Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chemistry Education for Socially Responsible and Sustainable Development: What are the challenges for a developing country?

I presented this paper at the 20th ICCE Conference held in Mauritius in August 2008. This paper has been published in the Book of Proceedings, Chemistry in the ICT Age.


Historically, Chemistry education in Mauritius had a clear utilitarian and vocational focus: it was meant to support local agricultural activities. Its inferior position compared to classical subjects was tacitly acknowledged. However, the introduction of formal chemistry courses associated with external examinations and scholarships raised its academic status and inadvertently steered the shift from a vocational to a purely academic focus. Moreover, the logistical constraints to effectively communicate the subject’s inherent and interlinked macro, sub-micro and symbolic components rendered it bookish. In the process, the appreciation of the nature, the methods of science, the skills that should have been developed through scientific enquiry and other higher order cognitive skills were neglected. This resulted in Chemistry education being divorced from the developmental priorities of the country.

This paper explores the challenges facing Mauritius because of the dichotomy between the educational focus and the country’s priorities and proposes corrective measures.


The need for education for sustainable development (ESD) cannot be over emphasised. It has become crucial to examine the future economical, environmental, ethical and social cost of our actions. However, in many cases, the repercussions of our actions manifest themselves within a very short span of time.

Chemistry, as part of our everyday life as well as a central science offers many possibilities to develop ESD core competencies such as futures thinking, systemic thinking, critical thinking and building healthy partnerships.

What is needed is to help students adopt a helicopter view of the subject matter and its interactions with the nature and the society. It encapsulates developing an appreciation of the dynamic nature of science, its methods, and related ethical considerations. This clearly goes beyond the existing practices of school chemistry which focus on communicating the established body of knowledge but with little emphasis on how this knowledge was discovered.

ICT can play an important role in ESD. First, it can enhance the understanding of the subject matter by presenting models of micro chemistry invisible to the naked eye and simulations of reactions that are too complex, fast, slow, dangerous, expensive, minute,... to demonstrate in the classroom. Secondly, it offers an excellent tool to promote futures and systemic thinking by simulating complex interactions among multiple variables which are not easy to discern at one and the same time.

No comments:

Post a Comment