The need for a scientifically literate populace is increasingly recognized as critical in many countries, as they face the consequences of increasing population pressures, limited resources and environmental degradation. Basic science literacy, coupled with scientific “ways of knowing” – namely drawing conclusions based on observation, experiment and analysis – provides citizens with the tools needed for rational debate and sound decision-making based on scientific knowledge.
There is a consensus that in many places around the world, science education is facing serious challenges. Those seeking to improve science education face numerous, and sometimes coupled, problems. In many places, the lack of resources – both educational and financial – is linked with a dearth of adequately trained teachers and the growing popularity of non-scientifically-based belief systems. It is clear that developing countries face greater challenges in science education than economically developed countries due to lack of teaching materials including books, computing and communications technologies, community-based science centres, laboratory facilities and equipment, as well as shortage of skilled teachers.
Given this global scenario, and the needs of society, there is an urgent need to improve the preparation of the scientists of tomorrow, not only through widespread access to quality instruction, facilities and research opportunities for all students, but also to improve the motivation and interest of students so that the best of them move toward scientific careers.
In the light of the challenges and needs of science education globally, and on the basis of information provided by ICSU Members, the ad-hoc Review Panel makes the following Recommendations:
ICSU should incorporate an explicit goal for improving science education and science literacy into its Strategic Plan 2012–2017, in line with the Council’s central mission: ‘Strengthening science for the benefit of society’.
ICSU needs to allocate resources, including the assignment to a Science Officer at the ICSU Secretariat of specific responsibility to oversee and coordinate ICSU’s science education activities and work with ICSU’s Regional Offices thereon.
ICSU should promote interdisciplinary education among its Members and representatives of associated organizations and interdisciplinary programmes. ICSU is poised to play a key role in this matter by facilitating its National and International Union Members in the pursuit of inter-disciplinary approaches to science education. All future interdisciplinary research programmes initiated by ICSU should contain science education and communication components.
The ad-hoc Panel recognizes that there are many existing science education portals providing access to a wide range of educational resources, and recommends that ICSU does not set up its own portal to provide comprehensive access to educational resources. A website to facilitate the work of the working group will clearly be needed, however.
In order to accomplish the above recommendations, ICSU should establish some form of Advisory Group, whose members would be well-versed in science education and scientific research, to develop formats for this guidance, a well-thought out programme for information sharing, networking and facilitation, and an appropriate funding plan.
As ICSU works to implement activities addressing these recommendations, it needs to act in partnership with other organizations that are actively engaged in programmes addressing the same goals. ICSU should consider identifying strategic partners with which it would have more formal relationships for the implementation of joint activities. Partnerships with organizations focused on mathematics and engineering education are particularly important, in view of the foundational and application relevance of these disciplines.
The role of the Regional Offices
ICSU should reinforce the work of its three Regional Offices with respect to capacity building, in order to be able to reach out to, and serve, developing countries around the world. These Offices should actively contribute to mapping the status of science education, whether formal or informal, in the regions in which they are located. The Offices should be encouraged to network with any organizations in their respective regions involved in science education and science literacy that are aligned with ICSU’s own science education strategy, and work together to foster South-South cooperation in science education. A plan for coordinated activities at the Regional Offices and the ICSU Central Secretariat should be developed to advance ICSU’s efforts to implement these recommendations, informed by the Advisory Group mentioned above.
ICSU science education programme activities
ICSU should develop activities in support of science education as a service to the needs of its membership, while leveraging the strengths of its individual Members and its international character. The ad-hoc Panel considers that a series of well-targeted workshops and conferences designed to bring together scientists, educators and education leaders, with a specific emphasis on encouraging engagement of scientists in educational efforts (in a variety of forms, whether in informal or formal settings), would be a unique opportunity for ICSU, well suited to both its mission and the needs of its membership. These events should provide guidance to Members on best practices for science education and communication, and stimulate linkages on an international scale.
Through these and other means the Council should:
encourage its Members to work to increase the value and prestige of science education, outreach efforts and effective science communication through the reward and recognition systems which they offer, as well as those in place in educational and research institutions.
share information on research on science education internationally, including issues of discrimination, gender, student achievement, motivations and perceptions, with its Members.
encourage its Members to develop educational innovations grounded in best practices that will benefit teachers and students, recognizing their local contexts through joint efforts with educators and others.
encourage its Member organizations to provide professional development for scientists in teaching and communication, in order to ensure that the increased role for scientists recommended here is successful in encouraging students to pursue careers in science and improve science literacy among the public.
encourage and promote the move to Open Educational Resources within its Member organizations, in the interests of global science education.
Printed copies are now available from the ICSU Secretariat.