Joint Research Project
Effects of Traditional Cosmology on Science Education
MITO, Japan, Sep.23-27, 1996.

Revised on Nov.29,1996
Cultural Studies in Science Education

1.0: The Mito Meeting (23-29 September, 1996)

1.1 How it began

Following consultation with the underlisted, Dr Masakata Ogawa of Ibaraki University, Mito, Japan applied for a major project to the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Joint Research), of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, of Japan for a two year study of the "Effects of Traditional Cosmology on Science Education". In December 1995, the Ministry of Education approved the project for a year period and with a drastically reduced budget. This would allow for one major meeting of a small group of researchers. This meeting was held 23-29 September 1996 at Ibaraki University, Mito, Japan. To facilitate pre-meeting arrangements and to initiate discussion, a Listserve () dedicated to electronic discussion by members of the group was set up at The University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba Australia at the instance of Olugbemiro Jegede in December 1995. A further preliminary meeting occurred at Edmonton, Alberta Canada during the 8th IOSTE International Symposium for Science and Technology Education, 18-23 August 1996. During the Symposium, a mini-symposium on "Towards a Culturally Sensitive and Relevant Science and Technology Education" was held in which a number of researchers expressed interest in the filed of cultural studies in science education. This served as a confirmation to the urgent need for studying this area.

Those who attended the Mito meeting were as follows:

Professor Glen Aikenhead, University of Saskatchewan, Canada
Professor William Cobern, Western Michigan University, USA
Professor Abdullateef Haidar, The United Arab Emirates University, UAE
Professor Olugbemiro Jegede, The University of Southern Queensland, Australia
Professor Ken Kawasaki, Kochi University, Japan
Professor Masakata Ogawa, Ibaraki University, Japan
Professor Meshach Ogunniyi, University of The Western Cape, South Africa
Professor Hisashi Otsuji, Ibaraki University, Japan
Professor Kenneth Tobin, Florida State University, USA

1.2 The Agenda

The purpose of the Mito meeting is to compare how the conflict of two cosmologies appears, and how it can be dealt with in the science education programs in Japan, Africa, Middle east, and First Nations Peoples who received Western science as a foreign culture. Through the process of lectures and discussions the ultimate goal of the meeting was to establish a new rationale for science education which fits into the emerging multicultural societies around the world.

1.2.1 The meeting deliberated on three major areas as follows:

1.2.2.1 Science and objectives for teaching science

Critical discussions and attempts to resolve differences in opinions about the following: the history of science, definitions of science, indigenous science, "Japanized science" and natural philosophy, and philosophy, and concepts of universalism. Various positions were taken, some definitions were offered. The meeting demonstrated that these are all important issues with respect to a cultural understanding of science and that there is yet much work to be done (see Section 4.0).

1.2.2.2 Teaching and learning of science

The important concepts explored were co-participation, symbolic violence, power relationships, cultural fit and interaction, collateral learning, and border crossing.

Under border crossing questions such as "What are students being asked to cross into? " "How comfortable do we expect students to be in another culture?" "What leads to this comfort?" "What are the potential adverse affects of lingering in this "foreign" culture?" were debated.

The general feeling was that it is important for science educators to understand the fundamental, culturally based beliefs about the world that students bring to class, and how these beliefs are supported by students' cultures; because, science education is successful only to the extent that science can find a niche in the cognitive and socio-cultural milieu of students.

1.2.2.3 Culture

Under culture, the important themes seemed to be worldview, structural linguistics, religion and philosophy, and indigenous science. The aim and goals of education in traditional/indigenous societies, and in modern, western education (including science education)need to be revisited in relation to many other issues discussed and germaine to science education within a multicultural environment/classroom. The issues worldview, border crossing and collateral learning are particularly important here.

An identification and explication of the specific issues which emerged at the meeting and areas identified for further research are described in Sections 3.0 and 4.0 below.

2.0: Issues Raised

2.1 In many parts of the world, Western science is a hegemonic icon of cultural imperialism, which creates symbolic violence to the marginalised and oppressed and creates cognitive apartheid in the minds of students. Cognitive apartheid involves the 'boxing' of science as school knowledge. The hegemonic influence of Western science may in fact lead to cultural annihilation.

2.2 Rationality is universal but variations depend on a context sanctioned by a cultural group or community. Rationality is an act in accordance with a culturally validated referential system. However we recognize that in some thought systems e.g. existential thought, rationality is specifically rejected.

2.3 The definition of "Science" was discussed in terms of Western science and indigenous science (indigenous knowledge of nature). Issues of political power and student identity were recognised.

2.4 Philosophers can help articulate differences among cultural groups.

2.5 Diversity among cultures needs to be recognised, therefore in some cultures in which science is not indigenous, science should not be demeaning to the host culture. Science is only one way of making sense out of the physical world. However, one needs to make a curricular decision over the extent to which non-Western ways should appear in the science classroom.

2.6 For students to make sense out of science they need to cross cultural borders between their indigenous culture and the culture of science. Therefore teachers need to help students cross these cultural borders, i.e. teachers need to be cultural brokers.

2.7 Collateral learning is a coping mechanism, on the one hand, to take in science ideas that conflict with a student's cosmology, while on the other hand, to rationalise holding two apparently conflicting ideas in one's mind.

2.8 Learning is a social process of making sense out of (removing a strangeness from) one's experience in terms of what one already knows, and within one's cultural and worldview frameworks.

3.0: Summary of Conclusions from Research

3.1 A learner's social, economic and cultural background can have a significant influence on achievement in science education and attitude to science.

3.2 When students base their reasoning on a non-Western scientific worldview, they tend to be inhibited from constructing science concepts.

3.3 One's worldview, acting as filter, seems to influence the selection of what to attend to in science classes.

3.4 Concepts taught in school science are often taught with little regard to the everyday experience of students. Therefore, school science knowledge tends not to be applied in indigenous or everyday settings.

3.5 People often use non scientific ideas to help them understand natural phenomena. These ideas can be matters of non systematic common sense. They also can be grounded in systematic philosophical or religious thought. Indigenous communities explain natural phenomenon through their own rational means. Systematic religious thought as a source of explanation of natural phenomena is particularly important in non-Western cultures.

3.6 Students who identify themselves with a marginalised or an oppressed group do not likely achieve in science education unless they feel that the school and the science class support their social or cultural identity.

3.7 Researchers and stakeholders in science education with interests in cultural issues tend to be marginalised within the professional community.

3.8 Within any culture (Western cultures included), there is a diversity of worldview variations held by students; only a small proportion of whom have worldview variations amenable to Western science. Therefore, every culture will have potential scientists among its youth, but this proportion will be small even in Western cultures. Apart from the issue of diversity within a culture there is diversity at school and especially between students and all that makes up "schooling." Moreover, there are differences between student worldviews and the worldview projected in a Western science classrooms and textbooks. One can expect worldview variations within any culture but especially in multicultural societies.

3.9 Students having a Worldview amenable to presuppositions of Western science will tend to respond appropriately to enculturation practices in science classrooms.

3.10 Students having a worldview at odds with Western science will most often resist enculturation and assimilation practices in science classrooms, and will most often play Fatima's rules in their science classes (rules for passing a science course without understanding the content).

3.11 Western science is not culture free. It is legitimised by the community of scientists, a community possessing norms, values, beliefs, conventions, language, technology, etc., (i.e. A culture, micro-culture or sub-culture of Western cultures).

3.12 In 1994, Deborah Pomeroy reviewed the research literature and found nine different research agendas. Each agenda had led to certain research results.

  1. "Systems or programs to support under-represented groups". Role models are less effective than mentors. A critical mass of "minority" scientists is highly effective, but how to best achieve it remains debatable. No long term or exemplary programs have been identified.
  2. "Situate the science curriculum in the context of students' lives". Research is only beginning to focus on local autonomy for curriculum development for student assessment. Examples of a relevant localised context for science instruction can be cited, but their impact has not been systematically studied.
  3. "Culturally sensitive instruction strategies". Research has focused on identifying the problems that exist (discrepancies between students and their science classes in terms of interpersonal mores, conventions, and expectations, such as eye contact, questioning, authoritarianism, etc.) and on theoretical frameworks that should address the problem. Teachers' high expectations of students improve achievement.
  4. "Inclusion of scientific contributions made historically by non-Western scholars." Western science has appropriated knowledge of nature from other cultures, thus giving the impression that other cultures have not helped in the historical development of Western science.
  5. "Demystifying stereotype images of science." Stereotype images of science (e.g. objective, value-free, description of nature) inhibit many students from wanting to learn science.
  6. "Science for language minority students." Learning science in a language not in one's mother tongue, creates major problems for one's achievement. Mother tongue instruction is the best solution.
  7. "Indigenous knowledge and technologies for science to explain." By addressing students' cultural heritage as objects of scientific inquiry, students' attitude towards science tends to improve. By simply acknowledging omens and taboos (without explaining them in terms of scientific principles) in science classrooms, students tend to transcend cultural barriers between their indigenous culture and science.
  8. "Compare and bridge the worldview of science and students' worldviews." Students' scientific preconceptions (the object of constructivist teaching) can be perfectly logical when considered in terms of a student's worldview, and therefore, efforts to modify the preconception will be ineffective. Effective teaching tends to use science activities that do not conflict with students' beliefs, or else activities that attend to those beliefs but provide bridges between them and the scientific content.
  9. "Explore the content and epistemology of both scientific and indigenous knowledge systems, in a way that encourages students to figure out and feel secure with any conflicts between the two systems. The impact on students has not yet been studies systematically.
4.0: Avenues of Fruitful Research

4.1 The "Science and Culture Nexus" project should investigate views held about science, culture, science in a cultural enterprise.

4.2 Develop a diagnostic instrument to identify students as predominantly: Potential Scientists, Other Smart Kids, "I Don't Know" Students, and Outsiders (the Costa categories).

4.3 Cross-cultural comparisons on several issues, including the proportion of Potential Scientists in each national culture.

4.4 Case studies or vignettes of collateral learning, illustrating how a student moves (or does not move) from "parallel" to "secured" collateral learning.

4.5 Develop vignettes of cross-cultural science teaching within and across different cultural environments.

4.6 Develop short science modules (one in each science discipline) that teachers might use to teach cross-cultural STS, science and technology. Make explicit the features that define such cross-cultural instruction: content, context, language of instruction, classroom interactions, teacher's role, student worldviews, compatibility between the school's subculture (microculture) and the culture of the student.

4.7 Investigate student's recognition of what science explains and what indigenous knowledge (specific culture-sanctioned knowledge, or everyday common sense) explains.

4.8 Investigate mechanisms for border crossing such as the "bridge" metaphor involving the continuing impressions of learning.

4.9 Explore the philosophical and political issues pertaining to the use and meaning of such formulations as science, modern science, Western science, and indigenous science.

Olugbemiro Jegede
Glen Aikenhead
William W Cobern
MITO, JAPAN.
27 September 1996


MemberPurposeProgramVSH-CISTE
Tra-CosDep.Sci.Edu.Fac.Edu.Ibaraki Uni.
Ibaraki Prefecture