Adrian Fenton, Young People's Programme Manager at the British Science Association, reports from the 'Science and Mathematics Education: The Way Forward’  conference in Delhi.
‘Making white space in the curriculum’ – International comparisons and reflections from Delhi, India
This was one of the many interesting comparisons that came out of the British Council organised ‘Science and Mathematics Education: The Way Forward’ policy dialogue which has taken place over the last two days in Delhi. I’ve had the privilege of attending, representing the British Science Association and contributing our case study presentation on project based work through the CREST Awards .
The title of this blog was in reference to recent intentions in the Singapore science curriculum regarding freedom and flexibility for teachers within the curriculum's structure, an example that was met with nods of agreement from the majority in the session, whether from India, Uzbekistan or the UK. This, and other discussions, illustrated that common ideals for education existed across the nations, whether it be science for all, the value of education outside of the classroom, or seeking space for creativity. For me, one paraphrased quote that stood out was Professor Dinesh Singh’s example from Ghandi, who once said, ‘What you learn with your hands will educate your heart’. This closely relates to the ethos of the CREST Awards and is a quote I won’t forget.
From the conference, the Science Express was one inspirational example from India that captured the creative imagination of all those present. The Express was a train equipped with hands-on exhibits and galleries, travelling vast distances in an on-going journey around India, generating excitement in every new location it arrived at. I tried to picture a UK equivalent, but the image was somehow not so romantic, practical or logistically feasible, perhaps with our version of the train being held up due to signalling problems outside of Swindon on a drizzly January morning. The conclusion – each country needs to adapt good ideas to their own scenario and the IOP’s Lab in a Lorry was one recent example shared in discussions.
I felt we’d had much productive, rich dialogue, but were left needing to experience more, and read beyond cultural interpretations of ideals to find realistic visions of the way forward for science education in different cultures and nations. Teachers spoke of class sizes of over 200, and in the UK we can’t begin to grasp the number of schools and students that exist in India, where Primary education exists up until 14 and is technically offered to all. A bold intention, given the scenes on the streets with much poverty visible and considering the shear density of people. ‘Parental influence’, ‘lack of motivation in teachers’ and ‘teaching to the test’ were all common areas that stimulated much discussion, though these illustrate topics greatly dependent on cultural influence. I have a broad first-hand experience of education in Tanzania but that again has different influential factors. Educational miracles don’t exist, however we can make small productive realistic steps by building capacity, sharing visions, and working with those from the nations present (and not externally trying to force upon them non-transferable, inappropriate systems).
We are specifically working with the Connecting Classrooms programme from the British Council, and I will be spending the subsequent few days in Bangladesh, visiting schools and exploring potential approaches to linking schools through projects (particularly through CREST and CREST Star activity resources where Dylan O’Sullivan in our team has done much of the work to get this underway). This will provide a valuable opportunity to see how we might be able to help things going forwards, with the added potential to enrich the experiences of students in the UK by linking them with students in other countries through the programme. I’m expecting it to be exciting whilst also feeling humbled regarding what we take for granted, indulge in, or waste in our own systems and society. Needless to say, the real life scenarios are a stark reminder that our day to day ‘issues’ are no way near so bad after all. This all may sound a cliché but needs to be said. I’m left feeling very fortunate to have had this educational experience and valuable opportunity through the work of the British Council. It’s by no means over yet!