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28 February 2011 I Valentina Garoia
Efforts to Increase Students’ Interest in Pursuing Mathematics, Science and Technology Studies and Careers
This comparative overview of the various national initiatives, policy actions and reforms taking place in 16 European Schoolnet member countries demonstrates that increasing students’ interest in pursuing MST studies and careers is still very much an issue of importance for Ministries of Education across Europe.Within the framework of the Spice project of which it is coordinator, and at the request of its Steering Committee, European Schoolnet (EUN) undertook a comparative analysis of the main, recent Maths, Science and Technology (MST) initiatives, policy actions and reforms in 16 EUN member countries, based on voluntary information provided in answer to a questionnaire. The EUN members and the Spice project’s expert panel which answered the questionnaire used to collect information for this report, consisted of a mixture of experts, researchers, policy makers and teachers holding a relevant background and knowledge of MST measures and issues at national level.
This report shows that two actions are at the heart of the drive to make MST studies and professions a more popular option for young learners: the development of effective and attractive MST curricula and teaching methods, and improved teacher education and professional development. Some countries (the Netherlands, Norway, Ireland, Israel, Switzerland, and Italy), have implemented national strategies and others have set up dedicated national, regional, or local centres (Norway, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland). These centres aim to improve the quality of MST teaching, and sometimes more particularly, to increase science and technology’s popularity (also achieved through campaigns and competitions). This holistic approach usually includes all MST subjects, covers the lifelong learning span and involves the government, educational sector and industry. Public-private partnerships are an important feature of these all-encompassing approaches, aimed at developing a sustainable scientific culture which is deep-rooted in society. Other common approaches are to establish networks of teachers and teacher trainers, as well as other relevant stakeholders, and to implement curricular reform and initiatives favouring inquiry-based learning (e.g. cross-disciplinary, thematic or project work).
Most countries have invested in teacher training in how to use innovative methods, digital resources and tools in MST teaching, often via eLearning, either for all MST teachers, or mathematics teachers (as a consequence of students’ low mathematics results in PISA) or science teachers only. Large Efforts to Increase Students’ Interest in Pursuing Mathematics, Science and Technology Studies and Careers scale in-service teacher training programmes devoted particularly to the teaching of experimental science can also be seen in some countries. Some countries have provided teachers with laptops as a way of increasing their confidence to use ICT based tools in their teaching. The transition from school life to working life is an important aspect of several of the initiatives mentioned in survey responses. One approach is to invite MST professionals or university students to schools to encourage younger learners’ interest, while another is to enable teachers and students to visit MST work places. In terms of gender-related issues, national policy action plans to ensure equal opportunities for boys and girls across the education system exist in some cases, and other actions include workshops or summer schools for primary and secondary level female students, a role model approach whereby female MST teachers are matched to female students, and testimonial websites where MST professionals share their career paths with students. ICT is valued by all countries for its ability to diversify the learning process and make the study of MST subjects more attractive. It is considered to have added value for teaching MST subjects as it facilitates collecting, recording and analyzing data; enables students to carry out safe and quick experiments not otherwise possible in the classroom due to lack of equipment or risk of danger; the simulation and visualization of 3D structures in science; and modelling in mathematics. Although all countries stated that ICT is used in the teaching of MST subjects, the extent to which this happens in practice varies, owing to a lack of computers, teachers’ critical attitude, or their unwillingness to change traditional habits.
The majority of the initiatives and reforms identified have only been in place for a limited period of time, and therefore no evaluation is yet available, although sometimes planned. It would be of great value for countries that have not yet planned evaluations of the various initiatives and reforms in place to do so, and those that have, to make the results public when available. This first analysis attempting to give a European overview is inevitably limited as it is based on the survey results of only 16 countries. An analysis examining additional countries would enable a more comprehensive overview and a richer comparison. We look forward to further information from additional countries to integrate into a regularly updated version of this report in the future. Potential synergies with the work of the European Commission’s MST cluster are also to be considered within the framework of European Schoolnet’s follow-up of developments in the MST field.
Download the full report (pdf)
This article is also available in Bulgarian.
Web Editor: Valentina Garoia
Last changed: Thursday, 03 March 2011
Last changed: Thursday, 03 March 2011