Educating the scientific citizen in Australia: implications for teacher education

Year: 2013

Author: Paige, Kathy, Hattam, Robert

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


‘The available evidence suggests that in many areas our current way of living cannot be sustained’ (DEWHA 2009: 3), and ‘to master our destiny we need new thinking, new values—a new consciousness’ (Laszlo 2001: 4).  At this crucial time, there is also a crisis for science, and specifically in the relation between science and society. We now live in times in which the public ‘is increasingly asked to vote on scientific and technological issues beyond their untrained grasp’ (Elam & Bertilsson, 2003: 239). There is a compelling case that our times are defined by a ‘profound disjuncture in science and society relations’ (p. 233). This disjuncture in Australia can be characterised by: a vocal anti-science movement in the public culture; a crisis of public confidence in science; a ‘flight from science’ by students in final years of secondary school and at university; school science being too heavily skewed towards the abstract conceptual canon of science that too often ignores the realities of students’ own lives and interests; poor national performance in science learning by Australian primary and secondary students; a relatively low percentage of university qualified citizens compared to other OECD countries; nature deficit disorder; and low levels of public understanding of science in ‘western’ countries, that seem immune to educational interventions.
In summary, Australia, like other developed countries, now grapples with the education of the scientific citizen, as defined by a confluence of global environmental problems requiring scientifically literate citizens; the urgent need for more scientifically literate knowledge workers; and a crisis of science itself.
This paper takes this crisis as a provocation for thinking about one hopeful response being developed internationally---the citizen science approach. This approach is relatively new and whilst there are a lot of reports from citizen science projects, especially in scientific journals, there is a paucity of research about citizen science, and certainly not research framed by concerns for the education of the scientific citizen. This paper outlines how this approach has been taken up in three different sites: as large public pedagogy projects conducted in the public culture; as an approach for action research-driven professional development for school teachers desperate for approaches that proposed project entails mapping of (inter)national exemplars of citizen science; an extensive local case study of a citizen science approach adopted by the Barbara Hardy Institute including the development of a national citizen science project in 2014 and an international project in 2015; and, an examination of the potential for citizen science to inform curriculum and pedagogy of middle school teachers during a time of intensive national curriculum development in the areas of science and environmental sustainability.