Curriculum development in science - past, present and future
Science only became a recognised school subject at the end of the 19th century. The study of science subjects remained an elitist pursuit until the mid-late 20th century, but it is now seen as a core subject in many countries, especially in the junior secondary cycle. Since the 1950s there have been major reforms in science education – in the USA, UK and other countries – with a shift away from a focus on content and prescribed practical work, to emphases on inquiry (thinking and working like scientists) and the social aspects of science (in the STS and context-based movements) and on the nature of science (history and philosophy of science). The talk will trace the evolution of the school science curriculum, with a focus on the UK and Ireland, and in particular the changing fortunes of discovery/inquiry science, whose latest incarnation – inquiry-based science education IBSE), is currently in vogue, particularly in Europe. Different science curricula have had different balances between the needs of science and scientists, of students, and of society. In addition, there have been at least three main paradigms underlying school science curricula:
the facts and concepts of science (content);
the nature and processes of science (conduct or process);
the applications of science in society (context).
Modern curricula rightly consider that all these aspects are important, although each one has produced its own version of school science, where its emphasis is dominant. The prevailing trend is to integrate all three aspects into science curricula, whether as combined science or single sciences, designed both for the needs of future science specialists and for citizens. Apart from the social and economic demands on science curricula to deliver benefits for society and the economy, the other major influence in the last 40 years or so has been the growth of science education research, and the demand that reforms in science curricula and classroom practice be evidence-based.