Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Students’ perceptions of science and technology"

Read the full article in the current edition of Connect, UNESCO's International Science, Technology and Educational Newsletter.

This is a very interesting article on the attitudes of 15 year old students in a number of countries on science and technology. The graphs plotting the differences in attitudes among countries are especially striking. Unfortunately, students from the United States were not included in the study, but it seems likely that they would share many of the opinions expressed by students from other developed nations. Excerpts from the article follow.

"In most OECD countries there is a concern about the lack of interest among young people to pursue studies and careers in science, engineering and technology (SET). Many wealthy nations ‘solve’ their recruitment problems by importing able students from poorer countries. About half of the PhD students in SET in the US come from such countries, mainly from Asia2.

"Such a ‘brain drain’ has positive as well as negative effects on both parts, and will not be discussed here. It is, however, noteworthy that the recent preoccupation with the ‘fight against terror’ has complicated the migration of these able students, in particular to the US.

"It is a paradox that the most SET driven economies in the world experience a lack of interest in SET studies and careers among young people. The economic significance for a country to have a high number of skilled scientists and engineers is well accepted.

"But young people do not choose their studies or careers because it is good for the economy of their country. They base their choices (when they have them) on their own interests, values and priorities. It is obvious that SET studies and jobs do not have the same appeal to students in wealthier countries as they used to some decades ago.

"The lack of interest in SET in schools and further studies is not only a problem for the economy. It is also a threat to democracy, since most decisions in modern societies are highly dependent on considerations that involve weighting scientifi c arguments against value judgements. A scientifi cally illiterate voting population can easily be manipulated by propaganda in a voting process.

"From the above perspectives, it becomes urgent to get to know the SET-related attitudes, priorities and interests of the young generation. The ROSE-study has the ambition to do so."

ROSE (The Relevance Of Science Education)

"ROSE is an international comparative study that taps into the diversity of interests, experiences, priorities, hopes and attitudes that children in different countries bring to school (or have developed at school). The underlying hope is to stimulate an informed discussion on how one may make science education more relevant and meaningful for learners in ways that respect gender differences and cultural diversity. It is also hoped that light will be shed on how students’ interest in choosing SET-related studies and careers can be stimulated. Through deliberations that involved science educators from all continents, ROSE has developed an instrument with around 250 single items that tries to map out attitudinal or affective perspectives as seen by 15 year old learners. All items are simple in wording and the responses are given on a 4-point Likert scale. This justifies the use of standard statistical methods like calculations of means, correlations etc. About 40 000 students from 35 countries are taking part in ROSE on whose data 10 students from different countries will base their theses. A full report on the project rationale, development and logistics is available which includes reports on data collection from the participating countries. Data collection for international reporting is now finalized. Several articles and international reports with comparisons will be published during 2005 and the following years. Networks of science educators like ESERA (European Science Education Research Association); NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) – US-based but with international outreach - and in particular, IOSTE (International Organization for Science and Technology Education), have been used to establish the network of research partners."

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