Need to More and Better Education Skills in African Children

Pilot projects are paving the way for a science education ''revolution'' to nurture reasoning skills, says Pierre Léna.

For about a century, basic education in the developing world has focused on improving reading, writing and counting. But since science and technology are now key for human development, reasoning skills should be added to the mix.

 



The natural science component of curriculums is a powerful tool to develop these skills - benefiting all children, no matter what their professional future. It can provide new opportunities for their potential intelligence and creativity to develop.

This implies a revolution in how science is taught in the developing world. Pilot projects, active for about a decade, have already shown the way. Today''s challenge is to convince education authorities to adopt this successful educational approach (pedagogy) and ensure large-scale implementation.

Rote learning

In primary and often middle schools in many resource-poor countries, children study the natural sciences by memorising facts. Observation and experimentation are missing from the classroom. This means students develop hardly any understanding and reasoning skills.

In addition to failing to engage students, this leads to uneducated citizens, the loss of potential talent for research and industry, and higher unemployment.

Instead, an active approach to learning is needed. ''Inquiry-based science education'' (IBSE) is such an approach, and it has been shown to work. The method challenges students to investigate natural phenomena by questioning, observing, experimenting, hypothesising and debating. And it requires them to collect data, build evidence to support their ideas and develop the capacity to apply these ideas to new situations.

But in many developing countries teachers are unprepared to practise IBSE and education authorities are reluctant to accept the rationale for adopting it.

Successful pilots

For two decades, I have worked with colleagues on science education reform through the international action of the French foundation, La main à la pâte - in the process, supporting and observing science education pilot projects in developing countries.

For example, Chile''s IBSE programme Educación en Ciencias Basada en la Indagación (Inquiry-Based Science Education), active since 2013, has already transformed science learning in thousands of schools, especially in poor areas. Conceived and supported by scientists, and aimed at social cohesion, the programme focuses on providing teachers with training and resources.

Since 1999, Mexico''s INNOVEC (Innovation in Science Education) project has trained more than 30,000 teachers, developing IBSE methods and practices to implement science and technology in classrooms. Here, engineers are contributing to the change as much as scientists.

Since 2010, the Pakistan Science Foundation has formed a nucleus of 100 teachers trained in IBSE in an effort to counteract rote learning.

In Cameroon, one school began experimenting with IBSE in 2003. Supported by the government, this pilot gradually expanded to include more than 150 teachers and today serves as a guide to the government for a change in curriculum.

A similar pattern developed in Cambodia, beginning with three schools in 2002. As in Cameroon, an international partnership between La main à la pâte and IAP, the Global Network of Science Academies, helped to overcome the lack of local scientific support.

 

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