Ask any kid around these days on what career they want to pursue and the likelihood that it’s a science-based one is low especially for young girls. What exactly is the cause of this trend?
Also, with this dwindling interest in science, it comes as no surprise that there is the need for actionable steps towards building a strong scientific interest starting from an early age.
Few steps have been taken toward that direction, the most encouraging of which seems to be inquiry-based science education. Defined by Harlen and Allende (2009, p. 11), “inquiry-based science education comprises experiences that enable students to develop understanding about scientific aspects of the world around through the development and use of inquiry skills.” During inquiry-based learning, hypotheses and facts are not simply presented to the students, but they are tested through conducting experiments. Such experiments vary depending on the scope of the project at hand; from fieldwork to investigation to case studies.
The reason why inquiry-based teaching and learning could make a difference in the way science is perceived, is because it encourages students to develop their own ideas, test their own hypotheses, and conduct their own experiments to justify their outcomes. The student is an active participant and does not sit idle while the teacher tries to infuse some hard-to-grasp scientific knowledge.
On the EU level, a lot is being done to drive more awareness towards interest in STEM courses; some fantastic initiatives, while some remain questionable. But how exactly is this process implemented effectively?
Students are simply called on to work with their own background knowledge and enhance their learning through their own experiences so far. Through inquiry, learners will be able to question the world around them, and develop critical thinking that renders them capable of making informed decisions regarding science in the society and education. Skills such as observation, questioning, planning, reviewing, and communicating will come into being through the encouragement of inquiry in the classroom.
Of course, inquiry-based science education does not solely concern learners, but when used, it becomes an integral part of teaching as well. Teachers leave aside their parroting of scientific terms and theories, and take on a more active role as mentors through the scientific process. Inquiry-based teaching gives them the opportunity to show students the world through science and help them develop a critical mindset through active engagement in projects. Thus, the lesson instantly becomes more student-centered, which peaks both the teacher’s and the students’ interests.
Introducing inquiry-based science education in schools at an early age is paramount to the development of young minds and their perception towards science, whether in Europe or Africa. Research has shown that ideas and impressions are more easily formed in a child’s mind, the delicacy of which allows knowledge to be absorbed as a sponge. As students in primary school are at a tender age, it becomes important that teachers are attentive to what they teach and how they teach it. The way that impressions and knowledge will be carved in a young student’s mind determine how they will contribute to the maturation of a fully informed and responsible-for-the-society adult. It goes without saying that science is not the only subject that forms the personality of a young person.
However, technological and scientific advancements are rapidly increasing around us, calling for more specialized people to guide their impact on our society. Feel free to follow updates on a recent STEM awareness project I participated in.
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash