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Friday, December 07, 2012

Heritage Conservation through the development of Culturally-Sensitive Science Curriculum

Heritage Conservation through the development of Culturally-Sensitive Science Curriculum
Concept Note

Cultural heritage conservation helps a community not only to protect its viable economic physical assets, but also preserve its practices, history, and environment, and a sense of
continuity and identity. Heritage conservation is deeply derived from an appreciation of locally-developed culture and worldview. Part of these worldviews are holistic and integrated systems of knowing and apprehending the natural world which are culturally-congruent. Traditional knowledge and technologies locally-developed facilitate sustainable and ethical use of resources as well as valuation and maximization of materials readily-available to the local population.

However, the current educational system, as well as the current perception of science, and, consequently, science education, are Western-derived and -oriented. While Eurocentric science, with its analytic and positivist philosophical underpinnings, has allowed for the development and elucidation of powerful universal models for explaining natural phenomena and accounting for the unseen.

As we move in to standards-based education using western-derived philosophies, tensions are created between traditional knowledge systems and the new ways of knowing and doing. There is a general tendency for current educational material to disregard indigenous knowledge systems as unscientific, antiquated, and superstitious. The end result is that the two knowledge systems are constantly competing for dominance in the students' minds, and eventually one is accepted and applied, while the other is devalued and discarded. Most times, classroom science is at the losing end of the deal, as it is seen as culturally incompatible. It is perceived as not applicable to life outside the classroom, it tends to contain counter-intuitive principles, and is generally rife with irrelevant information. Thus, science literacy, the ideal outcome of science education in basic education, is not achieved.

The ideal science curriculum then incorporates the best of both worlds and starts with the development of a culturally-sensitive curriculum that validates local knowledge and values while presenting the gains of Eurocentric science as a means of enhancing and improving on local perspectives. This means that one has to expand the definition and construct of science beyond the limits imposed by materialism and positivism to encompass the many ways by which people interrogate and make sense of the natural world. This also means that one has to honor traditional ways of knowledge transfer outside the school system, but still be well-versed in the principles embodied by the worldview and the ways of testing and validating experiences in order to faithfully integrate them into the classroom.

It is in the hope of developing this curriculum, as well as a teacher-training component to ensure its effective delivery, that heritage conservation is taken a step further to enrichment to make it current and compatible with the modern world.


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