|Popularization of Science and Technology - What Informal and Non-formal Education Can Do? (Faculty of Education,University of Hong Kong - UNESCO, 1989, 210 p.)|
|Papers presented at the Conference:|
The position paper (Cheng Kai Ming, 1989) for this conference suggests that science and technology have never played such an essential and influential role in our lives.
Certainly changes are rapid and have placed new demands on society. The debate over the use of nuclear power, the concerns about the depletion of the ozone layer, especially by CFCs and the ethical issues related to genetic engineering all point to a need for todays society to be more literate in science and technology.
Science Literacy Standards
Yet the recent results from an International science study in Hong Kong at the form 2 (grade 8) level (Holbrook, 1989) show that about 6% of students in Hong Kong are barely scientific literate achieving little above chance level and the overall average for all students at this level low by international standards. After only one further year of study many of these students will have completed their formal scientific level of understanding of such students will remain low and any gains in the realm of science and technology, as such students progress into adult life, will fall solely on non-formal and informal means.
Evidence of the lack of awareness of science and technology can be easily observed using Hong Kong as an example. Two illustrations that can be cited are the lack of care of the environment, particularly by dumping rubbish on the streets, in the country parks and in the sea; and unsafe practices leading to industrial disasters such as the serious fur factory fire which occurred fairly recently through a lack of education on appropriate procedures to be employed when handling benzine (petroleum ether).
The popularity of science subjects at school is currently high at the senior secondary level in many Asian countries although this is far from being the case in many Western countries. Yet this science is only for a minority and is very much school orientated and lacks serious concern for technology. The curriculum is based on building up fundamentals leading to conceptual development rather than relating the science to the technology in the society. Without transference skills students can complete a school course in science and still be illiterate towards the technological problems in society. There are moves today to introduce more relevant and technologically orientated science curricula e.g. Chemcom by the chemical society, SATIS by the British Association for Science Education and Salters Science by the Science Education Group of the University of York, UK, but their impact has yet to be-clearly observed even though early signs are encouraging.
Non-formal Science Education
All this points to an obvious need for more than formal science education. This need is for both students and adults if the level of technological awareness is to be raised and citizens are to be better able to grasp issues confronting society. This education has the unenviable task of overcoming the poor image science and scientist have acquired and to popularise science as a first step to increasing scientific awareness and scientific literacy.
Maybe unwittingly the task of popularising science has been made more difficult by the mass media, particularly television. Science television as such does not receive high audience preference ratings and thus such programmes are rare and often confined to specialist channels (Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the US) or aired late in the evening. Entertaining television, especially cartoon, tend to put forward a stereotyped image of science as magical, dangerous and conducted by mad scientists who are old, white haired men in white labcoats. Science is thus portrayed as being in a world of its own and too obscure for the average man in the street.
Science magazine or newspaper writers have a difficult job making the science comprehensible to the majority of its readers and tend to gear stories to topical happenings, glorified by striking headlines. Such headlines are all too often disasters e.g. Chernobyl, impending doom e.g. flooding resulting from the greenhouse effect, or fantasies that would enhance the image of science if only they would come true e.g. cold fusion. Little wonder that the population is not clambering to become more scientifically literate and may well be perceiving science as obscure, dangerous and irrelevant to their lives.
Non-formal Education at the School Level
Yet there are channels of non-formal education at the school level that can play a positive role in the popularisation of science. Such examples are well known e.g. science clubs run after school, inter-school competitions such as exhibitions, young inventor, story writing, fairs and Olympiads and regional and international competitions of a similar nature. It is suggested that greater efforts in these areas provide a good platform for encouraging the study of science and in bringing science to link with concerns in the society.
Hong Kong has a very good example of an exhibition which is open to the general public and provides an excellent platform for the popularisation of science and technology. This is the Joint Schools Science Exhibition (JSSE). Every year Hong Kong plays host to a science exhibition in which students exhibit their projects and are judged on its merit and their ability to explain the project to members of the public. The exhibition, usually organised in late July or August, is open to members of the public free of charge and held in the exhibition centre for about 1 week. This year marked the 22nd joint schools science exhibition and it has truly established itself as a major function in Hong Kong in this area.
An unusual feature of this science exhibition is that it is completely organised by students. This does not simply mean that students develop the projects by themselves, but that the whole planning, fund raising, timing, judging are carried out by the joint schools science exhibition preparation committee which is composed entirely of students from different schools with officials elected to their positions entirely by the students.
All member schools hand in a description of their project to the Project Inspection Group before the exhibition, the deadline being set by the Project Inspection Group. A member from the Project Inspection Group checks that the project in each school is progressing well and is completed in time for the exhibition. All individual projects are under the responsibility of a student from a: member school. The school is responsible for all financing of the project. Joint projects between member schools are permitted.
The exhibition was initiated from a concern that science in senior secondary schools was too academic and too narrow and there was a wish to encourage students to gain wider experiences. It was shown to the general public to give greater awareness to science and to link schools a little more closely with the community. The first event was such a success that the JSSE became an annual event.
The exhibition is given a theme each year. For 1989 this was Dreams Come True. Living in the modern world, everything around us such as buildings, vehicles, clothes and even foodstuffs are products of technology. All increase the quality of life. Just as man would never have flown had he not first dreamed of flying, so mans dreams for the future can shape the technology for tomorrow. Dreams come true is thus an opportunity for students to consider how technology of the future is evolved from the scientific world of today.
The Role of Science Teacher Associations
This year for the first time, thanks to contacts with the Hong Kong Association for Science and Mathematics Education, the committee made contact with the China Association for Science and Technology and had arranged for a winning exhibition to be shown in the Hong Kong exhibition. Unfortunately visa difficulties made the realisation of this not possible.
Thanks to contacts with the International Council of Associations for Association for Science Education which runs the Brunei science week in December each year. The committee has secured funds for the Hong Kong winning entry to be exhibited in Brunei in December 1989.
For the event in Hong Kong to become larger and to have the potential to involve all schools, there is a need to offer help to the committee and to assist in the promotion of the event from one year to the next. Further, to coordinate projects and perhaps arrange for regional miniexhibitions prior to the main event, there is a need for help from a body with expertise in this field. In Hong Kong this role could be filled by the Hong Kong Association for Science and Mathematics Education, a teacher organisation that has already offered support to the Joint School science exhibition preparation team and has organised many events of its own, sometimes with the general public in mind. Such a development may well be a future trend, further enhancing the ability of the exhibition to popularise science and technology by making a greater impact on the public, the media and linking with organisations overseas. The role of science teacher associations is thus seen as being very important in promoting the pursuit of non-formal science and in the popularisation of science to the general public.
This can be more understood when it is realised that additional events link with the exhibition. For example the organisers arrange a poster competition among students during the Easter holidays with the winning poster chosen to publicise the exhibition. This year over 100 entries were received and were judged by a team of 4 invited judges from the Government Education Department and persons from tertiary institutions and the Hong Kong Association for Science and Mathematics Education.
In July a seminar on astronomy was organised for about 30() students to publicise the Joint Schools Science Exhibition to be opened on the 29th July. The speaker invited was Mr Leung Kam Cheung, President of the Hong Kong Amateur Astronomical Society and arrangements were again made with the help of the Hong Kong Association for Science and Mathematics Education.
Further publicity for the Exhibition is organised through the publication of a series of articles in the local newspaper, each article written, by a group from the Joint School Science Exhibition Preparative Committee Publicity team. By keeping the themes topical and readable to members of the general public, the publicity team wished to draw attention the exhibition and popularise science amongst adults.
Many events of this and a similar nature which have great potential to popularise science amongst the general public do however go unnoticed. Publicity and coordination are a problem. This has been recognised in some countries and out-of-school activities have been carefully coordinated and propagated by a separate body e.g. the Out-of-School Department of CAST (China Association for Science and Technology).
Many countries do not possess such an umbrella organisation as CAST and even then there are between country contacts to consider which can sometimes benefit from the informality when not solely dependent on governmental controlled organisations e.g. UNESCO.
Many countries however do possess Science Teacher Associations. These are non-profit making professional organisations with the aim of promoting education by (HKASME prospectus) improving the quality of Science and Mathematics education; affording a means of communication amongst people concerned with the teaching of Science and Mathematics in particular and with education in general; providing a responsible medium through which opinions of those in Science and Mathematics education on educational matters may be expressed; and extending the professionalism of Science and Mathematics teachers.
Such bodies are in a very good position to coordinate efforts between organisations be it students, the teachers or other bodies such as Chemical societies, Physics societies etc and provide the necessary infrastructure to ensure participation in a friendly and voluntary manner (the teachers being the level of communication) and being a recognised body, having communication channels with Ministries of Education, the press and the public at large, to encourage the popularisation of science and technology.
Science Teacher Associations are linked internationally by ICASE (International Council of Associations for Science Education). The International Council of Associations for Science Education was established in 1973 to extend and improve education in science for all children and youth throughout the world by assisting member associations. It is particularly concerned to provide a means of communication among individual science teachers associations and to foster cooperative efforts to improve science education. Its beginning stemmed from a realisation at a conference at the University of Maryland that UNESCO could not be expected to fulfil such a role, but could be supportive of a body created specifically for communicating amongst science teacher associations and other organisations interested in science education. To date ICASE has communicated to its members by means of a newsletter, a yearbook, occasional teacher resource publications and by the organising of symposia usually on a regional basis.
ICASE has the infrastructure to coordinate efforts by member associations around the world and promote regional and even international cooperation that bring science and technology to the attention of the public and in so doing further popularise science. This role is only limited by financial constraints such an organisation inevitably suffers where it is not governmentally controlled. Its publications such as a newsletter and yearbook ensure sharing of developments and suggestions on how to organise non-formal events among teachers and through them further promoting such events.
The potential role for science teacher associations in the popularisation of science an technology is thus great. Unfortunately the enthusiasm of such persons is not sufficient to create extra working hours in a day and there is a limit to which voluntary labour can cope with the enormity of the task. Yet their potential to arouse the interest of teachers and through them of the students and to sustain efforts at a local and informal level, makes-them indispensable in any real attempt at the popularisation of science amongst the general public. After all a good scientist or for that matter a good administrator is not necessarily a good presenter of science and technology to students or the general public; the popularisation of science depends on its image and what better than that from teachers and students? The role of Science Teacher Associations is worthy of greater consideration and better support.
1. Cheng Kai Ming, position paper for the conference on the popularisation of science and technology through nonformal and informal means, 1989.
2. HKASME (Hong Kong Association for Science and Mathematics Education)
3. Holbrook J.B. Science Education in Hong Kong, vol. 1, Hong Kong TEA Centre, University of Hong Kong, 1989.
4. ICASE (International Council of Associations for Science Education) prospectus