A Dose of Preventive Medicine For Science Education
by Joan Scott Pinner

The Science Council of Canada has been studying science education in Canada since 1980. The purpose of the study has been:

-to establish a documented basis for describing the present purpose and general characteristics of science teaching in Canadian schools;

-to conduct an historical analysis of science education in Canada;

-to stimulate active deliberation concerning future options for science education in Canada.

This process of "deliberation" has resulted in five volumes described by the S.C.C. as "reports representing the out put of the S.C.C.'s study on science education in Canadian schools." The reports are to be discussed at twelve conferences to be held across Canada this summer.

I was aware of this process in its early stages and was one of those who pressed for consideration of the issue of the exclusion of women from science. A workshop was held the S.C.C. in which many women and men participated. What emerged from this was a publication, Who Turns The Wheel? (Copies available from S.C.C., 100 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 5M1.)

The S.C.C. also issued a "Statement Of Concern" on the issue. This was reason for some satisfaction, even though the publications were produced by considerable editing of original material and too much responsibility for the exclusion of women was placed on the shoulders of young women in high school, rather than upon those with real power in the science and education fields

The values, issues and ideas, as expressed at the workshop have, during the production of the present publications, not only shrunk to a fraction of the former space, but they have also been kept quite separate from all the other work. There is no evidence that they have influenced the study in any way. All the work that we put into the workshop produced nine pages of recommendations in Who Turns the Wheel?. These nine pages are further summarized in the present five draft volumes on a half of one page. Perhaps it is even more troubling that this half page has been ghettoized, hermetically sealed off, from the rest of the work.

For example, one of the recommendations from Who Turns The Wheel?, which made it through to the latest publication, is that of "science curriculum and texts that are relevant to the experience of both boys and girls." The S.C.C. also studied curriculum and science texts themselves and in the latest volumes, 236 pages are devoted to those topics without any reference to the distinction made between the interests of boys and girls, in our recommendation.

The publication of Who Turns The Wheel? and the Statement of Concern suggests that the science education of females was of importance to the S.C.C. However, the five draft volumes show that the issue is now of extremely low priority.

The Council is made up of mostly males from the privileged sectors of society who are appointed to give the government "independent" advice on science. The interests of this group are unlikely to coincide with the interests of women who are now largely excluded from the scientific establishment. Rather than increasing women's involvement in science, they may even play part in reducing it. Lack of educational qualifications in science is often used to explain and justify lack of involvement in science-based political issues. Just defining an issue as scientific is enough to effectively deny democratic rights to the 'unqualified'.

Women are low in numbers among the ranks of the scientifically qualified and this results in a false, but perceived lack of political legitimacy when the issues have been defined as scientific. In spite of the fabrication of that myth, we have both rights and responsibilities to exercise in science, just as we do in the fields of women's health, the environment and 'defence', which are all vitally connected to the work of the science establishment.

The notion that women have democratic rights relative to science issues, regardless of whether or not individuals have education qualifications in science is not explicitly discussed in the reports, but the denial of those rights is often assumed.

Twelve conferences will be held this summer. Those invited are the only people to whom the five volume draft report is available.

The twelve conferences are, "to contribute to science education both directly - through the development of collective insights and proposals for action - and indirectly - through suggesting to the Science Council potentially useful recommendations for its final report." A clear challenge to anyone who is unhappy with the lack of inclusion of the values, issues and ideas that women put forward at the earlier workshop

Each one of these conferences contains the potential for a political fight. If other women and men feel as I do, that they have seen the exclusion of women from science recreated, in fact constructed, during this process so far, then this is a good opportunity around which to organize provincially and nationally, a science constituency devoted to wider access. It is a chance to formulate our rights and work towards guaranteeing them .

Some new history will emerge from these conferences. Lack of organization now will mean that we may expect our exclusion to increase. The science establishment will see this as inevitable and as no more than their duty. Along with a proliferation of anti-women myth's, jokes and a loss of democratic rights, we may expect to be unemployable as the supposedly uncontrollable technological revolution roles on.

If women do get involved as individuals, as I have, they may find that we are not only given a limited hearing, but that we are not listened to. There is a need for collective action; to work toto halt and turn around the growing exclusion of women from science.

These conferences will not end process and undo the work of centuries, but if we participate we may make history of which we are mildly proud.


Please express your concerns and urge that all parts of the S.C.C.'s upcoming report recommend specific measures to ensure that women finish high school with the same science and math education as their male classmates.
Write to:

Hon. Don Johnston,
Minister of state for Science and Technology, Ottawa, K1A OA6

Dr. Stuart Smith, Science Council of Canada, 100 Metcalfe St., Ottawa, K.P 5Ml

Hon. Judy Erola, Minister Responsible For Status of Women, Ottawa, K1A 0A6

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