Changes Need To Succeed Where We Previously Failed(A Synthesis Paper for the Conference)

Glen S. Aikenhead
Curriculum Studies
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, SK, S7N 0X1

Published in

Globalization of Science Education: International Conference on Science Education

Seoul, Korea

May 26-30, 1997

Organized by the Korean Education Development Institute

Co-Sponsored by ICASE and UNESCO


The last time science education was reformed globally on a large scale was in the post-Sputnik era of the 1960s and 1970s. Many new science education projects sprang up in the USA and UK. The importation of American and British educational theories and curricula generally failed to meet the importers' expectations, however. For instance, the attempt at importing an American inquiry teaching method into Korea in the 1970s led to dysfunctional classrooms (Lee et al., 1988). Contributing to this failure was American foreign policy, intellectual ethnocentrism, cultural differences between nations, and the career interests of a few key Korean educators. Future changes need to succeed where we previously failed. Transnational transfer of educational ideas needs to be viewed with a highly critical eye.

In the United States, "National Standards" and "Project 2061" were developed by Americans for Americans. These projects do not transfer successfully into other countries, even into its neighbour Canada, as evidenced by the current debate in Canada over a national science curriculum framework. The belief that science is universal and culture-free propagates the myth that teaching it is also universal and culture-free. Global reform must be multi-national in character. Each country must define and implement reform in its own way, though we cannot loose sight of the fact that our students will be citizens of a global village. On the one hand, we should be inspired by the American examples of reform, but on the other, each country must (1) develop its own curriculum policy, (2) develop its own classroom materials that support that policy, (3) nurture teacher understanding of that policy, and (4) assess student learning according to that policy. These four products of reform cannot be transferred from one country to the next.

The purpose of this paper is to map out the territory that must be explored if science educators are going to successfully achieve these four products of reform in their own country. My map will describe four fundamental processes (deliberation, research & development, implementation, and instruction) that lead to the four products listed above. The relationship between the processes and products is summarized in Table 1. The sequence across Table 1 (from policy to student learning) reflects three levels of curriculum: the intended curriculum (government policy), the translated curriculum (textbooks and teachers' ideas about what will be taught), and the learned curriculum (the concepts, skills, and attitudes that students actually take away with them). Reform must consider all three levels of the curriculum.

Each of the four products of reform is discussed below in terms of the process that will most likely help ensure the success of that product.

Curriculum Policy and Deliberation

Four aspects to curriculum policy must be explored in any reform effort:

1. function: what are the goals and objectives for teaching the content?

2. content: what is worth learning?

3. structure: how should the content be organized and contextualized?

4. the process of establishing the function, content, and structure: who should be involved? and how should curriculum policy decisions be decided?

Each country and community must answer these questions for themselves. The first three points were the focus of attention in this conference's symposium "Broadening the View of School Science." The fourth point (the process) is discussed here by addressing the politics of curriculum policy, a topic that science educators have tended to overlook previously but should not overlook today.

Fensham (1992) pragmatically summarizes the politics of curriculum policy in terms of societal interest groups ("stakeholders") competing for privilege and power over the curriculum. For example, school science (quite often physics) can be used to screen out students belonging to marginalized social groups (e.g. some minorities within a country), thereby providing high status and social power to the more privileged students who make it through the science "pipe line" and enter science-related professions. Fensham categorizes this societal self-interest as political. His other categories are: economic interests of business, industry, and labor, for a skilled work force; university scientists' interests in maintaining their discipline; societal groups' interests for empowerment in a nation whose culture and social life are influenced by science and technology; and students' interests for individual growth and satisfaction. As Fensham (1992) warned, the science curriculum is a social instrument that serves the interests of those who have a stake in its function, content, and structure. Stakeholders must be involved in reforming curriculum policy.

Different countries traditionally employ different decision-making processes to establish curriculum policy. The process that has the greatest potential for successful global reform in science education is the process of deliberation (Orpwood, 1985). Deliberation is a combination of the "top-down" and the "grass-roots" methods. Deliberation is a structured, informed dialogue among the various stakeholders: science teachers; university professors; students; community, business, and labour leaders; parents; and government officials. An informed decision will be reached based on a knowledge of global reform in science education and based on the values held by the stakeholders. One major purpose of deliberation is to involve the science teachers who will eventually implement the new curriculum, and at the same time, involve the people who can offer those teachers support, encouragement, and guidance. Roberts (1988) illustrated the deliberation process by way of a case study. He concluded that the central question to address is, "What counts as science education?" The answer will vary according to the stakeholder.

Some influential stakeholders simply want school science to act as society's screening device to maintain an intellectual, social elite, status quo; for example, in the United States where white male middle class students have generally enjoyed a privileged status (Lee, 1997), or in Nepal where a conformity to the ruling clan of Rana dictated policy for a number of years (Bajracharya & Brouwer, 1997). Reformers must know their own political territory well and must plan ways to negotiate its pathways.

Another group of stakeholders has an interest in maintaining a view of science as: authorization, objective, purely rational, non-humanistic, purely empirical, universal, impersonal, socially sterile, and unencumbered by the vulgarity of human imagination, dogma, judgments, or cultural values (Aikenhead, 1996). Gaskell's (1992) and Gallagher's (1991) research shows that high school science teachers are among the strongest defenders of this view. Thus, it is imperative for today's global reform to involve people who will challenge this stereotype view (e.g. special science teachers or university professors) when establishing curriculum policy (Roberts, 1988). Changes need to succeed where we previously failed.

Each country needs a curriculum policy that engenders ownership by its principal stakeholders. This is the first product of successful reform. Deliberation has the greatest potential to produce that product in most developing and developed countries.

Classroom Materials and Research & Development

The failures of the post-Sputnik reforms accelerated the development of the science-technology-society (STS) and the environmental education (EE) approaches to science education (Solomon & Aikenhead, 1994). To meet the demands of these or any other reform efforts, conscientious teachers require professional guidance on a daily basis to help them fulfill the new curriculum policy. These teachers deserve suitable classroom materials (e.g. practical teacher guides, booklets, resources, or textbooks). Without suitable materials, reform will not occur. Attempts to translate American or European science textbooks for export have failed to make the materials workable in their adopted country.

From country to country, cultural conventions differ over how textbooks are developed. The vested interests of the traditional textbook establishment (authors included) can undermine attempts at reform. If reform is to occur, therefore, alternative processes of developing classroom materials may need to be implemented. The most promising process is research & development (R&D). It also has the greatest potential to attract financial support from business and industry that understand global reform.

A short case study will illustrate how R&D can work. This case study, the development of a Canadian STS science textbook, will also show how we can integrate the processes of deliberation, R&D, and implementation, when producing classroom materials helpful to teachers. (Details are found in Aikenhead, 1994a.)

The textbook, Logical Reasoning in Science & Technology (LoRST), evolved from two separate and quite different deliberation processes, one carried out across Canada by the Science Council of Canada and another in the province of Saskatchewan by the Ministry of Education. These deliberations answered the question, "What counts as science education?"

The process central to producing the textbook was R&D. The project was informed by the research literature on student learning, teacher practical knowledge, and STS content itself. The R&D followed a multistage sequence that took place in various classrooms, collaborating with students and teachers. First, I wrote and taught draft #1 in a local high school. Based on this collaboration, the text was modified to yield draft #2 and a rough draft of the teacher guide was written. Students helped by posing questions out of curiosity, by writing material in response to assignments, by offering advice, and by spontaneously interacting in the classroom. These questions, materials, suggestions, and interactions found their way into the second draft of LoRST.

This second draft was used by three volunteer teachers who received no in-service preparation but who were capable of being flexible. Their classes were observed daily. This collaboration with teachers and students led to the refinement of the teaching strategies suggested in the teacher guide, and led to many revisions in the student materials. Students' language and interactions were incorporated into the text. As a result of this stage in the R&D, LoRST was polished into draft #3, both the student text and teacher guide.

Next the R&D process was combined with the process of implementation -- implementing a new curriculum in the province of Saskatchewan. The implementation process provided a vehicle for obtaining feedback from teachers who were field testing the new curriculum (the potential users of the LoRST materials). In stage 2, the materials had worked well with students. But could the materials work well with a cross section of teachers? The last stage in the R&D process addressed this question. In this implementation process, the 30 teachers became the clients of the R&D project. Teacher feedback resulted in a number of revisions to LoRST. The resulting classroom materials were published as a textbook and teacher guide, and they are now being used in several provinces across Canada.

Most of the 30 teachers involved in the field testing subsequently took on leadership responsibilities for implementing Saskatchewan's science education reform in their own school districts. The implementation process will take many years to complete and will require concerted attention from time to time. I would argue that the implementation is successful if, within five years, 50% of the teachers teach science in the way envisaged by the new curriculum policy. Of the remaining teachers, 50% will require another five years. For those who will not change, retirement will eventually come.

This case study of the LoRST project illustrates how the R&D process, in conjunction with the processes of deliberation and implementation, can yield classroom materials that are (1) rationally based in curriculum policy and educational research, and (2) effectively grounded in classroom practice. For successful global reform, changes need to succeed where we previously failed.

Teacher Understanding and Implementation

Teacher understanding is a major component in the success of global reform. The intended curriculum must be transformed into the translated curriculum before student learning occurs. Prior to a reform, however, science teachers will have ideas about appropriate content, instruction, and assessment and evaluation. (Some teachers' preconceptions, however, will already exemplify the new curriculum policy, but many will not.) Teachers' previously held conceptions were constructed during their pre-service education experiences and from their teaching situations already lived through. Their conceptions fulfill many practical purposes, such as coping with, and surviving in, a wide range of classroom contexts and community realities. Teachers' conceptions will not likely change unless those teachers are able to influence their contexts and are able to envision the practical consequences of a new curriculum. This supports Roberts' (1988) claim that science teachers must be involved in establishing curriculum policy in the first place (via deliberation). This also offers an alternative view to assuming that teachers are lazy or intransigent, a view often expressed by frustrated curriculum developers. Perhaps the curriculum developers have themselves failed. Changes need to succeed where we previously failed.

Of the many problems and solutions discussed at this international conference, I would like to identify one major problem and then suggest some general plans of action that have promise for successful reform. When studying science at university, teachers experience a socialization process into a discipline (Ziman, 1984). During that time, teachers develop deep-seated values about science teaching (Aikenhead, 1984). Many science teachers have been socialized into believing that they too have the responsibility to socialize their students into a discipline (science for the elite, not science for all). The most powerful self-image for many teachers is the image of initiating students into the culture of a scientific discipline. Therefore, to reform science teaching is to change the deep-seated, personally cherished values of a number of teachers. Teachers' professional knowledge must experience a Kuhnian paradigm shift. Paradigm shifts are difficult. They require more than rational arguments and simple in-service programs. Each country will follow its own culturally sensitive ways of approaching paradigm shifts in teachers' understanding of what it is to be a good science teacher.

Because science teachers have been socialized by university science professors, then a successful plan of action for achieving reform will be to involve the scientific community -- the community responsible for shaping a science teacher's values in the first place, and a community with academic credibility. A cadre of enlightened scientists, carefully selected from industry, government labs, and universities, must relieve science teachers of the burden of socializing their students into a scientific discipline. Enlightened scientists (often parents of children disenchanted with their science courses) will likely support a reformed curriculum policy if they were involved in the deliberation process that produced that policy in the first place.

In addition to changing deep-seated values and images of teaching science, teachers must add new methods to their repertoire of instructional strategies. A new routine of instruction is best learned from fellow teachers -- the people who have practical credibility. A successful plan of action will involve a few cleverly selected teachers chosen to go through an intense in-service experience (e.g. Leblanc, 1989). These teachers then become in-service leaders in their own regions of the country, passing on their leadership expertise to other teachers who repeat the in-service process in their own communities. Industry calls this process "technology transfer." Educators could benefit from adopting these methods from industry (therefore, giving industry yet another reason to participate constructively in a country's reform efforts). Transfer of expertise requires practical on-sight experience. Technology transfer serves as a useful model for the process of implementing a reformed curriculum. The literature on curriculum implementation is rich in ideas and schemes to help us plan the process rationally (e.g. Cheek, 1992). Changes need to succeed where we previously failed.

Student Learning and Instruction

Two symposiums within this international conference have been dedicated to the critical topics of student learning and instruction. Reform has often been interpreted to mean STS or Scientific Literacy instruction and much has been written on these topics (e.g. Cheek, 1992; Holbrook & Aikenhead, 1997; Solomon & Aikenhead, 1994; Yager, 1992a, 1992b). A professional paradigm shift in teachers' ideas about learning and instruction in many industrialized countries has been a shift

away from: a scientist dominated view of the world conveyed to students by a teacher-centred approach to teaching,

towards: a student dominated view of the world (informed by science and technology) conveyed by more student-centred approaches to teaching.

The appropriateness of this trend for your own country must be decided by you and your colleagues.

Teachers and parents often express the fear that students will not learn as much science content from a reformed science curriculum. Research into student learning has shown that spending time on new topics and activities (not normally considered science content but related to that content; e.g. STS content and constructivist learning) is not detrimental to student achievement on traditional science content tests or to careers in science and engineering (Aikenhead, 1994b; Champagne & Klopfer, 1982; Yager & Krajcik, 1989).

Reform efforts have tried to make a real difference to a student's everyday life and to the well being of the community. This contrasts with making a political difference in passing tests that artificially open doors to social opportunities. The goal "science for all" represents a political paradigm shift from the goal "science for the elite." Learning and instruction change accordingly, but within the culture of the community if reform is to succeed.

The process of instruction and the product of student learning are intricately tied to the processes of assessment and evaluation. Good assessment of students is indistinguishable from good instruction itself.

The professional and political paradigm shifts associated with reform movements have direct implications for assessment and evaluation practices. We need to broaden those implications to include two major issues: evaluating the new programs themselves, and evaluating the support experienced by teachers. Part of the design of a rational reform effort will include concrete plans for assessing the support that teachers receive from government, industry, universities, and parents. The stakeholders who participated in the deliberation process of reform must initiate ways by which the jurisdictions they represent will be evaluated by teachers in terms of support during an extended implementation process. Stakeholders must be held accountable to teachers in any global reform effort, and this accountability must be designed into the reformed curriculum policy from the very beginning. Changes need to succeed where we previously failed.


The success of global reform will not depend on the adoption of a worldwide set of standards for science education. To adopt worldwide standards is to repeat the previous failures of cultural hegemony reminiscent of colonial ideologies. The globalization of science education that I envisage follows a multi-national and cross-cultural ideology. Each country will have its own culturally legitimate curriculum policy, classroom materials, teacher understanding, and student learning. Each country will have devised its own culturally legitimate process of deliberation, research & development, implementation, and instruction. What should be global about science education, then? Science education should globally contribute to the peaceful aspirations of all citizens: peace with each other in our post-colonial world, and peace with nature in our post-industrial world.


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Table 1. Relationships Between Processes and Products in Science Education Reform


Curriculum Classroom Teacher Student

Policy Materials Understanding Learning



Deliberation high low

R & D low high low

Implementation low high low

Instruction/Assessment low high