is also connected with the wish to fulfil a certain social role more successfully:

- Parents learned the so-called “new math” in the seventies to be able to help their children

- Some people want to take care for relatives handicapped by special illnesses

- A lot of citizens nowadays worry about their ecological environment and want detailed information.

The needs of adults for further education derive from special situations and constellations and the structure of classic subjects is very often not able to match these.

Identifying courses for adults in the programmes of VHS by the categories of the well known classic subjects is on the other hand helpful in order to find the fitting courses in some cases (Figure 5).

So physics and chemistry are of minor importance (less than 400 courses p.a.). In some regions with a local chemical industry courses are organized which lead to an examination called VHS-Certificate. Even a VHS-Certificate in physics was developed with the deceptive hope that the fundamental role of physics in modern technology would be realized.

The development of biology as the third classical natural science has been very different. The amount of courses in 1986 (Chernobyl!) was already ten times higher than physics or chemistry. The reasons for the continuing increase are the following:

- The obvious ecological problems in local, national or worldwide contexts led to a more urgent need for ecological knowledge.

- The increased consciousness of a threatened health (sudden death of babies) made people more interested in biological topics.

A more detailed statistics shows that courses with ecological topics make up about 50 percent of the classic category biology (Figure 6).

On the other hand a continuing decrease of courses in mathematics can be observed. It seems that the development stabilizes at a much lower level of 2000 courses a year since 1985. No more courses are held for parents learning “new math”. As a rule nobody learns mathematics because of its applicability in his vocational environment. Many people need mathematics during a learning process leading to other goals. If they want to take the opportunity of a long-term further education mathematics may become a formally important subject again. In many cases those whose abilities leaving school are under an average level have poor mathematical skills. So there obviously will be a continuous small number of adults who have to compensate a lack of mathematical skills for various reasons.

Courses in the basics of electronics (Figure 7) are part of the VHS programmes since the early seventies. They were supported by VHS-Certificates Electro Technique and Electronics since 1972 respective 1974 developed by the Pedagogical Institute. To run these courses the VHS needed more than just plain training rooms. The quality of the electronic equipment for measurement exercices has been an important factor for the applicability and practical relevance of the acquired skills. Since the beginning of the eighties courses in digital electronics for the more advanced increased as a preparation for courses in controlling by means of micro processors. Some VHS are able to run courses dealing with computer aided manufacturing (CAM), computer aided construction (CAD) or CNC. Due to the high prices of the necessary equipment these courses usually take place in regions with a high percentage of unemployed where the VHS cooperate with the supporting local working offices.

Informatics (Figure 7) is the discipline with the most striking development not only in the area of science and technology. In 1988 nearly 14,000 courses took place. Since the mid seventies many different types of introductory courses were offered. A VHS-Certificate Informatics was developed in 1976 aiming at problem solving by description of algorithms. As a formalism to do this Pascal was chosen. The main reason was its - to that time only theoretically - good support for structured programming. The boom started in 1982 when more and more firms began to install so-called Personal Computers. The number of courses increased with accelerate speed in two directions:

- Programming courses in two or three parts for BASIC, Pascal, FORTSAN or COBOL

- more lately courses in standard applications (text systems, spread sheet programmes, data organisation programmes, graphic programmes, integrated programmes)

In the mid seventies there were only a few VHS which were provided with a sufficient number of computers to integrate computer practice. The famous Commodore C 64 was the standard. Since some years a lot of VHS own special rooms with one Personal Computer (in most cases IBM-compatible) for every two participants. In the first years the main difficulty was to get the adequate software. In the meantime the software houses offer special prices for training institutions.

Today it is considered that the reach of courses which are oriented on special software systems is too short. It should be the task for further education organized by various companies to provide learners with the necessary skills. Public adult education should concentrate on qualifications which are less likely to get obsolete and support adults with the ability to handle coming systems. There are many suggestions how to teach these key qualifications. But besides hope there is no hard evidence that this way will be successful.

An important topic in informatics is the question of their social implications. There have been obvious changes in everyday life, caused by the application of computers. Working conditions in some jobs got worse. Office staff was in some cases reduced. Legal problems have to be solved (right to informational self-determination). The VHS as a public institution has to consider these problems when developing didactic concepts of courses. In each special course adequate ways to do so have to be found depending on the background and the different experiences of the participants.

The role of adult education in science and technology

Adult education aims at making adults able to act autonomously in vocational or social contexts. There are many uncalculable factors producing unforseeable effects. So if they are motivated to do so or if their surrounding gives them the opportunity to do so is not an easy consequence of their learning process. Adult education is not an easy control system. In many cases the reasons for supporting adult education in the area of science and technology is to make people accept new technology or even to break the resistance against it for economic reasons. This seems to be in contrast with one of the fundamental principles of adult education, i.e. to respect the interests of adult learners. The primary task for adult education should therefore be to enable these learners to handle the technological tools in respect to a human development of the society and their environment. If this is accepted there are many ways to combine this aim with providing adults with adequate qualifications, required by industry.


Figure 1a


Figure 1b


Figure 1c


Figure 2


Figure 3

1988 400 Th. Courses, 12.8 Mill. Lessons, 5.6 Mill. Participants


Figure 4


Figure 5


Figure 6


Figure 7