Back to the Future? Aims and Ends for Future-Oriented Science Education Policy-The New Zealand Context

By Gilbert, Jane | Knowledge Cultures, November 2017 | Go to article overview

Back to the Future? Aims and Ends for Future-Oriented Science Education Policy-The New Zealand Context


Gilbert, Jane, Knowledge Cultures


Introduction

Science and science education are currently a strong focus of high-level government policy settings in many countries. In the New Zealand context, the purpose of this is to build New Zealand's capacity to be a "smart country where knowledge and innovation are at the heart of both economic growth and social development" (Gluckman, 2011, p. 1). In the policy context, greater public interest in--and knowledge of--science are seen as being crucial for future economic growth and social development, as are better linkages between science and innovation.

A key element in building this "smart" future, Gluckman argues, is a "forward-looking" (p. vi) science education system. Meanwhile, in the education policy context, there is a lot of talk about "future-oriented" education: reconfiguring our education system to better prepare people for life and work in the twenty-first century. All this raises some questions that are not receiving much attention, but are, it seems to me, critical for the future of science and of education. For example:

1. In what ways do science and innovation overlap? Should they overlap?

2. If a key purpose of science is to contribute to innovation, what implications does this have for science education?

3. If we think school science should change, what might these changes look like?

4. Would these changes be "educative" (in the Deweyan sense)?

5. Would the changes support the development of a more "future-focused" education system?

This article explores these questions. It argues that key aspects of the current policy approach, because they rest on limited views of first, education, and second, science, are misguided and potentially harmful. Using examples from the New Zealand context, this article argues that these policies are restricting, not expanding, our future development possibilities.

The article has three sections. The first section outlines some key trends in recent science and science education policy, using the New Zealand context as an example. The second section sets out four very different reasons why these policies are not likely to produce a future-oriented science education system capable of turning out scientifically knowledgeable, innovation-ready citizens. The third section suggests three possible scenarios for science education's future aims and ends. The article's main focus is on high-level science--and science education--policy: in particular, the ideas that appear to have underpinned recent policy developments. Although there are references to school science education, this is not a practice-oriented article. My concern is to unpack the--often unexamined--ideas underpinning how we think about science education's purpose/s, and to look at how these ideas might need to be different in the 21st century. A key aim is to examine the role science could play in supporting the development of genuinely "educative" experiences in a 21st century education system.

Contemporary Science and Science Education Policy--The Key Drivers

In New Zealand and many other countries, the last few years have seen increased government emphasis on science and innovation as key drivers of our economic and social future. In New Zealand, the government ministries involved in science policy have undergone several major re-structuring exercises. In 2011, the former Ministry of Research, Science and Technology was replaced by a new Ministry of Science and Innovation (MSI), set up to support a "broader government focus on boosting science and innovation's contribution to economic growth." (1) However, not long afterwards, in 2012, MSI was merged with the former Ministries of Economic Development, the Department of Labour, and the Department of Building and Housing to form a new "super-Ministry" known as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). One of this new Ministry's purposes is to facilitate "closer connections between the scientists and innovators who can generate new ideas and solve problems, and the business people who can translate these ideas into income and jobs. …

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