Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Comment on Science and Technology Education

The Summary Report of the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2009 states:
From an international perspective, the gulf between rich and poor countries is wide – not only in terms of getting children through school but also in terms of what they are actually learning. A comparison of enrolment levels between Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and sub-Saharan Africa is particularly telling. By age 7, almost all children in OECD countries are in primary school, compared with 40% for sub-Saharan Africa. At age 20, in OECD countries 30% are in post-secondary education, and 2% in sub-Saharan Africa. Many children in countries such as Mali and Mozambique have less chance of completing primary school than their counterparts in France or the United Kingdom have of reaching tertiary education.

Global inequalities in education between high- and low-income countries often mask major disparities within countries. National inequalities based on income, gender, ethnicity, location and other factors can block a child’s educational attainment. Children from the poorest 20% of households in South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa are less than half as likely to reach grade 9 as those from the richest 20% (Figure 1). National governments and international development agencies must strengthen the focus on equity to achieve the core EFA goals.
Consider the children who get only a few years of schooling. (Unfortunately, most of them not only get very little schooling but the schooling that they do receive is of very low quality.) Thus the few years of schooling that they receive should provide them some basic science and technology, such as:
  • Some understanding of basic hygiene and of the communicable diseases prevalent in their environments;
  • Some understanding of human nutrition, and the dangers of addiction;
  • For future farmers, some understanding of plant growth and the role of water and soil nutrients in crop production;
  • Some understanding of statics and mechanics, such as the theories of levers and pulleys, that would be useful in manual laboer,
  • Some understanding of electricity and electrical devices that they might operate in the future;
  • Some understanding of motors that they might operate in the future;
  • Some understanding of animal sexual reproduction and genetics, especially for future farmers and herders.
  • Some basic understanding of economics, such as of markets and the choices of where and when to buy and to selll and of microfinance and collateral.
It does not seem that UNESCO's science and technology education program is focusing on these needs. Certainly spending time on space science and technology seems unwise even if the children are interested in the topics. There is no intrinsic reason why the science and technology that will help a poorly educated farmer, mother, or laborer to work smarter is not intrinsically uninteresting.

It is important that science and technology education awaken an interest in lifelong learning. Not only is new scientific and technological knowledge being created all the time, people's needs for such knowledge are continually evolving. For the children who will obtain very little schooling, it would seem especially important to motivate them to learn about science and technology out of school.

Similarly, students should learn where to get accurate science and technology information and services. They should learn of the importance of consulting health educators, health service providers, agricultural extension workers, industrial extension workers and others who provide valid information rather than the sources of traditional knowledge in their communities, whose information may often be suspect.

Thus the difficult task of those in primary schools serving children who will be expected to get very little schooling is to help them to become scientifically and technologically literate in the areas most relevant to their lives, and to give them the attitudes and linkages that will help them to learn more about science and technology when they have left school.

John A. Daly
(The opinions expressed above are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Its all in the manual they make you read before they download your being into those tiny bodies in those dark wombs.