A recent NESTA study out of the UK confirms what governments and the research community perhaps already knew: the level of practical school science is on the wane. The report calls for innovative, hands-on approaches to science learning and teaching. Two initiatives – one in a region of Austria, another run out of Portugal – show how tackling this problem can start at the grassroots.
According to the recently published NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) ‘Real Science' study, the vast majority – 84% of British secondary schools surveyed – consider science learning to be “very important”. But 64% of respondents suggest that the biggest hurdle to more science being taught in UK schools, at least, is lack of time in the current curriculum, and misunderstandings about the health and safety of science experiments in schools.
|Injecting some fun into school science practicals.|
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A Portuguese-led network called ‘Hands-on Science' is tackling just these sorts of challenges by promoting science and scientific literacy in schools all over Europe. The project has partners spanning 30 countries. It wants to find and promote innovative new ways to teach science and technology in schools.
To do this, the Network collects and disseminates new approaches, information, materials, ideas, curricula and experiences from past and ongoing projects in the Socrates programme – Comenius, Minerva, etc. – in this field. Among other tasks, it monitors results and expertise gained in science teaching projects across Europe and abroad. In order to improve teaching methods and curricula, Hands-on Science also gathers data on students' (6 to 18 years old) perception of science.
“The recent challenges Europe is facing in these times of Enlargement consolidation and global affirmation of the European Union in the world, gives education, and particularly science and technology education, a decisive importance,” notes the Network's website.
A Gheep in the research
On the other side of the Union, the Raumberg-Gumpenstein Agricultural Research and Education Centre (HBLFA), in Austria, is taking a practical path to meeting the scientific research needs of rural communities and this includes school outreach activities.
The Centre runs a school programme to get children thinking about rural issues and to develop ways of involving farming communities in research activities which very often affect them directly. It works in the fields of agriculture, sustainable development and regional development, in particular plant and animal production and its impacts on ecology and the economy.
The federally funded HBLFA has branches all over Austria and is participating in several EU-funded projects, including Sure (restoring and maintaining mountainous regions), Neprovalter (studying the socio-economic situation of rural Alpine communities), and Alpinet Gheep (promoting and protecting the goat and sheep ‘gheep' sector in Alpine regions).
Both the HBLFA and the Hands-on Science group attended the Communicating European Research (CER) 2005 event in Brussels last month.
HBLFA, NESTA, Hands-on Science