Japanese and Canadian Science Teachers' Views on Science and Culture

Published in the Journal of Science Teacher Education,Vol.11, pp. 277-299, 2000.

Glen S. Aikenhead
College of Education
University of Saskatchewan
28 Campus Drive
Saskatoon, SK, S7N 0X1
Hisashi Otsuji
Faculty of Education
University of Ibaraki
Mito, Ibaraki, 310


Reform toward "science for all" has focused attention on a more inclusive science education and on students' cross-cultural experiences when they enter a science classroom. Teachers' awareness of these cross-cultural experiences holds a key to teaching science for all. This article compares some North American and Japanese science teachers' views on the cultural nature of school science in terms of its connection with their students' everyday cultures. Notable similarities and significant differences between the two groups of teachers reveal implications for teacher development and classroom practice, including: the importance of teachers' prerequisite knowledge that helps students make the cultural transitions into school science, the identification of types of culture clashes students are faced with, and future research and development to improve inservice and preservice programs. Neither the North American nor Japanese teachers seemed very aware of a cross-cultural approach to teaching science for all.


We often gain insight into our own teacher education efforts when we compare our views with those of our colleagues in non-Western cultures. Cross-cultural research, for instance, has awakened an interest in worldviews of science teachers and how those worldviews influence classroom practice (Lawrenz and Gray, 1995; Ogunniyi, Jegede, Ogawa, Yandila and Oladele, 1995). This article offers a cross-cultural comparison between some North American and Japanese science teachers. Comparisons are made in terms of the teachers' views on the cultural nature of Western science and its connection with their students' cultures. These views have consequences for classroom practice and teacher education.

The goal of conventional science teaching has been to transmit to students the knowledge, skills, and values of the scientific community. This content conveys a particular Eurocentric worldview due to the fact that science is a subculture of Western (Euro-American) culture (Pickering, 1992; Ogawa, 1986; Rashed, 1997). Thus, students with a much different worldview face a cross-cultural experience whenever they study Western science.

Within the next decade, an increasing number of teachers in North America will face multicultural classrooms in which the teacher's scientific worldview will clash with many of the students' worldviews (Atwater and Riley, 1993; Cobern and Aikenhead, 1998; Rodriguez, 1998). One challenge for science teacher educators will be to help teachers become more aware of the culture of Western science itself, in such a way as to prepare teachers to handle inevitable culture clashes in their classrooms (Lee, 1997; O'Loughlin, 1992; Rodriguez, 1999). Teachers need to help students cross cultural borders between their everyday world and the world of school science, and help students resolve culture conflicts that may arise (Aikenhead, 1997). This is a role of "culture broker." If science teachers are not aware of the cultural aspects of Western science, and are not aware of the differences between scientific and other cultures (those of their students), then teachers will not make good culture brokers and the science curriculum will be less accessible to their students. As a result, fewer students will succeed in science. In short, curriculum reform dedicated to "science for all" needs culture brokering science teachers (Aikenhead and Jegede, 1999).

This article reports on a cross-cultural study into science teachers' awareness of potential culture clashes within their own science classrooms, where their students' home culture differed from the culture of Western science being taught. In one setting, Canadian teachers taught mainly Aboriginal (Native American) students. The cultural differences between Western science and Aboriginal worldviews are summarized elsewhere (Aikenhead, 1997; Fleer, 1999). In a second setting, Japanese teachers taught Western science to Japanese students. The cultural differences between Western science and Japanese culture are reported by Kawasaki (1996, 1997) and Ogawa (1989, 1995).

Ultimately we want to help teachers in North America and Japan become better culture brokers for their students. But first we need to find out what teachers understand about the connection between a student's home culture and the culture of Western science taught in the classroom. This connection, or "nexus," between a community's culture and the culture of Western science is captured by the phrase "science and culture nexus" (SCN). To what extent are science teachers aware of the potential culture clashes experienced by their non-Western students? This was the original question posed by the studies in Saskatchewan, Canada (Aikenhead and Huntley, 1997) and Japan (Jegede and Ogawa, 1999). The purpose of this article is to report on notable similarities and significant differences between these two groups of teachers. We avoid stereotyping each group according to their national affiliations.

Culture clashes also occur for Western students whose worldviews differ from the scientific worldview conveyed by school science (Aikenhead, 1996; Cobern and Aikenhead, 1998; Ogawa, 1995). This group of students represents the vast majority of any student population (Costa, 1995). Therefore, our comparisons between North American and Japanese science teachers who teach non-Western students are highly relevant to North American teachers in mainstream science classrooms.

Theoretical Framework

We adopted a cultural view towards science education -- teaching is cultural transmission while learning is culture acquisition (Spindler, 1987; Wolcott, 1991). Because science tends to be a Western cultural icon of prestige, power, progress and privilege, its subculture tends to permeate the culture of those who engage it, with cultural assimilation being one possible consequence (Aikenhead, 1997). However, many students avoid cultural assimilation by playing "games" that allow students to pass their science course without really understanding the content. The rules of the game are known as "Fatima's rules" (Larson, 1995; Aikenhead and Jegede , 1999); as one teacher in our study said, "Students go with the information and memorize as much as they can without actually doing any new learning." Playing Fatima's rules avoids culture acquisition because students do not learn in any meaningful way. For example, one of the rules advises us not to read the textbook but to memorize its bold faced words and phrases. Fatima's rules can include such coping or passive-resistance mechanisms as "silence, accommodation, ingratiation, evasiveness, and manipulation" (Atwater, 1996, p. 823). Instead of meaningful learning, only "communicative competence" occurs (Kelly and Green, 1998) for the purpose of getting through a course (Costa, 1997). Alternatives to assimilation and Fatima's rules are discussed by Aikenhead (1996) and Jegede and Aikenhead (1999), but are beyond the scope of this article.

What actually happens when students move from their everyday culture into the culture of school science? The move is called "cultural border crossing" (Aikenhead, 1996; Aikenhead and Jegede, 1999). For the vast majority of students whose home worldview differs from the worldview of school science, cultural border crossing is not smooth. This includes many students in Western cultures (Costa, 1995, 1997).

How easily do students move from their home culture into the culture of school science (ease of border crossing)? Anthropological research (Phelan, Davidson and Cao, 1991) has identified four categories of ease, each related to differences between a student's culture and the culture school science: (1) congruent cultures support smooth transitions, (2) different cultures require transitions to be managed, (3) diverse cultures lead to hazardous transitions, and (4) highly discordant cultures cause students to resist transitions which therefore become virtually impossible. The ease with which Aboriginal or Japanese students cross cultural borders into school science could likely determine a student's capability to learn Western science.

The cognitive experience of border crossing is captured by an idea called "collateral learning" -- learning in the context of potentially conflicting knowledge (for example, a student's personal knowledge versus Western science). Collateral learning was proposed by Jegede (1995) who used a rainbow as an illustration. In the culture of Western science, students learn that the refraction of light rays by droplets of water causes rainbows; while in some African cultures, a rainbow signifies a python crossing a river or the death of an important chief. Thus for African students, learning about rainbows in science means constructing a potentially conflicting idea in their long-term memory. The connection between cultural border crossing and collateral learning was mapped out by Aikenhead and Jegede (1999).

In summary, most students cross a cultural border when they enter a science classroom, some students less smoothly than others. A science teacher's role as culture broker will facilitate smoother border crossings into school science for students whose worldviews do not harmonize with a worldview conventionally conveyed by Western science. Fatima's rules and collateral learning help explain various different ways these students tend to react.


A draft version of an international Science and Culture Nexus (SCN) instrument had been developed by O. Jegede (Nigeria/Australia), G. Aikenhead (Canada), M. Ogunniyi (South Africa), and W. Cobern (United States), as part of an ongoing research project. This instrument served as a point of departure for composing the Saskatchewan version and its translation into Japanese. These revised instruments consisted of section A (biographical data) and section B (items for teachers to react to). Responses to the 67 items in section B were communicated on a Likert-type scale (Definitely Agree, Agree, Not Sure, Disagree, and Definitely Disagree). In addition, each item required teachers to respond from two different perspectives: (1) what teachers perceived to be the views of their colleagues (to determine their sense of isolation, if any, among their colleagues), and (2) what teachers thought themselves (their personal view). The 67 items were organized around five topics: (A) science (13 items), (B) science and culture (16 items), (C) science and everyday common knowledge (10 items), (D) culture (13 items), and (E) teaching and learning science (15 items). The instrument was checked by educators and elders to ensure that respect was being shown for the cultures of Aboriginal and Japanese respondents. Abbreviated lists of the instrument's items are shown in Tables 1 to 5 (about one half the original number). These items were chosen because they are discussed in this article or they indicate ideas reflected in each sub-scale. (A copy of the full instrument, English or Japanese version, can be obtained from the authors.)_____________________________

Tables 1 to 5 fit here.


The validity and reliability of the Japanese version of the SCN instrument was investigated by Jegede and Ogawa (1999). They found "the instrument is highly reliable having undergone both exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses and shown an Alpha reliability of 0.87" (p. 11). The five sub-scales were reasonably cohesive and independent. This analysis lends credibility to the original Canadian version, but strictly speaking, a one-to-one correspondence between the English and Japanese versions for the factor analysis and the reliability measures does not necessarily follow.

A response mean and standard deviation for each of the 67 items were calculated for the personal views of the science teachers (not the views of their colleagues). The "Results" section below explains the cultural challenges in doing this. The views of Saskatchewan and Japanese teachers were represented by their group's mean score on each item. These data were quantified by assigning a value of 1 to 5 to the responses Definitely Disagree to Definitely Agree, respectively. Thus, a mean greater than 3 indicates agreement with an item. T-tests were calculated to determine statistically significant differences between the Japanese and Saskatchewan means for each item. These calculations are found in Tables 1 to 5 for the abbreviated list of items.


In Saskatchewan, Canada, administrative leaders of educational jurisdictions were contacted across the northern half of the province (an area of fairly sparse settlements). Each jurisdiction nominated teachers (who taught science to a significant number of Aboriginal students in grades 7 to 12) to participate anonymously in the study (Aikenhead and Huntley, 1997). The researchers aimed at a representative sampling of teacher viewpoints, including teachers from rural and urban settings and from on-reserve and off-reserve settings, as well as ensuring that an Aboriginal science teacher voice was heard (a very small group). After contacting these nominated teachers by letter and then by telephone, 59 science teachers agreed to participate and were sent the SCN instrument, of which 25 mailed back their responses (a 42% response rate). Both sexes were well represented (15 and 10, male/female). Three Aboriginal science teachers (12%) participated, a disproportionately high number for science teachers. About 20% of the teachers taught in a rural area. Ten of the 25 respondents (40%) did not identify themselves as science teachers even though they were teaching science (and many other subjects) at the time. This is rather typical of isolated towns in Saskatchewan. Discipline backgrounds of the group showed: 2% physics, 12% chemistry, 20% biology, and 15% integrated science.

In Japan, a random selection of 310 science teachers and science teaching supervisors was made from two major groups: 1300 members of the Japanese Society for Science Education, and 1500 members from the Japan Society for Science Teaching (Jegede and Ogawa, 1999). Each Society represented Japanese science teachers who served as leaders in their schools or prefectures. Of the 310 SCN instruments mailed out, 135 responses were received (a 44% response rate) of which 126 were male. A small minority of the respondents worked in a rural area. The sample represented a wide range of teaching duties (67% classroom teachers, 28% science policy makers/administrators, 3% teacher educators, etc.) and disciplines (14% physics, 19% chemistry, 15% biology, 44% integrated science, etc.).

Although the Canadian and Japanese teachers shared a fairly common cultural experience by studying Western science at a university, the two groups had three notable differences: national cultures, home cultures, and whether or not they shared the culture of their students' home culture (Japanese teachers generally did, while Saskatchewan science teachers generally did not). One might expect that the Japanese teachers could appreciate and communicate more fluently with their students than could the Saskatchewan teachers. Thus, comparisons between the two groups of teachers concerning their views about SCN might be attributed to their common experience or to one or more of their differences (nationality, home culture, and culture similarity to their students).


The SCN instrument's innovative use of two sets of responses ("Views held by my colleagues" and "My personal view") led to some surprising results. About one half of the Canadian respondents expressed varying degrees of negativity toward communicating the views held by their colleagues (many teachers did not know their colleagues' views, while other teachers perceived it to be an ethical issue). As a consequence, when the instrument was revised at the conclusion of the study (to cut down on the number of items for any future use of the instrument), the column "Views held by my colleagues" was deleted (Aikenhead and Huntley, 1997).

On the other hand, a large majority of the Japanese science teachers interpreted "My personal view" to mean the view held by the group (because in Japanese culture one's inner feelings should be influenced by the social norms of one's group). This interpretation to "My personal view" freed the Japanese teachers to express what Eurocentric English speakers consider to be a personal view, in the column "Views held by my colleagues." This reversal was explained by Jegede and Ogawa (1999) in terms of Japanese concepts called "Honne" and "Tatemae." Therefore, to make logical comparisons between the Saskatchewan and Japanese data, we must compare the Saskatchewan responses to "My personal view" with the Japanese responses to "Views held by my colleagues."

The two cultures, Japan and Saskatchewan, are indeed different. Do the two groups of science teachers also differ in their responses to the 67 items? Notable similarities and significant differences are presented here.

Views of Science

The challenge of translating English into Japanese arose with the word "science" because Japanese people traditionally have a different relationship with nature than mainstream Euro-Americans. The study of nature is conceptually different in each culture (Kawasaki, 1996). Thus, Eurocentric science is rather foreign to the Japanese worldview. The normal translation of "science" was "kagakugijutsu." It is interesting to note that a translation back into English comes out as "technoscience," a word that acknowledges a close relationship between science and technology, a relationship discussed by Fleming (1989) in the context of scientific and technological literacy. Technoscience also represents how Japanese people have traditionally dealt with Western science by treating it as a materialistic benefit rather than a way of knowing nature.

With this context in mind, it might seem surprising that the pattern of responses to the 13 items in the "Science" sub-scale was remarkably similar for the Saskatchewan and Japanese teachers. Each group agreed strongly that science is an activity: "Science is exploring the unknown and discovering new things about our world and universe and how they work" (item A2, Table 1). On the other hand, both groups reacted most negatively toward a sociological perspective on science: "Science is an organization of people (called scientists) who have ideas and techniques for discovering new knowledge" (A6, Table 1), a view of science substantiated by, for example, Kelly, Carlsen and Cunningham (1993). Similar to our results, Ogunniyi et al. (1995) found uniformity in the worldview presuppositions among science teachers in five countries around the world. These results suggest that our teachers had either: a similar background experience (university science courses), or similar worldview presuppositions (thus a similar interest in Western science in the first place), or perhaps a similar perspective on school science as an inquiry activity and not as a social activity.

However, as indicated in Table 1, we also detected some significant differences (t-test, p<0.01) between the two groups of teachers. Japanese teachers agreed with the statement: "Science represents a holistic/comprehensive perspective about natural phenomena" (A12), while the Saskatchewan teachers slightly disagreed. These Saskatchewan teachers appeared to hold more of a reductionist view of science than their Japanese counterparts. Japanese teachers tended to view nature as one entity -- everything around them which included themselves as part of nature. On the other hand, a Western Judao-Christian perspective separates nature from humans, thus encouraging a reductionist view (Mendelsohn, 1976). Responses to A12 can certainly be attributed to the teachers' different cultural backgrounds.

Science is often thought to satisfy one's curiosity by explaining the mysteries of nature. Both groups of teachers similarly agreed, "Science presents the most plausible explanations of natural phenomena" (A13, Table 1). However, the Japanese teachers significantly (p<0.01) disagreed more with the idea that phenomena could have non-scientific explanations (item B8, Table 2). It seemed that more Saskatchewan than Japanese teachers were open to entertaining non-scientific ways of knowing about nature. This interpretation is reflected in the responses to the view, "Many of nature's occurrences are mysterious" (B9, Table 2), to which Saskatchewan teachers agreed while Japanese teachers disagreed (a significant difference, p<0.01).

The relationship between science and technology is not a simple one (Gardner, 1999). While science and technology have different goals, the two interact substantially (McGinn, 1991), as reflected in the translation of "science" into Japanese (technoscience). Historically, most often science develops through the direct application of technology, while some technology advances through applying science (McGinn, 1991). However, most activities involving science today are an integration of science and technology -- R&D. On the topic of science and technology, both groups of teachers in our study similarly subscribed to the narrow view: "Science is the basis of most technological advances" (A8, Table 1). Yet significantly more (p<0.01) Saskatchewan teachers than Japanese teachers understood that technology could advance independently of science (A9, Table 1). This is not surprising, given the "technoscience" term in the Japanese SCN instrument. It is interesting to note the responses to two SCN items that purposefully confused science with traditional definitions of technology (A4 and A5, Table 1). Both groups of teachers similarly agreed with those two items. Even though the Saskatchewan teachers were not using the term "technoscience," they nevertheless collapsed science into technology in their minds, making it difficult to distinguish between the two. The same confusion was observed by Ryan and Aikenhead (1992) for Canadian high school students.

Views of Culture

Before exploring teachers' views on the nexus between science and other cultures, teachers' views of culture were established. Two general statements defining culture were equally and strongly embraced by both groups of teachers (Table 4): "Culture is the lifestyle of a people" (D1); and "Culture is a system of meaning that a people create for themselves" (D3). Both Saskatchewan and Japanese teachers equally agreed with the idea that culture is changeable (D6, Table 4). However, significantly more (p<0.05) Japanese teachers expressed a holistic view of culture, "Culture is the totality of a people's identity" (D4, Table 4).

As with any term, "culture" can change meaning when the context changes. We should interpret responses to the SCN instrument with this in mind. The cultural context of science is considered next.

Culture and Science

Both the Japanese and Saskatchewan science teachers were equally "not sure" about science being described in terms of cultural anthropology (Phelan et al., 1991; Pickering, 1992): "Western beliefs, values, and conventions are an implicit aspect of science" (B13, Table 2). However, Japanese teachers disagreed significantly more (p<0.01) than Saskatchewan teachers with the statement, "Science is often seen as a subculture of Western culture" (B7, Table 2). Their greater disagreement suggests that non-Westerners who succeed at studying Western science may perceive science as being free of Western cultural influences. In any case, few teachers from either country viewed the enterprise of science itself as a cultural phenomenon.

Item B16 (Table 2) stated, "Science has helped some nations colonize other nations of a different culture." This political-cultural feature of science was held more strongly (p<0.01) by the Saskatchewan teachers than the Japanese teachers who were again "not sure." This result reflects a specific connection between culture and science that would seem to have more meaning in a Canadian context where Europeans colonized Aboriginal peoples. At the same time in history (the Meiji period), Japan embraced the materialism of Western science (captured by the concept of technoscience) rather than the worldview conventionally expressed by Western science. The difference between the two groups of teachers is indeed culturally based.

Yet in a broader context, the influence of culture on science had greater support from the Japanese teachers. As indicated in Table 2, they were more likely (p<0.05) to view the work of scientists as reflecting the scientist's community's values and beliefs (B11) and less likely (p<0.05) to view science as being independent of a scientist's culture (B12). In the context of a scientist's individual actions, Japanese teachers saw a connection between culture and science more so than their Canadian counterparts. This difference is consistent with the Japanese translation of "scientific community" (Kagaku-sha Shuudan) a word that connotes purposefulness to the group. Hence, it relates to the group's values and beliefs.

Science and Society: Connectedness versus Foreignness

Both groups of teachers definitely perceived community/society support for science (B6, Table 2), and both believed that scientific explanations are relevant to everyday societal issues (C10, Table 3). While both equally rejected the idea that science and everyday knowledge are worlds apart (C3), shown in Table 3, Japanese teachers were "not sure" that knowledge from science and the everyday worlds should be treated as one (C9). The Saskatchewan teachers significantly (p<0.05) disagreed with this holistic view.

Both groups held opposite views on two key topics. Substantially different responses (p<0.01) occurred in reaction to: "For many students, learning science is like going into a foreign culture" (E15, Table 5). The view was slightly favored by the Saskatchewan teachers but rejected by the Japanese teachers. It is interesting to note that item E15 reflects the view held by many Western students (Costa, 1995; Larson, 1995; Roth, Boutonné, McRobbie and Lucas, 1999). Again the evidence points to the conclusion that teachers in either country did not strongly endorse the view that science is foreign to students.

On a second key topic, the Japanese teachers believed that school science content reflected the local culture (E4, Table 5), the Saskatchewan teachers significantly rejected the idea (p<0.01). The Japanese teachers appeared to see a closer connection between science taught in school and the everyday world of a student, again expressing a more holistic approach to knowledge, as well as expressing their Ministry of Education's policy to use daily life materials in science classes.

The teachers in both countries believed that science and society are related because the knowledge in one domain supports ideas in the other domain (C4 and C5, Table 3). However, this viewpoint was held consistently stronger (p<0.01) by the Saskatchewan teachers, and not by the Japanese teachers who otherwise saw connections where Saskatchewan teachers tended not to. The cultural context certainly seemed to have affected teachers responses.

Japanese teachers saw scientific evidence as sometimes being foreign to everyday knowledge, while the Saskatchewan teachers were "not sure" (C7, Table 3). The differences between the two were significant (p<0.01). In spite of this, Saskatchewan teachers agreed with the statement: "It is easy to incorporate science into one's personal views of nature" (B2, Table 2). The Japanese response was to disagree, which may reflect their professional organization's recent attention to the difficulty faced when trying to get students to construct their own scientific understandings. The difference between the two groups of teachers was again significant (p<0.01).

The science and culture nexus appears to change in the minds of teachers whenever there is a qualitative change of context. This domain of SCN knowledge is highly complex.

Outcomes of School Science Instruction

One of the aims of school science concerns its positive impact on students. Interestingly, teachers expressed significantly opposite views (p<0.01) on the nature of this impact. On the one hand, Saskatchewan teachers tended to believe that learning science can empower non-Western students (B15) and help the progress of non-Western people (B14), as shown in Table 2. The Japanese teachers, on the other hand, tended to disagree. For them, individual empowerment and national progress seem to be influenced by aspects of culture not investigated by the SCN instrument (such as government policy towards R&D, corporate decisions, investment capital, available technology, etc.).

If Aboriginal/non-Western students master science, will they lose something valuable from their own culture? (E14, Table 5) Both groups of teachers believed that students would not, though the Saskatchewan teachers much more (p<0.01). Both groups agree that scientific knowledge, once acquired, will dominate students' way of thinking (B3, Table 2). According to the teachers, a student does not lose indigenous knowledge by learning scientific knowledge, yet scientific knowledge dominates when both occupy a student's mind. This perhaps helps explain why both groups of teachers saw value in learning another culture's way of thinking about natural phenomena (D12, Table 4) (because there is no danger of students losing their scientific knowledge?).

On the topic of a science teacher's primary responsibility (Table 5), both groups responded in agreement with the empowerment of students to think critically (E12), Saskatchewan teachers much more so (p<0.01) than Japanese teachers who were more often "not sure." Both groups disagreed with the notion that school science's primary responsibility is to prepare students for post-secondary studies (E11), the Japanese teachers more so than the Saskatchewan teachers (p<0.05). These results reflect teachers' expressed goals, and not necessarily what actually occurs in their classrooms.

The strongest positive position taken by the Japanese teachers on the sub-scale "Teaching and Learning Science" concerned item E2 (Table 5): "The teaching of science centres mainly upon students making personal meaning out of scientific knowledge." This view found general support from the Saskatchewan teachers. Interestingly however, the Saskatchewan teachers' highly positive agreement with the empowerment goal for science instruction (E12) was not replicated in item E2, for which a third of the Saskatchewan teachers actually disagreed (Table 5). For Saskatchewan teachers, critical thinking is not as closely tied to personal meaning making as it seems to be for Japanese teachers.

For both groups, strong disagreement was registered against the view that school science concepts had no meaningful use beyond passing examinations (E10, Table 5). This result is consistent with their views on the connection between school science and the everyday world (described earlier). However, the teachers' views seem to be out of synchrony with the research on the widespread use of Fatima's rules (Roth et al., 1999) and on the inherent difficulty applying school science to the everyday world (Layton, Jenkins, Macgill and Davey, 1993).


Some of the notable similarities and significant differences between the Japanese and Saskatchewan teachers lead to one main conclusion. In spite of their obvious national differences, both groups of science teachers seemed unaware of the many culture clashes experienced by students in the typical science classroom. The teachers, therefore, did not seem ready to implement culture brokering skills without some form of in-service professional development.

Such a professional development program must enact a cross-cultural perspective on science teaching. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe cross-cultural science teaching in any detail, but we can provide specific advice based on our own experiences in science teacher education; advice grounded in the research literature cited. This expands upon the earlier section "Theoretical Framework."

A cross-cultural perspective has several key components. We have found that by introducing people to these key components when we teach methods classes or when we

interact with teachers during in-service projects, our students and teachers seem to benefit. They tend to see their own students in a new light, one that helps nurture science for all.

A cross-cultural perspective on science education is founded on several assumptions. These are listed here and then specific advice to science teacher educators follows.

1. Western science is a cultural entity itself, one of many subcultures in Euro-American societies, because the culture of Western science evolved within Euro-American cultural settings.

2. People live and coexist within many subcultures identified by, for example, language, ethnicity, gender, social class, occupation, religion and geographic location; and people move from one subculture to another, a process called "cultural border crossing."

3. People's core cultural identities may be at odds with the culture of Western science to varying degrees (categorized by Phelan et al. [1991] as impossible, hazardous, or manageable, for people to participate in the culture of Western science).

4. Science classrooms are subcultures of the school culture.

5. Most students experience a change in culture when moving from their life-worlds into the world of school science.

6. Therefore, learning science is a cross-cultural event for these students.

7. Students are more successful if they receive help negotiating their cultural border crossings.

8. This help can come from a teacher (a culture broker) who identifies the cultural borders to be crossed, who guides students back and forth across those borders, who gets students to make sense out of cultural conflicts that might arise, and who motivates students by drawing upon the impact science and technology have on the students' life-worlds.

On the other hand, some people (called "Potential Scientists;" Costa, 1995) have identities and abilities that harmonize so closely with the culture of Western science that border crossing into school science is so smooth that borders do not exist for them. Most university science students and science teachers belong to this group, and so the challenge to science teacher educators is to get these people to "step out of their own shoes" and see the world of science from a perspective other than that of a Potential Scientist. The assumptions posited here are described in detail in Aikenhead (1996, 1997, 2000), Aikenhead and Jegede (1999), and Jegede and Aikenhead (1999).

A cultural perspective on school science is an unorthodox view for most science teachers and teacher educators, but it may turn out to be more intuitively practical than other perspectives on learning found in the research literature because in our daily lives we frequently move from one subculture to a quite different one (e.g. from a family setting to a professional meeting at work). As we do this, we negotiate cultural differences between the two social settings. Science teachers are intuitively familiar with this type of cultural phenomenon. The challenge is to persuade teachers to transfer this intuition to classroom instruction.

Fresh insights into student learning and other behavior can be gained by categorizing students according to how smoothly they cross the cultural border from their life-worlds (determined largely by their worldviews) into the world of school science. We introduce our education students and in-service teachers to the category system proposed by Costa (1995) and expanded by Aikenhead (in press), a system built upon the scheme developed by Phelan et al. (1991). These schemes and systems are summarized in the first two columns of Table 6. Each category is associated with a particular role for a science teacher to assume (column three in Table 6). A teacher's role is that of a culture broker except when teaching Potential Scientists. Details on these roles are found in Aikenhead (1996, 1997, 2000) and Jegede and Aikenhead (1999). The net result of cross-cultural science teaching is represented in the last column in Table 6: students will tend to experience smoother border crossings, and hence, science will be for all students. Introducing education students and science teachers to these new roles is a job for a science teacher educator.


Table 6 fits here.


Culture-brokering science teachers understand the eight assumptions that underlie a cross-cultural perspective (listed above). Culture-brokering science teachers make border crossings explicit for students by acknowledging students' personal worldviews that have a purpose in, or connection to, students' everyday culture. A culture broker identifies the culture in which students' personal ideas find meaning, and then introduces another cultural point of view, the culture of science. At the same time, a culture brokering teacher must let students know what culture the teacher is talking in at any given moment (e.g. the everyday commonsense culture or the culture of science), because as teachers talk they can unconsciously switch between cultures, much to the confusion of many students. As a teacher educator, you can model this linguistic behavior in your own classes or workshops.

A simple vignette from a physics class will illustrate how a culture broker might teach the scientific concept of force. This example has proven useful to us when we introduce features of a cross-cultural perspective to education students and science teachers.

A child throws a ball into the air and catches it. Gunstone (1988) used this situation to illustrate constructivism. A diagram defined three points: (A) the ball rising, (B) the ball at the top of its arch, and (C) the ball falling. Students were asked, "whether the force on the ball was up, down, or zero for the three positions shown on the diagram" (p. 74). In cross-cultural instruction students might be asked: What does our everyday common sense tell us about the force on the ball at positions A, B and C? The students' responses (typically: up, zero and down, respectively) are recorded on a chalk board with the left-hand side entitled, for instance, "commonsense culture." We know from research that the most frequent commonsense concept of force is equivalent to the scientific concept of momentum (Barbetta et al., 1985). Thus, the right-hand side of the chalk board (entitled "culture of science") is introduced by the teacher who engages students in a need to communicate with a scientist, thus creating the need to know the term "momentum" (rather than "force") in the context of science discourse. A scientist would describe the momentum at A, B and C as pointing up, zero and down, respectively. Other activities (e.g. using balls with different masses and thrown at different speeds) are carried out, just as they would in a social constructivist classroom (Driver et al., 1994). Border crossing between the everyday world (left-hand side) and the world of science (right-hand side) is made smoother for students who (if forced to fend for themselves) would normally find the border crossing hazardous (Aikenhead, in press) and would tend to react by playing Fatima's rules (Aikenhead and Jegede, 1999).

But the communication in science does not end there. A puzzle is introduced by a teacher: "Scientists imagine that something is tugging on the ball in the same direction (downwards) at A, B and C. What might that something be?" Of all the student responses, the one that is useful to scientists is the pull of gravity. In the culture of science this pull of gravity is called a "force." Perhaps a foreign concept is being introduced to many students here, but it is contextualized within the culture of science. The chalk board should now look like Table 7. The Newtonian abstraction of force may be an interesting puzzle for the relatively few students who want to be encultured into science (Potential Scientists). For all students, however, the obvious double definition of "force" would be discussed, along with other situations familiar to students in which the same word has completely different meanings depending on the context (see Gough, 1998, for several science examples). Further group activities are needed for students to use the various concepts and to practice border crossings back and forth between commonsense and science subcultures. Whenever someone uses the word "force" in the science classroom, the speaker must somehow indicate which subculture, common sense or science, they are speaking in. In such conversations, students should not feel like an apprentice being encultured into science, but rather, they should feel a need to improve their personal understanding of their world, perhaps by acting like an anthropologist discovering things about a foreign culture (Aikenhead, 1996)._____________________________

Table 7 fits here.


From our research results with the Japanese and Saskatchewan science teachers, we can draw another major conclusion, one that also challenges science teacher educators. The Japanese science teachers persistently expressed a holistic view on several topics found in the SCN instrument. This result was attributed to the conventional Japanese presupposition of humankind's relationship with nature. On the other hand, the Western dichotomy that separates humankind from nature in a reductionist fashion tended to pervade the Saskatchewan science teachers' views. One implication for professional development in North America concerns how to address students who themselves have holistic worldviews toward nature (e.g. the students whose worldviews are not in synchrony with a reductionist outlook; Cobern and Aikenhead, 1998). These students constitute a large proportion of our elementary science methods classes, we find. Reductionism is a cultural feature of science. This feature will likely be more accessible to holistic thinking students when reductionism is treated as a cultural component to science (as a culture broker would present it) rather than being treated as the only correct view of humankind's relationship to nature, as it is by many science teachers (Bingle and Gaskell, 1994; Roth et al., 1999). Lawrenz and Grey (1995) pointed out that students' reaction to a verbal/analytic approach to cognition will be very different if students share that verbal/analytic approach, compared with the reaction of students who embrace a holistic/visual approach to cognition. Culture brokers must be cognizant of such potential culture clashes in their science classrooms or elementary methods classes before they can help students move smoothly into the culture of science. The Japanese and Canadian teachers did not convey such cognizance. Teacher educators should sensitize their methods students and in-service teachers to such cultural clashes. In addition, teacher educators can be more sensitive to the reticence of students in elementary science methods classes.

Cultural aspects to science need to be conveyed to students and teachers before they can act as culture brokers. This background understanding to the nature of science seems to be a logical prerequisite to teaching "science for all," a goal promoted by many reform documents.

Elementary methods students who do not want scientific knowledge to dominate their view of nature, but who want to teach science to young children, would not likely find comfort with science teacher educators who want scientific knowledge to dominate students' commonsense knowledge of nature. A culture broker would make science content accessible to these education students without expecting the content to dominate their thinking. Students can understand a concept without necessarily believing it.

There is an implication for further research in this area. In our study, context made a great difference to the views that teachers held on any topic. For teacher educators planning professional development with science teachers, classroom observations of those teachers may be needed to understand the context in which your professional development has implications to teachers' classroom practice. Collaborative action research addresses this problem (Bencze and Hodson, 1999) and holds promise for further development in the teaching of science to all students.


This research was funded by Saskatchewan Education through the "Indian and Métis Education Research Network," and by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture through the "1998 Grant for Dispatched Researcher (Overseas R&D Trend Research)." We are indebted to researchers Prof. J. Jegede, Dr. M. Ogawa, and B. Huntley, and to the many teachers, who gave generously of their time to contribute to this project.


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Table 1. An Abbreviated List of SCN Items (Sub-scale "Science") along with Quantified Results (Mean, Standard Deviation, T-Test, and Probability) for Japanese and Saskatchewan Samples
Science Japan Sask.
M SD M SD t Prob
A 2 Science is exploring the unknown and discovering new things about our world and universe and how they work. 4.38 0.64 4.36 0.70 0.13 NS
A 4 Science is inventing or designing things (for example, artificial hearts, computers, space vehicles). 3.88 0.92 3.61 1.20 1.04 NS
A 5 Science is finding and using knowledge to make this world a better place to live in (for example, curing diseases, solving pollution, and improving agriculture). 3.96 0.88 4.00 0.98 -0.2 NS
A 6 Science is an organization of people (called scientists) who have ideas and techniques for discovering new knowledge. 2.90 1.01 3.26 1.25 -1.3 NS
A 8 Science is the basis of most technological advances. 3.94 0.83 3.88 0.93 0.33 NS
A 9 Technology does not need to have a scientific basis, technology can advance on its own know-how. 1.93 0.83 2.58 1.10 -2.8 <.01
A 12 Science represents a holistic/comprehensive perspective about natural phenomena. 3.88 0.67 2.92 0.97 4.66 <.01
A 13 Science provides the most plausible explanations of natural phenomena. 3.85 0.77 3.60 0.91 1.46 NS

Table 2. An Abbreviated List of SCN Items (Sub-scale "Science and Culture") along with Their Quantified Results (Mean, Standard Deviation, T-Test, and Probability) for Japanese and Saskatchewan Samples
Science and Culture Japan Sask.
M SD M SD t Prob
B 2 It is easy to incorporate science into one's personal views of nature. 2.47 0.84 3.68 0.80 -6.7 <.01
B 3 Scientific knowledge once acquired often dominates one's way of thinking. 3.23 0.87 3.56 1.04 -1.7 NS
B 6 My community appears to be turning against science. 2.34 0.77 2.08 0.76 1.55 NS
B 7 Science is often seen as a subculture of Western culture. 2.27 0.93 3.00 0.96 -3.6 <.01
B 8 Every occurrence in nature has a non-scientific/culture-based explanation. 2.31 0.93 2.92 1.06 -2.9 <.01
B 9 Many of nature's occurrences are mysterious. 2.87 1.00 3.72 0.89 -4.0 <.01
B 11 When science is practised in a community, it reflects a community's values and beliefs. 3.67 0.62 3.25 0.85 2.3 <.05
B 12 Science will progress the same way irrespective of the culture of the scientists involved because science is universal. 2.31 0.87 2.76 0.93 -2.4 <.05
B 13 Western beliefs, values, and conventions are an implicit aspect of science. 3.22 0.92 3.20 0.91 0.11


B 14 Science can help the progress of non-Western people if they would only assimilate science into their way of thinking. 2.50 0.82 3.04 0.84 -3.00 <.01
B 15 Science can empower people who belong to a traditional culture, as long as those people learn science without taking on the Western beliefs that are a part of science. 2.41 0.73 3.38 0.97 -4.6 <.01
B 16 Science has helped some nations colonize other nations of a different culture. 2.99 0.94 3.63 0.81 -3.3 <.01

Table 3. An Abbreviated List of SCN Items (Sub-scale "Science and Everyday Common [Indigenous] Knowledge") along with Their Quantified Results (Mean, Standard Deviation, T-Test, and Probability) for Japanese and Saskatchewan Samples

Science and Everyday Common Knowledge

Japan Sask.
M SD M SD t Prob
C 3 Science and everyday occurrences are so different, it is almost like they belong to different worlds. 2.00 0.71 1.96 0.73 0.26 NS
C 4 Scientists/science educators often use scientific ideas to support ideas found in everyday common knowledge. 3.48 0.74 4.04 0.45 -5.0 <.01
C 5 Scientists/science educators often use ideas from everyday common knowledge to support scientific ideas. 3.56 0.69 4.12 0.44 -5.2 <.01
C 7 Evidence arrived at through scientific means is not always regarded as sensible to everyday common knowledge. 2.24 0.63 3.04 0.89 -4.3 <.01
C 9 Scientific explanations and everyday common knowledge of natural phenomena should always be treated as one. 3.00 0.89 2.52 0.82 2.51 <.05
C 10 Scientific explanations of natural phenomena are relevant to everyday societal issues. 3.66 0.76 3.68 0.75 -0.1 NS

Table 4. An Abbreviated List of SCN Items (Sub-scale "Culture") along with Their Quantified Results (Mean, Standard Deviation, T-Test, and Probability) for Japanese and Saskatchewan Samples


Japan Sask.
M SD M SD t Prob
D 1 Culture is the lifestyle of a people. 3.79 0.77 3.84 0.69 -0.3 NS
D 3 Culture is a system of meaning that a people create for themselves. 3.8 0.69 3.72 0.74 0.53 NS
D 4 Culture is the totality of a people's identity. 3.75 0.74 3.16 1.11 2.56 <.05
D 6 The culture of a people is permanent because it is transmitted from one generation to another. 2.21 0.75 2.16 0.75 0.29 NS
D 10 Nurture (environment), rather than nature (heredity) influences cultural change. 3.59 0.78 3.8 0.87 -1.3 NS
D 12 Learning another culture's way of thinking about natural phenomena can empower people by providing them with a new way of thinking. 3.75 0.76 3.96 0.73 -1.3 NS
D 13 Cultural assimilation can oppress people by marginalizing or dominating their ideas. 3.37 0.85 3.48 1.19 -0.4 NS

Table 5. An Abbreviated List of SCN Items (Sub-scale "Teaching and Learning Science") along with Their Quantified Results (Mean, Standard Deviation, T-Test, and Probability) for Japanese and Saskatchewan Samples

Teaching and Learning Science

Japan Sask.
M SD M SD t Prob
E 2 The teaching of science centres mainly upon students making personal meaning out of scientific knowledge. 3.72 0.84 3.48 1.00 1.26


E 4 Science concepts taught in school reflect the dominant culture in my immediate community. 3.43 0.78 2.68 0.99 3.57 <.01
E 7 School science imposes a foreign set of cultural values on an Aboriginal students. 2.31 0.80 2.52 0.87 -1.2 NS
E 10 The science concepts taught in school science have no meaningful use beyond passing examinations. 1.73 0.74 1.46 0.72 1.68 NS
E 11 The primary responsibility of a science teacher is to prepare students for postsecondary studies. 1.73 0.77 2.32 1.18 -2.4 <.05
E 12 The primary responsibility of a science teachers is to empower students to think for themselves, thereby emancipating students from a dependency on experts and other authority. 3.25 0.99 4.20 0.76 -5.4 <.01
E 14 If Aboriginal students master science, they will likely lose something valuable of their own culture. 2.51 0.89 2.00 0.96 2.61 <.01
E 15 For many students, learning science is like going into a foreign culture. 2.40 0.92 3.12 1.09 -3.5 <.01

Table 6. Summary of a Cross-Cultural Perspective on Science Education





smooth Potential Scientists coaching apprentices smooth
adventurous "I Want to Know" Students apprenticeship tour guide

culture broker


managed Other Smart Kids travel agent

culture broker

hazardous "I Don't Know" Students tour guide

culture broker

impossible Outsiders tour guide

culture broker

hazardous or


Table 7. A Notebook Page in Cross-Cultural Instruction Concerning a Ball Thrown into the Air

Commonsense Culture Culture of Science
force direction at

A. up

B. zero

C. down

momentum direction at

A. up

B. zero

C. down

What's always tugging


no answer or gravity

force direction at

A. down

B. down

C. down