The Challenge to Educational Reforms during a Global Emergency: The Case of Progressive Science Education

  • Keith S. Taber Emeritus Professor, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
Keywords: constructivism, dialogic teaching, online learning, progressive science education, reform resilience, teaching nature of science


This article argues that what is most at risk in schooling during a global pandemic, or other similar broad challenges to normal functioning, are those elements that might be considered the less traditional and so the most progressive. After setting out some general background common to the challenge faced by schools and school teachers, this argument is exemplified through the case of school science education. Two particular aspects are considered: one related to pedagogy (responding to learners’ alternative conceptions or ‘misconceptions’) and one related to curriculum (teaching about the nature of science). These are considered ‘progressive’ features in the sense that they have widely been championed as ways of improving and reforming science education across a wide range of national contexts but can be understood to have faced resistance both in the sense of being opposed by ‘reactionary’ stakeholders and in terms of the level of support for teacher adoption. It is argued that at a time when the education system is placed under extreme stress, such progressive elements are at particular risk as teachers and administrators may view them as ‘extras’ rather than ‘core’ features of practice and/or as reflecting more ‘difficult’ educational objectives that may need to be de-prioritised (and so neglected) for the time being. In that sense, they are fragile aspects of practice that lack the resilience of more established, and thus robust, features. It is concluded that where progressive elements are especially valued, they need to become sufficiently embedded in custom and practice to no longer be viewed as luxuries but rather to be recognised as core elements of good teaching to be protected and maintained during a period of emergency.


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