‘Houston we still have a problem’: measuring educational outcomes part 2

As I said in a previous post, it is difficult to measure educational outcomes.

In that piece I spoke about some key issues and roles within the English education system, including those to do with Ofsted (the schools and colleges inspectorate) and Ofqual (the qualifications regulator).

The Wellcome Trust has just published an interesting set of reports about informal learning in science. These are the culmination of a year’s thinking by a range of experts in consultation with a wider community. I was fortunate to attend the first consultation meeting in November 2011 when I worked at the Royal Society in science and mathematic education policy. The thinking has clearly developed since then, which is great.

However, in terms of specific outcomes and benefits from informal science learning: ‘Houston we still have a problem’.

Apollo 13 (NASA)

Apollo 13 (NASA)

It is still not yet clear what are the agreed communal set of benefits from informal science learning gained through, for example, visits to science centres or exhibitions, using interactive games, or learning from contact with ‘real live’ scientists. It is even less clear how they relate to any agreed educational outcomes from formal science learning, by which we usually mean science teaching that takes place in the school or college classroom or similar settings.

The only help from the Apollo 13 near-disaster is that a highly technical problem was tackled by a skilled team of individuals both at the local site i.e. the spacecraft and remotely i.e. in Houston – the latter had to use experiments to see if a scientific solution might work, and the former then tried to apply them. In addition someone had to be the final decision-maker to ensure that the astronauts actually came home rather than wait until their oxygen ran out, they froze to death or burned up on re-entry, none desirable outcomes.

We need the same for science and possibly all learning.

And you think exams are high stakes!