Attitudinal Studies in Science and Technology

Science Education for Diversity

The project Science Education for Diversity (SED), funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme continued into the third and final year of collaboration among research groups from the University of Exeter, UK, the Netherlands, Turkey, Lebanon, India (HBCSE) and Malaysia. In the first year HBCSE led the literature review and documentary analysis of the status of science education and diversity as well as the policies towards the same in each country. Since then, HBCSE has actively provided country relevant inputs to the other work packages of the project. Surveys were conducted and contribution made in developing a theoretical framework for the relationship between culture and science education and planning interventions in classrooms. Monthly virtual project meetings were held and two face to face meetings at Indianapolis (March 2012) and Malaysia (September 2012). Intervention workshops were held for teachers and a presentation made at NIE Singapore. An India expert panel provided guidance.

Interactions for SED Classroom

Questionnaire responses from 1522 (Classes V to VIII) students and 48 teachers, and interview responses of 108 students and 11 teachers were analysed. Students were positive about mathematics and science related disciplines and careers, and felt that India would be the S&T leader by 2030. However they were confused about what was science, and half of those surveyed believed that science always or sometimes includes predicting future luck. Most teachers believed that differential academic abilities, and not their ethnic, religious and social backgrounds were an obstacle to the teaching of science and stated that they did not adjust their teaching to take account of cultural differences, reasoning that everybody is equal.

The analysis led to a framework for understanding the relationship between culture and science education within classroom settings. The intervention in 3 schools with 4 teachers, showed that science learning was not seen by teachers and students as involving critical reasoning, argumentation, and dialogue. It is a matter of concern, that even when students face conflicts with the teachings of science, or are unsure, they do not argue or raise questions. However more dialogues - teacher-student, student-student and student-group - occurred during the planned intervention phase. The participating teachers did not comprehend diversity nor pedagogical strategies to address them. Teachers hardly reflected on cultural diversity among their students and the crucial role it could play in planning for the teaching learning process.


ROSE “Relevance of Science Education” is an international project, being conducting in 35 countries by research organization of the respective countries. The project aims at providing empirical evidence to stimulate theoretical discussion about priorities and alternatives in science and technology (S&T) education. This attempt would result in improving the relevance, attractiveness and quality of S&T education, to meet the hopes and aspiration of the learners in a diverse world. The overall objective of the ROSE project is to create an environment for pupils’ discussion on the priorities relating to S&T education, to find out experiences, interests, priorities, perceptions and attitude towards S&T, of students who are coming from different backgrounds. The project ROSE started by Camilla Schreiner and Svein Sjoberg, from Department of Teacher Education and School Development, University of OSLO, Norway, is a further development of the project Science and Scientist (SAS) in which one of the authors had participated earlier (Chunawala and Ladage, 1998).

For data collection, the ROSE questionnaire developed by the ROSE advisory group was used. The questionnaire asked students to answer questions related to specific areas of S&T. There were questions on a variety of students’ S&T related out-of-school experiences, their interests in learning different S&T topics in different contexts, their prior experience with and views on school science, their views and attitudes to science and scientists in society, their future hopes, priorities and aspirations, their feelings of empowerment with regards to environmental challenges etc. The questionnaire consisted of 10 areas (with differing number of items) with a total number of around 273 items. The questionnaire was a self administering multiple-choice questionnaire.

Sample of the Study:

The data collection was conducted in 2003 and 2004. The sample consisted of 473 students, studying in X class (three students had not answered this question). All the students were studying in seven English medium co-educational schools situated in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra State. The average size of the classes was 60 plus. Two of these schools were run by the Department of Atomic Energy and belong to the “Atomic Energy Education Society”. Two other schools were Central schools, that is, schools for employees of the Central Government who can be transferred anywhere. These four schools follow the Central Board syllabus. The three other schools follow the Maharashtra State syllabus (set on the guidelines given by the national level central board). The data collection was done during school hours and required around two classroom sessions which are typically of 45 minutes each that is total of one and half hours.

The questionnaire was administered in entire classrooms, despite this there was a gender difference in the number of students with there being fewer girls (216), than boys (254) in the sample, (three students had not answered this question).

Results and Analysis:

Responses to questions under all the subgroups were analyzed quantitatively. Two subgroups I and J had only a one point and two point scale response, while the remaining subgroups had four scale responses.

What I want to learn about:

These questions were aimed at getting empirical evidence on what sort of issues pupils are interested in learning about, and to explore how these vary between groups and to search for patterns in the answer. Each item was classified by two dimensions; they are contents and context. The subject matter of contents are the key words in the different sciences which often occur in curricula and textbooks, like; Astrophysics, Earth science, Human biology with sex and reproduction, Genetics, Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, Technology etc. The subject matter contexts generally included aspects like; Natural phenomena and nature study; Spectacular phenomena, horror/ frightening examples; Humankind and human life and body; Technological ideas and inventions; Care, health, protection and improvement of living conditions, Aesthetical aspects and beauty.

The total number of items in this group (108), were in placed in three subgroups; A (48 items), C (18 items) and E (42 items). The questions were placed in different groups to reduce fatigue. Each of these items had four options, these were; Not interested, a little interested, Interested and Very interested. To learn what it is that interests students a great deal we added the two categories ‘Very Interested’ and ‘Interested’ as well as the two categories ‘Not Interested’ and ‘Little Interested’. We chose the cut-off of 75 % for the interested category (as students are more prone to tick the socially acceptable end of a scale). The items for subgroup A that received more than 80% responses i.e. the items that many students were interested in learning about were totally 8? in number. They were; (i) how it feels to be weightless in space;(ii) rocket, satellite & space travel; (iii) dinosaurs, how they lived & died;(iv) stars planets & universe, (v) comets or asteroids, (vi) how to exercise to keep body fit and strong,(vii) black holes, supernovas, (viii) how to navigate by the stars. In view of contents it was observed that, students were very much interested in learning about astrophysics, light and optics, human biology (with sex and reproduction, care, health, protection and improvement of living conditions).

Gender difference: The differences in the responses of boys and girls to the questions above were scrutinized. For gender difference we focused only on the “Very interested” option and conducted, t-tests to determine whether the difference between the means of the Girls and Boys group is significantly different or not. Of the 48 items, girls and boys were found to differ significantly on 24 items (t-test, 0.05 level). Most of the girls preferred to learn about Biology and its allied fields. In case of boys it was observed that they prefer to learn about chemistry and its allied subjects.

The subgroup C and E was also questioned students about what they would like to learn about. Subgroup C includes 18 items which have same four options like subgroup A (Not interested, a Little interested, Interested and Very interested). In subgroup C we have found that most of the students were very interested in learning about the possibility of life outside the earth; how computers work; unsolved mysteries in outer space; why we dream while we are sleeping; life, death and human soul; how mobile phone can send and receive messages.

While “Not interested” items included, how crude oil is converted to other material like plastics & textiles, properties of gems & crystals & how these are used for beauty, ghosts & witches & whether they may exists, alternative therapies & how effective they are, and astrology & horoscopes & the planets can influence human being. Remaining 6 items are how things like radios & television works, how cassette tapes, CDs & DVD stores & play sound & music, optical instruments & how they work, why we can see the rainbow, why the stars twinkles & sky is blue

ROSE team in Mumbai

Dr. Sugra Chunawala, co-ordinator of the project, Ms. Smita Patil, Mr. Bipin Apandkar, Ms. Aruna Khamkar and Mr. Mithun Pillai, Mr. Hitesh Khristy and Mr. Nagesh Ganji (project assistants at HBCSE) helped in the data collection and data entry. Mr. Ritesh Khunyakari (a Ph.D student) helped in organizing the data collection.

Students' ideas about Science and Scientists, (SAS, 1995-1998):

This study was an international collaborative effort coordinated by Prof. Svein Sjoberg of Norway, Dr. Jayashree Mehta of India and Jane Mulemwa of Uganda, sponsored by NORAD, the Norwegian Agency for Development. It attempted to shed light on the perception of science and scientists held by 13 year old school students and addressed issues related to gender and science education in cultures.

Data collection relied on a questionnaire prepared by the organizers. Several tasks were included in this questionnaire, involving objective responses, making drawings and writing short notes. The questionnaire, in English and in Marathi (after translation) was administered to 444 students of class VIII (age 13 years) from eight schools of Mumbai (195 female students and 248 male students). Data collection was completed in January 1996 and details of these were shared with the other collaborators at the GASAT-8, Gender and Science and Technology, eighth international conference held at Ahmedabad (5-10, January 1996).

Our results indicated that on the whole, students had a positive image of scientists. Physicists were considered to be more imaginative, full of ideas as compared to the biologists who were considered to be more caring. These findings fit earlier ones in which `biology is viewed as a caring subject' and `physics as a brainy one'. There were no gender differences in these perceptions, though more female students viewed science as being interesting.

Greater percentage of male students viewed science as a source of power and destruction, and to be pursued by males only. The last point was further validated in students' drawings. The sex of the scientist drawn by the student was most often male (86.5%). Both boys and girls pictured the scientist to be male. Female scientists were drawn rarely and when they were drawn, it was mainly by English medium girls. Very few students drew children as scientists, however the students perceived the scientist to be young to middling in age rather than old. It is interesting that Indian students went contrary to the Western stereotypical drawings with respect to age but are in fact correct about the age of the average scientists. Very few students drew the scientist as a bearded figure wearing glasses and a lab-coat. One possible reason is that the media rarely depicts scientists and therefore students have very little exposure to these stereotypes.

The writings of students lend further support to the positive image held by them of scientists, with adjectives, such as, hard-working, intelligent, imaginative and helpful being used to describe them. Rarely, a negative or even a mixed view of science and scientists was given. Science was largely viewed to be essential for the progress of the country. In connection with what the students would like to work on in future, the areas highlighted were, medicine and health, biology, technology, chemistry and astronomy. Education, social science, and mathematics were areas which were mentioned least often.

The number of activities which boys reported as having participated in outside school were much more (40) than the number of activities reported by girls (5). But it is not the number of activities alone that is important but also the kind of activities which showed a gender difference. All the five activities which girls reported as having done were connected to the home (making bread, butter or yoghurt, sewing, weaving and knitting). The activities dominated by boys had a larger range. They were related to use of tools and equipment (saw, screw driver, etc.) making something (toys, kite, etc.) nature and environment (caring for an animal, etc.). Most of the activities in the list presented to the students had some relevance to science and could possibly serve as concrete examples of what is to be taught or as starting points for school science. Thus, knowingly or unknowingly, it would appear that science builds on the experience that boys have acquired to a greater extent than girls do.

With relation to gender it was clear that both boys and girls perceive scientists as male. In their future choices more girls preferred biology while boys preferred technology and astronomy. The study when set in a global cross-cultural context has important implications for science education. A poster presentation of these results was made at the Indian Women Scientists' Association, Silver Jubilee 1997-1998, Inaugural Scientific Programme on `Opportunities for women and changing perceptions of science and technology' 27-29 June 1997. A technical report on this work was completed.

 (Sugra Chunawala and Savita Ladage)

 Attitudes towards mathematics (1992-1995):

This study had the objective of uncovering the attitudes of students to mathematics and to other subjects. A set of questionnaires aimed at learning the same were developed. These were pretested for language difficulties and administered to students (411 students, from 6 schools studying in VII standard). Teachers were also asked to fill these questionnaires as a typical student would (112 teachers from 22 schools).

The scale to measure attitudes towards mathematics had categories such as, interest in the subject, ease /difficulty of the subject, usefulness, freedom permitted by the subject and self-concept of students in relation to the subject. Items of the scale were screened by HBCSE members and mathematics teachers. An open-ended (projective) test aimed at measuring attitudes to mathematics was also conducted.

No gender differences in upper primary students' attitudes to various school subjects were found. There were no gender differences among teachers, that is, both male and female teachers had similar perceptions about students. Teachers were aware of students' attitudes towards various subjects. Besides, teachers also viewed male and female students as having no differences in attitudes to subjects. These findings pointed towards an important aspect, that is, why are there changes reported in attitudes at higher levels of education? This question requires greater and in-depth work with teachers and students at different levels of schooling.

( Sugra Chunawala and H.C. Pradhan)


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