Parental views about science education for informed citizenship

Year: 2009

Author: Boon, Helen

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Low post-compulsory science enrolments for secondary students have been a growing concern across the Western world; curriculum reforms to increase scientific literacy levels for civic scientific literacy and enhance science participation at secondary level are making little difference.

Much research has examined factors relating to science curricula and students' attitudes about science, but issues relating to parental views of science education remain largely unexplored. This is a critical omission since parents have been demonstrated to be important in influencing their children's perceptions and interpretations of the world around them throughout the schooling years and beyond. Because parents have a strong role in shaping their children's subject selection and career choices, this study explored parental attitudes about science education. Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents of pupils in grades 5-7 in state schools were invited to participate in focus interviews in a regional Australian city.

Results include a perspective which was empirically demonstrated for the first time: this group of non-Indigenous and Indigenous parents believed geography, history and social studies subjects (under the umbrella of SOSE, study of society and the environment) to be a better preparation than science for informed citizenship. Both sets of parents were unclear as to the nature of scientific literacy, and believed science as it is currently taught in primary schools is not relevant to their children's needs and not practical, or"hands-on"enough.

More broadly, parents believed that there are too few employment opportunities for those studying the sciences. They did not know what careers were available to those studying the sciences other than in medical and allied health fields, nor which careers needed science as a prerequisite. These perceptions were particularly strong among Indigenous parents. Views such as 'science is too difficult for their children' and stereotyped perceptions of scientists were also expressed. Media influences were cited as influential in shaping both groups of parents' perceptions.

Issues of the importance of science in the curriculum and parents' ability to assist their children with science homework were also explored.

This study sheds new light in an area where there is scope for interventions which are likely to have significant impact upon parents' value and support for the study of science. They will in turn, influence their children's engagement with science subjects through secondary and post secondary levels. It also demonstrates the need to explore parental views further using a larger sample drawn from various Australian geographic locations.

Key Phrase: Science and ICT Education