Interdisciplinarity in Science – always good?

In the interviews I have been having with teachers for my research, a word has come up regularly: interdiscplinarity. Interdiscplinarity is seen by teachers as a way of dealing with an extensive curriculum and at the same time giving time to students to explore their knowledge. This is a very valid approach, but not all educators receive this concept with open arms. The reasons for this skepticism will be the subject of today’s blog.

In different countries science is taught in different ways. The majority of countries have a general science subject up to later years of secondary school. In these countries interdisciplinarity is the bread and butter of everyday teaching. It is almost impossible to try and cover a general science curriculum without making use of the bridges between the different fields of science. Nevertheless, other countries have different approaches. Germany and Portugal for instance, have separate subjects for Physics/ Chemistry and Biology since very young age (12 years old). In these countries some educators fear indersciplinarity. The reasons for this fear are twofold. The first has to do with the value these teachers see in their specific field of expertise. A teacher of Physics/Chemistry tends to value more and is more comfortable in these areas. Therefore the teacher will not feel too confident in going into areas of Biology that would fit a interdisciplinary approach. The same holds value for biology teachers. The second reason is more practical, but not less relevant. Every time interdicplinarity is stressed by policymakers in these countries, there is a fear that this might mean a change in science education to the more common approach, a general science subject. This shift would have two consequences that teachers do not desire. First, it would demand of teachers that have been trained and that have taught a specific science subject all of their life, to teach general science. Second, a general science subject instead of two specific, would mean less teaching jobs, which of course teachers do not want.

So, contrary to what could be assumed, interdisciplinarity is not always well viewed by teachers and educators. And there are some well-built arguments for their views´. But nevertheless, interdisciplinarity has some very strong points in its favor. It is about these strong points that my next blog will focus. 

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