|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:|
In the contemporary world, science and technology are playing an important: role in every countrys social development and economic progress. Successful competition in science and technology is directly related to the success of failure in the field of economy, military and politics. Many facts have proved that to increase the national awareness of science and technology and train a large number of specialists and scientists at various levels is an essential task for our country to accomplish if we are to keep up with the rapid development in science and technology and meet the challenge in the fierce competition in the world market. Therefore, it is our important basic construction to engage in the popularization of science and technology in the whole society using various means and media. And the popularisation of science and technology among youngsters, who represent the future of the country, is of strategic significance to us.
It is true the formal education, which is education in science at school, plays the leading role in the popularization of science and technology among youngsters. But facts have shown that in China it is far from enough to depend on school education in science to popularize science and technology among young people. The reasons are as follows: First of all, formal education contains materials that is relatively fixed which is unable to reflect the latest development in science and technology. Secondly, as Chinas formal education is not well-developed, it can not shoulder the whole younger generation as the objects of education. In China, rural areas, only 70 percent of the primary school children enter middle school and 30 percent of the middle school students continue their study in senior-middle school, consequently the few middle school graduates who are able to receive college education takes up only a very small percentage of the younger population. Under these circumstances, non-formal education in science and technology becomes an indispensable supplementary to education in science at school.
In the recent ten years, non-formal education in science and technology among Chinese youngsters has mainly been conducted in the form of out-of-school activities in science and technology. It has been proved that out -of -school activities in science and technology is indeed an effective means to popularise science/technology among young people.
One of the characteristics of Chinas out-of-school science education is that governments of all levels, various unofficial organisations and science associations and societies are all sponsors or supporters in various forms of such activities. The following is a brief introduction to the youngsters science and technology work of China Association for Science and Technology (CAST)
The top organizer for the whole nations youngsters science activities is the Leading Group of All China Childrens Science and Technology Activities which is established in 1981 by the chief officials from China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), the State Education Commission, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League, the All-China Federation of Women and the State Physical Culture and Sports Commission. The Group coordinates the different departments in their work of science and technology activities, works out the major regulations and policies, organizes demonstrative nationwide activities and comb ends outstanding science instructors. The office of the Group is located in the Department of Children and Youths Affairs of CAST.
CAST, which has 153 natural scientific and technological societies, associations and research institutions, is a society of scientists and engineers. To express scientists concern on nurturing science reserves, CAST takes it as one of its major tasks to carry out the youngsters science and technology activities and set up the Department of Children and Youths Affairs which is in charge of organising youngsters science and technology activities among the affiliating organizations of the CAST. Among the 153 natural scientific and technological societies, associations and research institutes, I want to mention the China Association for Youngsters Science Instructors. It has 130,000 members, through whom the Association keeps contact with the vast science instructors and science teachers. Science instructors are the grass-root directors and organizers of various science and technology activities, mostly volunteers doing the work in their sparetime, with only a small number as full-time instructors.
Besides the institutions and organisations mentioned above, there are more than 8,000 youngsters palaces, activity centres, science centres and such institutions in China. The number of county level and above youngsters palaces has been increased from 92 in 1979 to over 700. There are sizable youngsters palaces, activity centres or science centres each of the 30 provinces, automous regions and municipalities. In cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Wuhan and in Liaoning Province, out-o f-school activity stations are set up in most of their neighborhoods thus forming a complete network with the municipal, district and neighborhood levels for out-o f-school education. Many enterprises and institutions also have founded centres or stations in their residential areas. Some well-off rural villages are beginning to set up such places for their children. These out-of-school activity centres do not only provide needed sites for the young people, hut also they are the sponsors for various activities. CAST established its Childrens Science and Technology Centre in 1980s and has set up more than 20 childrens science and technology centres in different provinces throughout the country, which are actively involved in various activities in science and technology.
II. Multi-level Activities, Multi-subject
China started its organized out-of-school activities in science and technology for children and youngsters in the 1950s. It organized its first national exhibition on science and technology in 1955. In the 1980s, when Chinas modernisation campaign found itself in needs for a large number of scientists and millions of people armed with advanced knowledge of science and technology, the popularisation of science and technology in the society became an urgent and important issue. As a result, activities in science and technology for children and youth met with an unprecedented development along with the increasing educational programmes in science. Science activities for children and youth have been organised at different scales by organisations and societies at various levels. They are:
a) Multi-subject Comprehensive Activities
- National Contests for Inventions and Seminars on Science and Technology Development by Children and Youth, in the field of mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology, ... Since 1982, these contests and seminars have been co-sponsored every other year by the Leading Group of All China Childrens Science and Technology Activities and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Candidates with outstanding essays and inventions for the contests are selected from the corresponding activities organized by various counties, prefectures and provinces, thus forming a relatively comprehensive selective system that presents nearly three million children and youth for each session.
- Science-loving Month has been started in many places. During that month, every children and teenagers is called on to get to a popular science talk or a science film or a exhibition, read a biography of a scientist, or is encouraged to make some little invention, or do a little experiment. This has turned out to be quite a success. For example, Beijing has designated every October as the citys Science-loving month. These activities have been going on for seven years, which involve 2 million primary and middle school students every year in different forms of science activities that serve to popularise the scientific knowledge and increase young peoples interest in science.
- Science and technology activities by rural children and youth to improve practical techniques in planting, gathering, sewing, and mechanical and electrical skills.
- The nation-wide composition contest entitled with Great Nature and I which was co-sponsored by 17 publications and newspapers for popularization of science.
b) Single-subject Activities
For many years, more than 50 academic societies attached to the CAST have organized rich and multi-level science and technology activities for youngsters in accordance with different subjects. They are:
- National competition among middle-school students for mathematics, physics, chemistry and computer software designs which were sponsored respectively by Chinese Mathematical Society, China Physics Society, Chinese Chemical Society and Chinese Computer Federation. Winners from these competitions have been selected to attend the international Olympiad for mathematics physics, chemistry and informatics since 1986. What we achieved in the international science Olympiads has greatly stimulated Chinas progress in the education of science and technology.
- The summer camps in science and technology. The subjects including: physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology, forestry, botany, electronics, computer science, aviation, navigation, earthquake, survey and drawing, coal, petroleum, environment protection, agricultural science, solar energy, ship-building, measurement, insects, ocean, nucleus, light industry, etc. About one hundred thousand students participate in these activities every year.
- The space craft model, ship model and vehicle model activities which lead to annual national competition sponsored by CAST and the State Physical Culture and Sports Commission.
The effect brought about by the science activities by children and youth in the increasing popularization of science and technology is mainly shown in the following three ways:
a) These activities have increased the chances for the young people to get into contact with the knowledge of science and technology thus opening a new channel for them to learn about the latest information in the area. Non-formal education in science and technology, which is lively, practical, and easy for children and youth to understand, has proved to be a very effective r weans for the education of popular science.
b) They have helped to increase the awareness of practical techniques in the rural areas. Thanks to the under-developed education and the lack of information, Chinese peasants who are still in traditional farming in many areas refuse to believe in the new farming technology. However, in those areas where out-of-school science and technology activities are well underway, many students try to put into practice the techniques they have acquired into their own experimental plot. The success and experience of these students have become the most effective proof for the superiority of the new farming techniques over the old traditional method! thus speeding up the development of productive forces. Students graduating from these programmes have become the advocates for the new practical technology.
c) They provide chances for outstanding youth display their talent. On the one hand, talent can only be displayed in and identified through its application; on the other, only by constant use can talent be developed. The opportunity provided by classroom education is quite limited while out-of-school activities create a much greater opportunity because they are more active, more flexible, more practical, more adaptable and more interesting. The recent decade of science and technology activities have brought into full play the potential and talent of a large group of young people who won the prize of competition with their achievements and were recommended to further their education in colleges and universities. Now we are glad to see that a large number of active participants in the out-of-school science activities have made their serious commitment to the countrys development of science and technology and the cause of popularising science and training the qualified citizens for this country.
IV. Future Perspective
Great efforts have been made to engage in science and technology activities through non-formal channels. However, China, as a developing country with an unbalanced economy, has shown a serious need for balance in education and science activities among young people. It is almost impossible for those rural grade schools and high schools to provide enough money for the simple need of the instructors for after-class activities when their classrooms threaten to cave in a any moment. This author believed that greater efforts should be made in the following three areas if Chinas science and technology activities by children and youth are to make further progress:
a) To expand the scale of these activities so that more schools, children and youth will be involved in these activities;
b) To increase the number of science instructors and make sure their knowledge in the subjects is continuously renewed;
c) Strengthen the theoretical research work for the out-of-school science and technology activities to find out the innate regulations in this form of nonformal education;
d) To open up other new possibilities for new forms of such activities that will effectively reflect the latest development in science and technology.
Practice in the past thirty years have indicated that out-of-school activities in science and technology is an effective means to popularise science and technology among children and youth and complement the formal school education, They have made great contributions to speed up the countrys development in science and technology in the modern area.