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First Teacher Assignments in the light of Responsibility and Accountability
Högskolan i Halmstad, Akademin för lärande, humaniora och samhälle.ORCID-id: 0000-0002-7810-7911
Högskolan i Halmstad, Akademin för lärande, humaniora och samhälle.ORCID-id: 0000-0002-9293-0445
Högskolan i Halmstad, Akademin för lärande, humaniora och samhälle.ORCID-id: 0000-0002-5246-1605
2023 (engelsk)Konferansepaper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Fagfellevurdert)
Abstract [en]

There is increasing attention to the role of education in teaching environmental issues such as climate change (Teach the Future, n.d.). Whilst environmental issues are science-dependent, science is not sufficient to respond to today’s environmental challenges. Yet internationally, science and geography are those subjects most likely to include environmental content (UNESCO, 2021). In England, students can expect to learn about environmental challenges including climate change, biodiversity and pollution during their compulsory science education (DfE, 2013). These topics are often controversial, rife with moral tensions (Zeidler, Herman, & Sadler, 2019), and characterised by both descriptive facts and normative values. The values often deal with solutions to the problems, what kind of actions can be taken on an individual or societal level and even what kind of society is preferred. This makes the issues both scientific and political. Yet little is known about how politics enters the science classroom. In this study, we aim to understand how environmental politics enters the classroom, and how science teachers address different approaches to political participation with their students.

In order to develop democratic environmental governance, there is a need for representation of different groups of people, opportunities for participation and for spaces for deliberation (Lidskog & Elander, 2007), i.e. for politics. Schools are potential sites for participation and deliberation and for learning democracy (Biesta & Lawy, 2006). Politics can be defined in different ways, from a narrow focus on electoral processes to broader conceptualisations which include different ways of making decisions and shaping power relations. In this study, we are concerned with power and social change (Dahl & Stinebrickner, 2003) i.e. “the capacity for agency and deliberation in situations of genuine collective or social choice” (Hay, 2007, p. 77) through science education. This definition of politics goes beyond electoral and party politics and includes activities outside formal political institutions. This is in accordance with Heywood (1999)’s characterisation of politics as an a social activity that arises out of interaction between or among people, which develops out of diversity (the existence of different interests, wants, needs and goals), and which relates to collective decisions which are regarded as binding upon a group of people. Carter (2018) identifies the environment as a policy problem for several reasons, including that the environment can be considered a public good, with complex and interdependent relationships between people and ecosystems acting across national borders with consequences felt into the future.

This characterisation of politics is relevant to the study context as education is a social activity which brings together people with different views, interests and goals in relation to the environment, and it is a context in which collective decisions can be made, for example, about how the school function, what is taught (and how), and what actions or outcomes are desirable as a result of education. Not all of these actions and outcomes can be considered political and we see politics as related to societal engagement and political participation more broadly. Ekman and Amnå (2012) have developed a typology of different forms of participation in society. They distinguish between (a) non-participation (disengagement); (b) civic participation (latent political), whether social involvement or civic engagement; and (c) political participation (manifest political), which can be formal political participation or activism. Each of these three types of participation are further classified in terms of individual and collective forms. In this study, we use Ekman and Amnå’s (2012) typology to understand the ways in which teachers address the political dimensions of the environment in school science. The research question we set out to explore in the study is: how do science teachers address political participation in science education?

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources UsedAn exploratory qualitative approach was used to understand science teachers’ perceptions and approaches to environmental politics. We focused on science teachers with responsibility for teaching students aged 11-16 in England because we were interested in what students experience during their compulsory secondary science education, where the curriculum demands that they learn about ecosystems and the environment. 

A deductive approach to instrument design was used, drawing on Ekman and Amnå’s (2012) typology of latent and manifest political participation and non-participation (see Table 1 above) in the design of the interview guide and in the analysis of data to understand the ways in which politics enters the science classroom. Given the potentially sensitive nature of some of the questions, we used one-to-one interviews, conducted online to increase the geographical reach, and minimise the need for travel.  The interview guide contained open-ended questions on science teachers’ perspectives on and experiences of teaching environmental politics in science education.  We deliberately did not ask about educational policy; only about teachers’ own experiences, practices, personal perspectives and barriers they encountered.  

Participants were provided with an infographic using examples from Ekman and Amnå’s (2012) typology and asked to mark ways of participating in society which they had:planned and taught (green); mentioned in passing or in response to a question from a student (orange); and, never addressed (red).  The interview focused on reasons for these decisions.  Interviews were conducted by three members of the research team and took place in January - June 2022. Each lasted approximately 1 hour. 

Interviews with 11 teachers were recorded and transcribed and interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) (Smith, 2004) used to analyse the data.  This approach aims not at generalisation but rather to understand how individuals make sense of their own experiences (Guihen, 2019), namely, how politics enters the science classroom.  IPA is typically used to generate meaningful insights from a small dataset, often in psychology and health sciences.  It is appropriate here because it provides a way to understand how participants make sense of their social world, it allows for diversity of perceptions rather than looking for a single objective truth and it allows researchers to interpret these experiences and understand the perspective of an insider and then interpret what it means for them to have this perspective (Reid, Flowers, & Larkin, 2005). An iterative approach to data analysis was used, with reflexive discussions between each stage of analysis.   Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or FindingsTeachers participating in this study saw a place for politics in science education.  However, it  was described as almost absent in lessons. Teachers were more likely to discuss individual, legal, forms of participation, focusing on civil (latent political) actions rather than collective, manifest forms of participating. Even when politics enters the classroom, it tends to be students rather than teachers who introduce the topic, unless there are links to the curriculum or other legal and political frameworks. Policy (national and school) and colleague and student perceptions prevented teachers from planning to discuss manifest forms of political participation with students.  

Politics (especially collective aspects) are experienced as off-limits to teachers in the study. This post-political logic distances people (here, young people but also teachers) from involvement in decision-making and reduces their capacity to be involved in environmental decision-making now and in the future.  These absences, we argue, contribute to a broader societal trend which closes off spaces to discuss and celebrate disagreement (Blühdorn & Deflorian, 2021), and which diminish the potential for young people to learn democracy. In order to develop democratic governance of environmental issues, there is a need for representation, opportunities for participation and for spaces for deliberation (Liskog & Elander, 2007).  Schools are in many ways ideal sites to encourage political participation as they are shared spaces of learning - both about forms of participation but also how to participate and to deliberate across disagreement, or as one of the teachers in this study put it ‘we need to teach them how to use their voice properly and how to be heard’. This requires those who are in positions where they can act to listen to these voices and engage in deliberation and bring politics - as the capacity to deliberate and make collective decisions - into the science classroom.

sted, utgiver, år, opplag, sider
2023.
Emneord [en]
Environment, politics, teachers, science education, responsibility
HSV kategori
Identifikatorer
URN: urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-51613OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hh-51613DiVA, id: diva2:1796025
Konferanse
European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2023), Glasgow, UK, 22-25 August 2023
Forskningsfinansiär
Halmstad UniversityTilgjengelig fra: 2023-09-11 Laget: 2023-09-11 Sist oppdatert: 2023-11-17bibliografisk kontrollert

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