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close this bookProspects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1995 (Issue 93) - Science Teaching for Sustainable Development (UNESCO; 1995; 152 pages)
View the documentEditorial - Juan Carlos Tedesco
Open this folder and view contentsVIEWPOINTS/CONTROVERSIES
View the documentIntroduction: New cultural and ethical frames of reference - André Giordan
View the documentThe Science, Technologies and Society (STS) Movement and the teaching of science - Gérard Fourez
View the documentThe aims of scientific education in the coming decades - Victor Host
View the documentThe purposes and methods of technological education on the threshold of the twenty-first century - Jean-Louis Martinand
View the documentScientific and technological training for traditional communities - Raúl Gagliardi
View the documentConcept mapping to facilitate teaching and learning - Joseph D. Novak
View the documentThe non-formal communication of scientific knowledge - Bernard Schiele
View the documentNew models for the learning process: beyond constructivism? - André Giordan
Open this folder and view contentsTRENDS/CASES

The Science, Technologies and Society (STS) Movement and the teaching of science - Gérard Fourez

Gérard Fourez (Belgium)

Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of Maryland (United States), graduate in philosophy from the College St Albert in Louvain and in mathematics from the Catholic University in Louvain. At present, he is a professor in the Department of Science, Philosophy and Society at the University of Namur. He has published several books, including La construction des sciences: introduction à la philosophie et à l’éthique des sciences (1988 and 1992), and Alphabétisation scientifique et technique: essai sur les finalités de l’enseignement scientifique (1994). His research interests are concerned with the relationship between ‘science and society’ and particularly between ‘science teaching and society’.

This introduction to the movements known as Science, Technologies and Society (STS) and Scientific and Technological Literacy (STL) begins with a review of two historical currents in scientific thought: that of project sciences and that of the so-called fundamental sciences. It discusses their place in education in general, and in the social and historic context of science teaching in particular.

This article then goes on to analyse the overall aims - economic, political, social and human - of the STS and STL movements, describing some of their teaching objectives, for which it proposes an operational translation into a series of capabilities and skills. It demonstrates the place occupied in these movements by epistemology, the history of science and the multidisciplinary approach. Finally, it lays emphasis on the inevitable ideological dimension involved in any teaching of science.

The notion of Science, Technology and Society (STS), sometimes presented as Scientific and Technological Literacy (STL),1 stems from a movement in the socio-logical sense of the term, i.e. an assembly of opinions and actions having certain features in common and reflecting changes in society.2 This movement affects the teaching of science, but that is not all. If it is to be understood, it is important at the outset to briefly consider the history of the links between science and society.

The socio-historical background and the teaching of science

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, scientific thinking and the communities that shaped it split into two parts: first, the sciences concerned with action, such as medicine, engineering, architecture, etc. and, secondly, those sciences that were henceforth called ‘pure’, ‘fundamental’, or ‘single disciplines’. It was often said of the third category that these disciplines were focused solely on ‘knowledge’, although certain contemporary epistemological views dispute this separation of knowledge and action. It would be more appropriate to characterize these two elements by saying that one is concerned with projects made explicit in their social context while the other veils its projects behind a scientific image, seen as being faithful to a well-defined paradigm (as the epistemologists say, the fundamental sciences are ‘standardized’ more by a paradigm giving them an appearance of being universal than by socially identifiable projects).3

The two currents have entered educational institutions. The action-oriented sciences found their ecological ‘niche’ in the faculties of medicine and the schools of engineering, later to be known as colleges of ‘applied science’, while the others have mainly flourished in faculties of science. The development of science courses in secondary education has drawn inspiration from the approach of the second current. Although the educational function lives, moves and has its being in a human and social universe that is as complex as that of doctors or engineers, the sciences have begun to be taught according to the standards of the specialists.4 For a long time, primary education was little involved in this dichotomy of scientific thinking, but one can perceive a trend whereby the primary teaching of science is increasingly ‘disciplinarized’. In any event, the fact that technology - as well as the social side of science - is usually missing from general secondary education courses that are supposed to be fundamental can be regarded as a sociological trait that must be taken into account.

The STS movement is often held up as a response to the fact that the conventional teaching of science has run out of steam. For some decades now, in the industrialized countries, as elsewhere, voices have been raised expressing concern at how unsuccessful science teaching has been. The students seem unprepared for using science in ordinary life and, what is worse, seem to have a growing aversion to it. It is increasingly accepted that the conventional teaching of science is now in crisis, if not facing total failure.5 This, for example, was the view of Morgan in his report to the Forum of UNESCO’s Project 2000+, which quotes studies mentioning ‘the lack of relevance of the conventional model of scientific education for many students’.6

This crisis is manifest as a lack of interest in scientific careers, a development that could endanger the scientific and economic development of the industrialized countries. Developing countries are affected by this problem in a quite different way, since they take the view that they cannot afford the luxury of research that is too ‘disinterested’. They consequently want science to assist their growth.

It is possible, without being too rigid about it, to distinguish two currents in the STS movement, even though, because of their informal nature, situations and outlooks vary from one country or one culture to another; ‘representatives’ of the two currents may frequently find themselves side by side at meetings or conferences; or the two currents may even be present in the same person.

The first current follows the tradition whereby science brings understanding which can lead humanity towards a better future. According to this attitude, science should not remain in its ivory tower but place itself at the service of ‘progress’. For example, this movement rejects science teaching that has become too theoretical and remote from daily life. Science classes should, for example, train young people to have more respect for nature and to be able to interact with it. This current places considerable importance on the links between scientific results and ethical or political attitudes. It is embraced by many teachers who have concerns for ecology or public health; indeed it sometimes produces an amalgam of scientific results and ethical standards that surprises the ethics specialists.7 This way of looking at things - which is not always free of scientific ideology8 - primarily attracts those science teachers and scientists who believe it is high time this type of education was recast. Their central concern stems from an acute awareness of the importance of the scientific approach, and may be regarded as an extension of the age of ‘Enlightenment’. Moreover, this awareness is probably not very distant from the concerns of the 1960s, that optimistic period when man went to the moon and when people were generally persuaded that science and technology would shortly eliminate deprivation.

The second current is rooted more in an analysis of society with social and economic components. It makes deliberate use of the literacy metaphor. It is based on the notion that, just as it has been necessary for nearly a century now to be able to read and write to make one’s way in society, so a certain kind of knowledge is necessary today in order to get by in a world that is steeped in science and technology. This current is that of scientific and technical literacy. From this point of view, science is not regarded as an end in itself, but rather as an intermediate step that has become necessary to life in society. Modern science is no longer seen as producing absolute, universal and unchanging truths, but rather as a particular way of tackling understanding which has become established in the West, has proved there to be highly effective and has imposed itself - or has been imposed - on the rest of the world. This is the outlook which led to the publication in the United Kingdom of David Layton’s book Technology’s challenge to science education9 and - to some extent - in the United States of Science for all Americans10 and Benchmarks for science literacy, and many other contributions. It was also this outlook which predominated at the Forum of UNESCO’s Project 2000+ in the summer of 1993 in Paris. This current, although it attaches great importance to science and technology, primarily envisages action in society. Its appearance is perhaps due in part to the problems of managing major technologies, their accidents, pollution and the continuation of deprivation, all of which have led many people to discard the technocratic optimism which predominated twenty years ago.11

The general aims of STL

The aims of this movement most frequently correspond to a number of economic and political, social, and humanist approaches. They were drawn together by Aikenhead, who believes that STS education seeks ‘to produce wiser decision-makers, more responsible citizens, a more democratic nation, a more humanist corpus of scientists and engineers, or even a greater number of scientists and engineers (particularly amongst women)’.12

The first line of approach involves economic and political objectives. Scientists, economists and technologists agree that unless the entire population is involved in the scientific and technical cultures, the developed economies are liable to encounter difficulties, while the developing countries will find it hard to ‘take off’.13 In this context, STL must be related to the movements which, at least since the eighteenth century, tie education to the increase in the wealth and well-being of nations.

The social line of approach follows the idea that, without a scientific and technological culture, democratic systems are more and more vulnerable to technocracy. For example, how is it possible to formulate a democratic policy with regard to AIDS or drugs - which necessitates public discussion - if the public cannot understand what it is all about?14 According to this view, STL should inform the public to a level allowing them to understand the technical decisions and hence enabling them to exercise democratic control. It then becomes a question of distributing powers throughout society or, at any rate, reaching a situation where the public does not feel too impotent with regard to science and technology and what they involve.

The third line of approach is more personalized and cultural. Its aim is to enable every human being to join in our scientific and technical culture, to communicate with other people in it about the world in which we live, to maintain a degree of independence within it as well as experiencing some pleasure at being there. This involves a number of dimensions.

To begin with there is the historical dimension, in order to understand how science and technology emerged in human history and formed part of it. Next, an epistemological dimension, to grasp how science is constructed and how scientists work; an aesthetic dimension, to appreciate the way in which a theory or a machine is adapted to a situation; a bodily dimension, for appreciating one’s body in conjunction with tools as the intelligent locus of our human presence; a communications dimension, for grasping the way in which science and technology contribute to constructing a world view that is more or less common and communicable; a pragmatic dimension, to determine what information we need in order to feed ourselves properly, to drive our car, to protect ourselves from disease, and so on. All this suggests a link with the ethical debate, in so far as science offers us a representation of the possibilities of our action. All this forms part of our culture, since science and technology are part of the representation of our history.15

The educational objectives of STL

The general aims of the STS movement having been identified, it is now possible to set out its more precise aims, which can be translated into educational objectives. Thus one might mention various factors that should enable people to negotiate situations: e.g. the autonomy of the individual, a personal component, communication with others, a cultural, social, ethical and theoretical component, and some degree of environmental control, an economic component. Objectives such as these can be made manifest by a few standard examples capable of turning them into action: understanding the concept of infection or evolution, knowing the reasons why frozen food cannot be refrozen once thawed, familiarity with a computer programme, the intelligent use of a fax machine, how to handle a diesel engine in the cold of the mountains, or thinking about the origin of the universe.

Some scientific and technological knowledge favours the autonomy of individuals. Once capable of grasping concrete situations, they can negotiate reasonable and rational decisions when confronted with a series of problematical situations. In this way, for example, an individual may break free from functioning on the basis of set formulae, which implies the requirement of a behaviour pattern or attitude, making him dependent and causing him to lose some of his potential for autonomy.16 This objective of autonomy can serve as a criterion for judging the importance of knowledge by separating out knowledge which increases our dependence on experts or specialists from knowledge which enables the individual to establish, with those experts, a more partnership-based and egalitarian relationship.

It is also possible to evaluate the importance of knowledge in terms of the way in which it enables us to communicate with others about our life situations. This is probably the strength of theorization. Building up and defining a theory is tantamount in fact to giving oneself words, concepts and sharable representational structures that permit us to tell others what we are doing. Unlike requirements or set formulae which leave no room for dialogue or negotiation, a theory is a shared mediation in human communications; it is thus at the root of partnership dialogue and therefore essential to the ethical and/or political debate.

Finally, possessing an understanding of the world invariably implies know-how and the ability to act. It is the way in which knowledge generates individual and social capabilities which gives meaning to theorization. As pointed out several decades ago, science is intrinsically linked to a form of power, which does not necessarily mean the domination of other people. One might therefore consider

somebody as scientifically and technically literate when his understanding gives him a degree of autonomy (the possibility of negotiating his decisions in the face of natural or social constraints), a certain capacity for communication (finding the way of ‘saying’) and a certain control and assumption of responsibility, faced with concrete situations (such as infection, deep frozen food, the computer, a tax machine, a diesel engine, and so on).17

Feasible operational objectives for STL

Once the importance of pursuing the objectives has been accepted, they must then be rendered operational. Different ways of doing this have been adopted, mainly in the English-speaking countries.18 This has been done primarily according to discipline content, by describing the content to be understood. Here we propose a series of objectives19 related to basic capabilities in conjunction with scientific and technical practice.20

Making good use of specialists: being capable of consulting experts such as doctors, garage mechanics, computer specialists or, as far as the government is concerned, economists or engineers; and striking a balance between dependency on the expert’s knowledge and exercising a healthy critical outlook; judging when it may be useful to seek a second opinion or when it is wise to contravene the requirements, being able to translate what the specialists say, moving from one context to another and discerning any ‘abuses of knowledge’.

Making proper use of black boxes, i.e., those intellectual representations or machines21 that one uses without considering it necessary to look into the way they work: for example employing ideas about viruses in talking of infection, or ideas about the electron in talking of electric currents or using the microwave or the iron, without being concerned about their structure. The objective is to learn to recognize when it is worthwhile opening or not opening a black box, i.e. studying the theory appropriate to certain circumstances, such as how aspirin works in order to dose it intelligently. Nobody can be regarded as scientifically and technologically literate if they are unable rationally to decide whether to open black boxes or to leave them closed.22

The proper use of simple models (islands of rationality).23 This means knowing how to build simple but relevant models for oneself in a particular context of action or communication, such as modelling a fuse which has blown. Whereas ‘single discipline’ or ‘fundamental’ scientists tend to regard a simple model as imperfect, engineers or doctors will consider that the value of a model should always be related to the context and project in which it is considered. The simplicity of a model is not always a weakness, it can even be a strength. Students must learn that ‘doing science’ means acquiring a simplified and basic representation of the world’s complexity, and that it is essential to the scientific approach to be able to call a halt to the complexification of models. Also, the teaching of technologies cannot be restricted to the transmission of simple formulae: it is a matter of acquiring a model, i.e., a ‘theory’, of technology, of its aims, of its operation and of the social organization it implies.

Inventing interdisciplinary models or islands of rationality: since no single discipline is sufficient for dealing adequately with a concrete problem, students must be taught methodically how to construct interdisciplinary models. Thus the insulation of a house will necessitate a representation of the problem involving many precise kinds of knowledge, from physics to law, not forgetting biology, economics, aesthetics, or the experience of users, which is precise even though not socially standardized. This objective, in order to become operational, perhaps more than others will require acquisition of a theory of the rigour of interdisciplinary work.24

The proper use of metaphors (comparisons): contrary to the view held by certain teachers, who claim to use only so-called ‘scientific’ concepts, scientific creativity involves using metaphors. Indeed, scientific concepts are usually no more than metaphors which have become ‘seasoned’ and standardized through use.25 For example, the concepts of cell or system are highly typical in this connection.26 It is a matter of teaching young people how to rediscover the strength and fertility of ways of expression that compare one phenomenon with another.

Access to standardized scientific and technological languages and models: this objective is the same as that of conventional science courses. In fact, in order to communicate in our society, it is not enough to be able to invent representations of situations. One must also know how to use the models that have become standardized and accepted and which are known as scientific results. This is why, in order to be scientifically and technically literate, everyone needs to acquire a whole series of concepts, models and theories in the form that they have received from the history of science and the historically constituted scientific disciplines. These would include, for example, mass, weight, evolution, the cell, chemical reactions, electric charge, etc.27 Course curricula often tend to be limited to these standardized items. They occasionally neglect to take account of the fact that these models, knowledge of which is necessary if one is to get ahead in our society, are seen as dogmatic because they are imposed on students as irrelevant abstractions, taken out of their context of invention and use. But while standardization is too often a source of stagnation, it is also good practice28 and must be learned.

The proper use of translations: STL requires the capability to move a question from one perspective to another, from one theoretical framework to another, from the paradigm of one discipline to another. Thus, a ‘tummy-ache’ will be translated by the doctor into ‘stomach pain’, and then possibly retranslated as ‘gastric hyper-acidity’ or exhaustion, another possible translation. Scientific and technological literacy requires one to know how to get a foothold in the network of translations involved in using science and technology.

The ability to negotiate, not only with people, but also with objects and standards: an adequate theoretical representation can allow somebody to find an acceptable compromise between contradictory standards or formulae, for example between the cost of thermal insulation and its effectiveness, between precision and the time necessary to carry out an operation, or between various precautions against a possible infection and so on. In order to negotiate in this way with people, objects or techniques, it is important to know how to represent what is possible, to create a certain theorization of the situation, an island of rationality.

The ability to link knowledge and decisions: if one is able to construct an island of rationality suitable for a particular situation, one can then take technical, ethical or political decisions by calling on the understanding assembled in this way. People may be regarded as employing STL when they are able to make specific use of their understanding of scientific or technological approaches and results. Here science has a practical role to play as a representation of the possibilities of human actions.

The ability to distinguish between technical, ethical and political discussions: this ability is necessary to be able to make adequate use of theoretical models in decision-making. The term ‘technical discussions’ is used to denote those conversations relating to the ways and means involved in an action. These discussions in no way concern the issues of our existence which, on the contrary, will be involved in the ethical discussions that question the aims of our action and the values involved. A political discussion marks the search for compromise between groups that do not necessarily share the same aims or values. It is important to know what part scientific knowledge can play in the different types of discussion.

Epistemology, history, interdisciplinarity

In so far as it seeks to highlight the link between science and the social and personal universe, STS education is not easily compatible with just any type of epistemology, notably with those that place little importance on the subject constructing the knowledge. On the contrary, it goes along very well with constructivist and especially socio-constructivist epistemologies29 which emphasize that science is a human product, structured by humans for humans and according to their plans. This kind of epistemology permits a critical dimension demonstrating that science does not reveal the world’s truth but rather produces singular representations of our possible actions, allowing us to communicate and act. These representations are appropriate in varying degrees to the contexts and projects into which they are introduced.

In this kind of context, the history of science plays a special role.30 In fact it is not possible to assimilate a scientific notion unless one has some idea of the context which justified its invention.31 It is essential to understand why and for whom it was invented. In addition, the historical perspective draws attention to the fact that a notion does not belong to the nature of things but is a human invention intended to permit communication and action in a precise context.

Finally, as soon as an attempt is made to insert scientific practice into the social fabric and its technological components, single-discipline approaches become inadequate. However, although the principle of interdisciplinarity is routinely accepted, its implementation is not trouble-free. Teachers have often been ‘warped’ by a resolutely monodisciplinary education and by an epistemology (ideology?) which led them to value only disciplinary work. Some research and training is probably necessary to ensure that science teaching gives the disciplines and the knowledge standardized by their paradigms the importance they deserve, while rigorously exercising interdisciplinarity.32 This no doubt implies a better understanding of the operation of the criteria and standards applied to knowledge. On the one hand, the paradigms, in the Kuhnian sense, govern the production of disciplinary and standardized knowledge; on the other hand, the projects and their background constitute the main criteria in the construction of project science and interdisciplinary approaches.

The ideological dimension of science teaching

In seeking to link science and society, the STS movement became aware of the ideological expressions conveyed by the teaching of science: e.g. representations of the world, one of whose functions is to motivate people, legitimate their practices and promote the cohesion of different groups, even if this means clouding the origin and the social effects of these expressions.

A fairly conventional viewpoint holds that science teaching is only scientific, with no ideological content. However, science courses do involve non-neutral images of the world. Thus there is a wide difference between classes that declare:

‘We shall now prove that the distinction between insulating materials and conducting materials is a fact’ and those that state: ‘We shall now see that it can sometimes be useful to distinguish between conducting and insulating materials’. Although the ‘scientific’ content of the course is the same, the representation of the science put forward will be very different.

The statement: ‘We shall now learn how to observe nature’ does not have the same meaning as: ‘We shall now learn the observation techniques used by a biologist in the field’. The same applies when the following is given as an example in an arithmetic class: ‘With 200 French francs, it is possible to buy a steak, a CD and a cinema ticket’ or: ‘With 50 French francs, it is possible to buy 2 kilos of bread, 10 kilos of potatoes and a bag of coal’.

These examples, which we shall not analyse here,33 demonstrate that science classes do not only convey a neutral scientific outlook. On the contrary, faced with students whose critical faculty is much less awakened with regard to these questions than to those in a philosophy or history class, the teachers, who are themselves frequently unaware of this aspect of their actions, transmit a particular idea of science, the world and society. At least one part of the STS current believes it is important that teachers should be aware of this phenomenon. Not in order to try - which would be illusory - to teach an ideology-free course, but to try to balance what they transmit and perhaps to avoid passing on, through their scientific teaching, an ideological content which would be unacceptable according to their own ethics.


The teaching of science, as it is widely practised today, often still believes itself capable of passing on virtually absolute knowledge remote from the tensions of society. The STS and STL movements, for their part, do not share this belief. Notwithstanding this, their conception of science teaching does not generate any less enthusiasm.

On the contrary, these movements regard science as a human product and full of humanity, and claim, with varied and highly differentiated points of view, that science can be understood as a space in which we create - with a great deal of imagination - representations of what is open to our potential for action. Science teaching thus becomes a human place, showing the features of a special history, related to the decisions we take; it is a place of logicality and communication attached to our projects and a place that conveys particular views of the world and of society. In brief, it is a place in which the future of our existence, our culture and our social life is played out.


1. For an in-depth analysis of these prospects and of all the factors outlined in this article, see Fourez, 1994.

2. A description of this movement in the United States can be found in Waks, 1986, p. 177-86. This includes the manifesto of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) on the subject.

3. Bensaude and Stengers, 1992, p. 125-206, on the subject of the fundamental sciences, speak of ‘science of the teachers’: this is knowledge produced and standardized by a highly stable profession rather than by entrepreneurs whose eyes are fixed on the results to be achieved.

4. In this article I often use the terms ‘standard’ or ‘standardized’, but not in any pejorative sense. In fact, although standardization can often lead to stagnation, we must remember that without it no communication, precision or communicable experience or technique are possible.

5. Reports about such a crisis are abundant in the English-speaking world. For a fairly elaborate review of this crisis in the French-speaking world, see Le monde de l’éducation, n° 1778, 1991. There it is stated, inter alia, that the French education system is producing too few engineers. Elsewhere, with regard to the teaching of mathematics, the report of the Belgian Danblon committee complains, for example, that not enough mathematicians are being trained to teach the subject. With regard to what is happening in the United States, see for example the contribution by Waks, 1986. See also: Rutherford, 1990, and American Association for the Advancement of Science, Project 2001, 1993. For the French-speaking world, we would mention Giordan, 1989, p. 29: ‘It is impossible to go on much longer imposing overloaded school curricula, the content of which is sometimes incoherent and often not properly thought out with regard to current needs’.

6. Morgan, 1993. Similar, scattered judgements can be found in the various reports of this UNESCO meeting in July 1993.

7. In this regard, see Fourez, 1993.

8. The term ‘scientism’ is applied to a representation of knowledge which tends to place science on an absolute footing and consider it outside meaningful contexts. Scientism is a belief that the universality of science is not a socio-historical phenomenon to be explained as such but in fact a universality of law. This concept has resulted in the Western world imposing, as a beneficial outcome of universal civilization, that which can rather be regarded as a particular - but highly effective - way of representing the world. For a sympathetic yet acerbic analysis of scientism, see Stengers, 1993.

9. Open University Press, Buckingham, 1993.

10. Even though one can criticize this book for an attitude which in the end is highly technocratic and which in many aspects reflects a scientific ideology.

11. A technocratic approach is one which claims to avoid negotiations about decision-making by leaving them to technicians who apparently act in a less ‘political’ and more ‘neutral’ manner by having regard only to scientific and technical results. For a critical review of technocratic ideologies, see Fourez, 1992, p. 178-90.

12. Aikenhead, 1992.

13. Thus the International Council of Scientific Unions, in setting out its position at the United Nations Conference (UNCSTD), affirmed that long-term and continuous growth was impossible unless the funds invested in science and technology were matched by those allocated to additional educational programmes aimed at training scientists and technologists and at improving the scientific literacy of the entire population (Stoltman, 1993). A similar point of view was put forward in the famous report A nation at risk, produced in the 1980s at the beginning of the Reagan administration. Scientists and educators whom nobody suspected of intellectual laxism had reached the point of wondering, to their own surprise, whether the lack of culture and scientific literacy was not a threat to the West (see the relevant report by Holton, 1986).

14. In connection with this link between science and politics, see the little book by Stengers & Ralet, 1991.

15. If someone is to find pleasure - of the aesthetic, bodily, communication or other kind - in science, a degree of training is needed, just as it is for appreciating a picture by Van Gogh or a symphony by Mozart. Some people have an education or social conditioning such that they experience no pleasure in contemplating the satisfactory operation of a theory or the suitability of a tool for a precise task.

16. It should be noted, however, that not all dependency or loss of autonomy should be regarded as a bad thing: useful and valuable requirements do exist. Nor is ‘autonomy’ synonymous with individualism or egotism.

17. Fourez, 1994. We may note that this ‘literacy’ is not only related to the tactual side of situations, but also to one’s affective, social, ethical and cultural life.

18. For example: Rutherford, 1990, or American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; or again. Department of Education and Science and the Secretary of State for Wales, 1988.

19. It is to be noted that access to such objectives will require educational research outside the principles that are currently most fashionable.

20. This is a summary of what we propose in Fourez, 1994, p. 52-64.

21. Or more often ‘mixed’ in both the representational and material senses: in fact, a technology or drugs are not only material objects but a combination of the material and the representational, to which a social aspect must always be added: see Latour, 1989 or Fourez, 1994, Chapter 5.

22. This question can be related to that of prerequisites: to get ahead in our techno-scientific world, it is essential to learn how sometimes to use concepts without worrying about certain ‘prerequisites’, nevertheless dear to the heart of the specialist.

23. This theoretical idea which I have proposed (for example in Fourez, 1994, p. 57-59) uses the metaphor of the island in an ocean of ignorance and designates a theoretical representation appropriate to an envisaged context and project which make it possible to communicate and act in their regard, thus introducing rationality into communication and action. Martinand spoke of ‘islands of rationality to be conquered... in other words, structures of intelligibility or systems of standards not granted but reconstructed’ (Giordan, Martinand & Raichvarg, 1992).

24. This is what I tried to do in Chapter 5 of Fourez, 1994, p. 87-118.

25. See Stengers et al., 1987.

26. See Mathy & Fourez, 1991.

27. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993, gave a selection of such contents regarded as essential to STL.

28. Indeed, the phenomenon of ‘modern sciences’ cannot be understood without considering the fact that they are, in one way or another, enterprises for standardizing knowledge. It is thus - and at this cost - that they achieve a certain universality (see Fourez, 1992).

29. Constructivist epistemologies are those which, notably following Piaget, stress the role of the subject in the production of knowledge (see Larochelle & Bednarz, 1994, p. 5-19, or von Glasersfeld, 1994). The term ‘socio-constructivism’ will be preferred when, beyond the psychological subject, there is also pressure to find room for the negotiations and social interests which structure knowledge (see Fourez, 1992). With regard to constructivism, teaching and the representations of students, see the work of Desautels and Larochelle in, for example, Larochelle & Desautels, 1992. See also Aikenhead, Ryan & Desautels, 1989.

30. With regard to this role, see Fourez, 1994, p. 161-72, and Mathy & Fourez, 1991. Also see Martinand, 1993, p. 89-100.

31. And not ‘discovery’ as is often said. The epistemologies and conventional history have too great a tendency to believe that a concept or theoretical model was there to be ‘discovered’, while in fact it was invented, just as the wheel or the internal combustion engine were invented. See Fourez, 1992, p. 49-73, or Stengers, 1993.

32. For a methodology of interdisciplinarity, see Fourez, 1994, Chapter V, p. 87-113.

33. This kind of analysis can be found in Fourez, 1985, 1988,1989, 1992, or in Mathy & Fourez, 1991.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1993. Project 2001: benchmarks for science literacy. New York, Oxford University Press, 1993.

Aikenhead, G.S. 1992. L’approche STS et l’apprentissance des sciences: une perspective de recherche [The STS approach and science learning: a research perspective]. Courrier du Cethes (Namur, Belgium), April, p. 3-40.

Aikenhead, G.S.; Ryan, A.; Desautels, J. 1989. Monitoring students’ views on STS. (Paper presented to the annual meeting of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching. San Francisco, April 1989.)

Bensaude, B.; Stengers, I. 1993. Histoire de la chimie [The history of chemistry]. Paris, Ed. La Découverte. 360 p.

Department of Education and Science and the Secretary of State for Wales. 1988. Science for ages 5 to 16. Cardiff, United Kingdom.

International Forum on Scientific and Technological Literacy For All (Project 2000+). 1993. Final report. Pans, UNESCO. 127 p.

Fourez, G. 1985. Pour une éthique de l’enseignement des sciences [Towards an ethic for science teaching]. Brussels, Ed. Vie Ouvrière.

Fourez, G. 1988a. La construction des sciences. Les logiques des inventions scientifiques [The construction of science: the logic of scientific inventions]. Brussels, Éd. De Boeck Université. 125 p.

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