Using Science to Re-engage Young People in an Australian Flexible Learning Centre

By David Lake and Sue McGinty.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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The Edmund Rice Flexible Learning Centre Network caters for the needs of young people in secondary education who have previously been disconnected from the conventional educational system and have already experienced varying degrees of social disenfranchisement as a result. The experience of many of these young people in science has been of embedded social-systematic biases that have translated initially as disengagement, and then as disability when their everyday life-worlds clash with mainstream science education. These young people’s backgrounds are exceptionally diverse, and frequently involve both voluntary and involuntary extended absences from formal schooling. While this is often, but by no means universally, associated with academic concerns, the paramount concern of the school is to ensure that these young people feel a part of their society, and able to contribute to that society in a meaningful way. This paper illustrates the role science can play in the social re-engagement process. The ubiquitous 5E-inquiry model structures science engagement around discrepant events and discussion. Unfortunately the probing disclosure that underpins the use of these strategies in the 5E model further alienates these young people, and is culturally inappropriate for the indigenous class members. Therefore discrepant events and discussion were reformulated to remove the risk of personal exposure while fostering the necessary relationships needed by these young people for them to engage in meaningful learning. The four principles of the Edmund Rice Flexible Learning Centres: safe and legal, honesty, respect and participation, were adapted to create an environment of trust and interest where the young people are able to reinvent their identities. The paper utilises observations from two groups of young people during weekly science interventions over the course of a term to illustrate the changes observed in the young people. It also provides guidance for the creation of socially reflexive science.

Keywords: Disengaged Youth, Science Education, Engagement, Alternative Education, Flexible Learning Centres, Indigenous Education, Inquiry Learning, Social Engagement

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp.39-50. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 535.272KB).

Dr. David Lake

Senior Lecturer, School of Education, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Dr. David Lake is Senior Lecturer in Science Education located within the School of Education at James Cook University, Townsville. He holds tertiary qualifications in science, business, education and outdoor education and his publications have focused particularly on his interest in science education in remote and rural communities. Other research interests include Science Curriculum and Science Practice, Cross-Cultural Science Education and the use of ICT in Science Education. Dr. David Lake is currently principal investigator of the Australian Research Council funded project ‘Re-engaging Disadvantaged Youth Through Science’.

Prof. Sue McGinty

Associate Dean Research, Faculty of Arts, Education and Social Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Professor Sue McGinty is the Associate Dean of Research for the Faculty of Arts, Education, and Social Sciences (incorporating the School of Indigenous Australian Studies) at James Cook University. Previously she held the position of Director of Research in the School of Indigenous Australian Studies, and prior to this she was employed as Deputy Director of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies at JCU.