Towards a community for science education in Europe
6-8 May 2011, Brussels, Belgium
“Science and art belong to the whole world, and before them vanish the barriers of nationality” - Sir John Holman used this quotation from Goethe to kick-off his conference keynote speech. Whereas it is certainly true for today’s science, science teachers can still feel trapped within the borders of their countries. The Scientix European Conference aimed to break down these barriers and lay the ground for a European community for science education. More than 400 teachers, researchers, policy-makers and other stakeholders from over 40 countries gathered in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss the current challenges for science education.
The conference opened with speeches by Mr Robert-Jan Smits, Director-General of the European Commission’s Research and Innovation DG and Sir John Holman from the University of York, UK.
Mr Smits talked about the Europe 2020 strategy, its flagship initiative Innovation Union and the essential role that science education has in these plans: “We urgently need to attract more young people to science and technology careers and we need to equip them with the skills and knowledge necessary to be future responsible innovators, researchers and to become science active-citizens,” he said.
Sir John Holman, former Director of the National Science Learning Centre and advisor to the British government, elaborated on a science education system that would meet the challenges mentioned by Mr Smits. He stressed the crucial fact that science education can no longer be anymore an elite training to prepare future scientists, doctors and engineers to go to university; only scientifically literate citizens can take part in making democratic decisions about highly scientific issues: “In a very real sense, we are all scientists now. (…) We need a new kind of science education and we are moving towards it. This conference is a very important part of helping us move further still.”
Sir John's keynote speech focused on the key elements of a good science education system: school curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. However, he concluded by highlighting the essential role of teachers: “The teacher is the paramount factor in educational success. (…) The quality of an education system depends ultimately on the quality of its teachers.”
The parallel sessions discussed a variety topics and issues, from pedagogy, educational technologies and learning resources to interactions between policy, science and society. Yet several common themes emerged from the talks, complementing those brought up during the opening and plenary sessions. Together they form a set of recommendations to the Scientix stakeholders for the months to come:
During the conference we heard again and again about the policy initiatives of the European Commission: the Europe 2020 strategy; the Innovation Union and the importance of science education in this context. The European Commission’s representatives repeatedly stressed that the plans and proposals in those documents would end up in legislation and new funding schemes. It is crucial that Scientix stakeholders give their comments on those plans and get their voices heard.
The common denominator of all the presentations on innovative approaches to science education was the inquiry-based approach, a teaching that is not concerned only with facts and figures but also with the process of producing scientific knowledge. The practical experience – learning by doing – is the key to boosting young people’s interest in science. First-hand contact with real research is a very important component of this and the conference saw some inspiring examples of it.
To fully exploit the concept of inquiry based learning, teachers have to be properly trained. Teachers should combine excellent knowledge of their subject with excellent pedagogical and assessment skills. “We will see some great resources [during the conference] but if teachers are not trained in how to use them, then we won’t see any great results,” said Sir John Holman in his opening speech.
The conference provided many interesting examples of collaboration: between schools and teachers, between schools and industry, teachers and scientists. The exhibition showcased 25 European projects on science education bringing together teachers, researchers and science communicators across Europe. It is clear, however, that we have to find a way to take on board more teachers, researchers and science communicators to overcome fragmentation and promote best practices across Europe.
The Scientix team
Robert-Jan Smits, Director General
Sir John Holman, University of York, UK
Václav Piskač (left) and Ioan Grosu
Claudia Alsina (left) and Natalia Ribas
Miniworkshop on Xperimania
|Scientix Teachers with the EUN team|