A new online platform is equipping science teachers with the right tools to reignite the passion for science among young people. The EU-funded Scientix initiative is a one-stop shop for the latest research, best practice and knowhow in maths, science and technology (MST) education. Its aim is to help teachers impart skills and knowledge that resonate with their students in meaningful and stimulating ways.
Insufficient numbers of young people (particularly young women) in almost all industrial countries are choosing to pursue careers in research. . One of the main reasons for this is a lack of interest in the way MST subjects are taught at school. For Europe, the rapidly dwindling number of researchers is likely to impact greatly on the economy in coming years. Today, about 700 000 new researchers are needed to meet some of the targets set out in the EU's Lisbon Strategy; this figure is expected to increase to 1 million by 2020.
For the European citizen, this means an insufficient number of researchers and specialised scientists able to contribute to an economy that is becoming increasingly reliant on innovation for growth and prosperity. Furthermore, the lack of interest among young people in general for science subjects at school will lead to a population without the basic scientific and technical literacy skills required to participate fully in a society that is moving quickly and changing dramatically.
'High quality science education is, therefore, essential,' explains Dr Agueda Gras- Velazquez from European Schoolnet (EUN), a network supported by 31 Ministries of Education from Europe and beyond.
Currently, points out Dr Gras-Velazquez, studies shows that science education is suffering from a number of problems:
Dr Gras-Velazquez is the project manager of Scientix, an initiative supported by the Science in Society programme with EUR 2 million in funding under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). As the only science education portal of its kind in Europe, its goal is to redress some of these obstacles by focusing on acquisition of the right MST skills at a young age — in particular by influencing what and how pupils and students learn.
'Teachers are the key actors to change the way science is taught at school,' says Scientix's project officer, Monica Menapace, of the European Commission's Science, Economy and Society Directorate. Although they can bring innovation and fresh ideas to the classroom, Ms Menapace explains that it is not always easy for a teacher to do so.
The aim of Scientix is, therefore, to provide science teachers at primary and secondary levels (and even earlier) with greater support and access to the latest teaching tools. The website, which was launched in May 2010, currently hosts hundreds of teaching materials, research reports and policymaking documents, many of which are the result of projects funded by the EU specifically to address bottlenecks in science education. In fact, it was the need to find a way to share these best practices and interesting results that led to the idea of web-based community platform on science education.
Scientix also hosts an online news service with international feature articles on science education, a calendar of events and training opportunities, a monthly newsletter (sent out to registered users), a discussion forum and chat rooms.
All of these services are offered in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish. In addition, one of the most important services under the initiative is the ability (upon request) to have any teaching material translated into one of the EU's official 23 languages; effectively allowing a teacher to deliver a lesson using tried and tested material, as well as best practice methodology and techniques.
'In all areas of life, by working together and by learning from other people's experiences, we avoid repeating mistakes, we improve and learn quicker, and new ideas arise. This is exactly what Scientix wants to do: share, help and encourage maths, science and technology education,' stresses Dr Gras-Velazquez.
Importantly, Scientix represents a move away from science teaching pedagogy that is deductive to one that is inquiry-based and 'hands-on'. This is in line with the recommendations made by a group of experts headed by Michel Rocard (former French Prime Minister and former Member of the European Parliament) in Science Education Now: a renewed pedagogy for the future of Europe.
The report, which was released in 2007, highlights the importance of inquiry-based science education (IBSE), in which more time is dedicated to observation and experimentation to encourage students to construct their own knowledge by way of experiences that are more meaningful to them.
'IBSE not only improves motivation in studying MST and provides the necessary basis for scientific reasoning, but it also has other positive outcomes as it increases student creativity, cooperation, social and transversal skills, and entrepreneurship,' says Ms Menapace. 'All these skills are needed for future innovators.' Workshops are currently being held in several European cities to promote engagement with Scientix. The workshops, which may include the participation of representatives from FP7 projects, provide teachers with a guided tour of the portal, instructions on getting the most out of the site, and the opportunity for feedback.
The initiative's next major milestone is the Scientix conference, which will take place in Brussels, Belgium from 6 to 8 May 2011. To learn more about the conference as details become available, you can subscribe to the Scientix newsletter here.