Chilean children learn science the practical way

Next generation: A Chilean student demonstrates skills learnt through the programme. Copyright: Universidad de Chile / Jorge Araya

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[SANTIAGO] An innovative science programme aimed at poor schools in Chile has been so successful that it is being replicated in other countries in Latin America and in Africa.

The Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) programme’s director, Jorge Allende, made the announcement on 6 July at a science fair attended by students who have benefited from the initiative.

Implemented by the Chilean Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Education in Chile, IBSE is aimed at children aged 6-13 years. The children are taught chemistry, physics and biology in a way that mimics ‘real’ science; given a problem to solve, they form their own theories, which they test through experiments.

Allende says the programme not only teaches scientific content, but also encourages critical thinking more generally.

The new programme is in stark contrast to the traditional method of teaching science in Chile, in which science teachers lecture students in theory-laden classes that had no practical component.

In 2003, the project was started in 24 poor schools in Santiago. This year, the programme was extended to two more regions, reaching 64 schools and 25,000 children.

Next year, around 30 schools from three more cities are to join the project, doubling the number of children taking part, says the programme’s vice-director Rosa Devés.

Mónica Bruna, who teaches science at El Salitre school in Pudahuel, says the programme has completely changed classroom dynamics.

“Science is now the children’s favourite class,” she said, adding that even those with learning difficulties now participate more in class.

The programme’s success prompted the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Science and the InterAcademy Panel, which brings together 92 national science academies, to ask for it to be repeated elsewhere.

These organisations asked their Chilean members to coordinate the programme in other countries in Latin America, such as Argentina, Peru and Venezuela, and in African countries including Madagascar, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda.

The programme is based on a project of the US National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian Institution, and is supported by the French Academy of Sciences.

In September, an international meeting in Sweden will design methods for assessing the different countries participating in the programme.