The world is changing rapidly. Twenty years ago, Sony was a leading electronics provider for every instrument. Now, it is leading basically none. Kodak, which had first developed digital camera technology, has already disappeared. Nowadays we never hear the names of the former top sellers of 2G cell phones. And all of this happened in the last decade.
According to Alvin Toffler, human history has witnessed three waves. Before the first wave, the era of hunting and gathering lasted about 30,000 years. The first wave was followed by the agricultural era for about 3,000 years. The industrial era led by the second wave continued for about 300 years. The third wave set off the era of information, which is now about 30 years old. The change is being accelerated.
Many leading countries are trying to adapt to the fast, sweeping remodeling of society and to build an education system to cope with the future. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conducted a research project over many countries over a period of time.
The project, called DeSeCo, short for Definition and Selection of Competencies, defines the core competencies for future: “Using Tools Interactively” requires the ability to create new methods of interacting with the world using knowledge and skills about tools. Namely, it is the ability to use knowledge wisely: “Interacting in a Heterogeneous Group” means caring for others, controlling emotions, acquiring democratic decisions through discussion and compromise, and solving problems actively.
In other words, it is playing the role of caring adjuster; “Acting Autonomously” results in selecting and practicing endeavors to keep sound values for society with discerning views and long-term plans. It is autonomy for the whole society.
The OECD holds a Program for International Student Assessment every three years across 70 countries. The test consists of scientific, reading and mathematical literacy. According to OECD, “Science literacy involves the use of key scientific concepts in order to understand and help make decisions about the natural world. It also involves being able to recognize scientific questions, use evidence, draw scientific conclusions and communicate these conclusions.”
The United States launched a 76-year project to reform science education in 1985 when Halley’s comet passed near Earth. Project 2061, the year when the comet next passes by Earth, published its first book “Science for All Americans” in 1989.
STEAM ahead: Reforming science education
According to the book, students learnt in a way which traditional educators did not expect. It claims that learning is not necessarily the result of teaching; what students learn is influenced by their existing ideas; progression in learning happens from the concrete to the abstract; people learn well only what they experience doing; and expectations affect performance. Teachers, therefore, should do the following: start with questions about nature; engage students actively; emphasize the collection and use of evidence; train clear expression; do not differentiate knowing from finding out; welcome curiosity; and reward creativity.
To reform science education in Korea, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and Korea Foundation for Advancement of Science and Creativity launched STEAM education in 2011. STEAM is an abbreviation of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. It aims to develop students’ interests and understanding of science and technology, and thus to increase the convergent thinking power and problem-solving ability. We teach not only the knowledge of science but also the usage of science in everyday life. We put emphasis on the course of learning and use of knowledge. Armed with the theoretical and conceptual tools of science and mathematics, students are expected to attack real-life problems using the methods frequently used in engineering and technology. We would like to nurture creative scientific talents with imagination and artistic sensibility.
STEAM curriculum consists of a three-step framework: presenting context which students take as his or her own problem. The context should be something students may expect to encounter in the future; creative design which students build by themselves. This resembles the fundamentals of project-based learning, namely, not a sage on the stage, but a guide on the side and experiencing success to strengthen the spirit of challenge. This shares the spirit of the book “Whale done! The Power of Positive Relationships,” where only compliments can train a whale.
It was hard to foretell which skill would be useful even in the past. It is much harder to predict what will be important in the future now, since we are experiencing a huge paradigm shift in every aspect of modern life; society, culture, technology and economy. The book by Trilling and Fadel, “21st Century Skills,” describes the situation and casts a question: how do we best prepare our students for a future of work that does not yet exist, careers that have not yet been invented, an economy that prizes things not yet created, and that puts STEAM into the learning plans for every child?
The book suggests that three skills are important for the answer: life and career skills; learning and innovation skills; and information, media and technology skills.
Education in Korea has so far concentrated on transferring knowledge. Profound and thorough knowledge is absolutely important in building up national competitiveness. However, there is more to national science literacy. To give the proper skills for the future to our children, more elements are needed in education. STEAM education itself may not be enough. For refinement and complement, more studies by more researchers should be in order.
By Chung Jean-soo
The writer is director of the Division of Mathematics and Science Education Policy at Korea Foundation for Advancement of Science and Creativity. ― Ed.