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Socio-scientific issues in education : innovative practices and contending epistemologies
journal contributionposted on 2011-09-09, 00:00 authored by Ian Robottom
In the past decade, we have seen the well-established discourse of environmental education (EE) supplanted by that of education for sustainability (EfS). In some ways this change in terminology has been no more than a slogan change, with the actual educational practices associated with EfS little changed from those qualified by EE (Campbell and Robottom 2008). Environment-related education activities under both terms frequently focus on socio-scientific issues – which serve as the chief organising principle for a range of related curriculum activities – and are shaped by the particular characteristics of these issues. Socio-scientific issues are essentially constituted of questions that are philosophical as well as empirical in nature. Socio-scientific issues consist in contests among dissenting social, economic and environmental perspectives that rarely all align, giving rise to debates whose resolution is not amenable to solely scientific approaches. Socio-scientific issues, then, exist at the intersection of differing human interests, values and motivations and are therefore necessarily socially-constructed. An adequate educational exploration of these issues requires a recognition of their constructedness within particular communities of interest and of the limitation of purely applied science perspectives, and, in turn, requires the adoption of curricular and pedagogical approaches that are in fundamental ways informed by constructivist educational assumptions – at least to the extent that community constructions of socio-scientific issues are recognised as being shaped by human interests and social and environmental context. This article considers these matters within the context of examples of environment-related practice drawn from two geographical regions. The article will argue that a serious scientific element is both necessary and insufficient for a rigorous educational exploration of socio-scientific issues within either the EE or EfS discourses, and will consider some implications for professional development and research in this field.