DOI: 10.1126/science.adk1509 ISSN:

Social and institutional dimensions of science: The forgotten components of the science curriculum?

Sibel Erduran
  • Multidisciplinary

In many parts of the world, secondary school science curricula continue to be dominated by learning objectives about scientific knowledge and investigations, when actually there is more to science. These curricula—the educational frameworks that include objectives and content for teaching and learning—may state, for example, that students are to be taught knowledge such as “matter is made of tiny, indivisible particles” and “photosynthesis produces oxygen.” They may highlight scientific processes such as “carrying out an experiment to determine the relationship between volume and pressure of a gas at constant temperature.” Some curricula may situate science topics in socially relevant scenarios—for example, teaching about local chemical industries and their impact on the environment. Some curriculum topics may be linked to students’ everyday lives, such as by referring to family genetics. Yet there is a critical aspect of science that is often ignored in the science curriculum, and that is the inherent social and institutional character of science itself. When science curricula underrepresent or do not include such social and institutional dimensions of science, which play a key role in the validation and communication of scientific processes, it is as if a fundamental element of science has been dismantled, projecting an image of science that is idealized, reconstructed, and distorted. In democratic societies in which people have the power to influence policy decisions, understanding how scientific communities function can only help with the public responsibility in shouldering collective societal challenges.

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