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Cristina Artini, Maria Maddalena Carnasciali, Laura Ricco
Italian National Report written by the University of Genoa for the project ‘Chemistry Is All Around Us’
Researchers, Teachers, Policy Makers
Over 10 pages
The document is the Italian National Report written for the project ‘Chemistry Is All Around Us’. The project, belonging to Lifelong Learning Programme, has been funded with support from the European Commission and ended in March 2011.
The report presents an overview of scientific lifelong learning in Italy, with particular focus on the school education system. The negative results of the Pisa assessment, published in 2007, underline the low level of scientific literacy among students as well as the weak interest in scientific disciplines. OCSE-PISA, together with other national assessments carried out by INVALSI institute, and the drop of matriculations to scientific degree courses stimulated the realization of specific projects devoted to improve the teaching of scientific disciplines and the students’ motivation (i.e ISS project, PLS project). Moreover, several initiatives have been undertaken in order to improve the spread of scientific culture, such as Science Festivals, TV broadcasts and the publication of some scientific magazines.
The report also summarizes the results of a case study carried out by performing ten interviews to science teachers and ten interviews to adults that, after upper secondary school, decided to not continue their studies in the scientific field. Some teachers seem to attribute students’ learning problems in chemistry to the intrinsic difficulties of the subject (microscopic dimension, necessity of appealing to ‘abstract’ models, ...), others to scarcity of equipped labs, many to students’ specific lacks (inadequate cognitive requisites, inability of abstracting, lack of interest in studying). Teachers’ interviews also evidence another important obstacle to a successful transmission of chemical culture: the lack of a deep chemical culture in the teachers, that are mostly not chemists and have not ever taken part at refresher courses or projects about didactics of chemistry. As far as the adults interviewed are concerned, when requested to tell their personal experiences with chemistry and science, they stated that, at school, they were not attracted by scientific disciplines, chemistry in particular, because too difficult and abstract.
The report gives important information on the current relationship that students have with science (chemistry in particular) thanks to:
- the analysis of national assessments focused on the scientific literacy of pupils
- the analysis of strategies and initiatives developed in order to promote a better image of sciences and to improve teaching at school
- the interviews to teachers
- the interviews to former students
The report evidences that science is perceived by many as hard, difficult to access, abstract, far from everyday life. Moreover, chemistry has an undeserved negative halo: it's often associated to problems such as pollution and drugs and opposed to “natural”, usually considered, on the contrary, as a synonym for healthy, authentic, genuine, better.
As the report states, the common initiatives aiming to raise the interest of young people toward science (museums, festivals, popular scientific press and TV programs, …), though positive, can't make up for a possible lack of cognitive tools, abilities and competences that must be pursued at school. Scientific popularization is often considered a valid substitute for didactic, but many are the reasons why it can't be completely effective as the fact that every message addressed at a inhomogeneous public, carries inevitable problems linked to its intelligibility, because every receiver has a different cognitive fund. For this reason, it is not enough to invest in this direction, even if it's surely useful to motivate, arouse curiosity and promote a positive attitude towards chemistry and science.
The conclusions of the report are noteworthy because they suggest that the basis of a scientific culture should be built up starting from primary education, through strategic investments in educational research and in the teacher training. Only a renovated scientific teaching, privileging a methodology that aims, from the beginning, at developing cross-curricular abilities as opposed to a mnemonic and superficial knowledge of notions, will give back to science its formative and cultural dimension
Department of Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry – University of Genoa - ITALY

Comments about this Publication

Your comments are welcome

Date: 2014.05.07

Posted by Mariusz Jarocki (Poland)

Message: The report presents an overview of scientific lifelong learning in Italy. First, the authors describe the national education system in Italy. Main national trends are represented by three assessments on population literacy: Pisa assessment, IALS-SIALS and ALL assessment. The next section is related to adult education in Italy. In order to reach desired targets, the various subjects operating in lifelong learning worked together for providing education to all the adult population: firstly for people with insufficient level of literacy and secondly for educated people (high school diploma or degree) needing courses for improvement whether in professional or cultural field. Three contexts are considered: formal, non formal and informal learning.

Surveys, which evaluated trends in lifelong learning in Italy are described in Section 2. The analysis of the results is very interesting in the context of expreriences of other countries.

The most interesting part of the report is Section 3, focused on main obstacles to lifelong learning of scientific subjects. They are presented on the basis of interviews with teachers and students. The conclusions are very useful to form a view on the impact of various factors on the quality of lifelong learning, regardless of the country. The next four sections describe the institutional background of Italian lifelong learning and concrete initiatives to support it.

The last section are very valuable in the context of Chemistry is all around Network by trying to constitute some onclusions and proposals. I would like to emphasize two of them: the observation that central coordination of all these initiatives is still lacking (what is very common in EU) and the second one that many people, potentially interested in, do not know most of the initiatives devoted to lifelong learning of scientific subjects. The proposal is rather clear.

The main conclusion of the paper is that the further development of scientific lifelong projects and the introduction of courses devoted to chemistry themes in alternative universities can contribute to the diffusion of a deeper scientific culture.

Date: 2012.09.14

Posted by Ireiotou Effimia (Greece)

Message: This paper is relevant as it addresses the problems that chemistry education faces in secondary school.

The publication attributes student’s learning problems in chemistry to intrinsic difficulties of the subject, to scarcity of equipped labs, to students’ specific lacks, to insufficient teachers’ personal knowledge on chemistry. All of these factors are relevant to Greek high schools as well.

The obstacles students face in addressing Chemistry is not addressed from the point of view of students, as the publication presents no research done among students. However this subject (ie the obstacles) is addressed by the chemistry teachers. The teachers attribute the problems to the previously mentioned factors as well as to the lack of research activity or initiatives dealing with lifelong learning for teachers. Another factor considered is the fact that chemistry is associated with negative ideas, pollution in particular. These issues are relevant to the problem of motivation, since a negative attitude towards a subject excludes the field from being studied. There are many other areas a person could turn to that seem easier and friendlier.

The publication refers to some successful initiatives that could increase student interest and potentially motivate them to study chemistry. In this way, Hands on experience (science festivals) could be very useful, especially if one starts at young age. The spread of a positive and amusing image of chemistry through media could be very helpful.

The publication states that some teachers (probably not graduated in chemistry) think that their personal knowledge of chemistry is not sufficient and that none of them had heard about research activities or initiatives dealing with lifelong learning. In general, keeping update to the continuous research progresses is not an easy task. The teachers should be asked to attend classes in predetermined intervals.

The publication proposes museum visits or taking part in science festivals as a means via which students are urged to learn the most recent findings in the field of chemistry. This solution could be applied to other countries such as Greece.

National Reports on successful experiences to promote lifelong learning for chemistry The national reports on chemistry successful experiences to promote lifelong learning for chemistry are now available on the related section of the project portal. The reports presents examples of successful experiences in the partner countries and the results of testing of ICT resources with science teachers.