Inclusive science education helps us on the path to a sustainable future

Maija Aksela is Finland’s first professor of science education. According to her, access to science education is the right of all generations across the globe, which is why it must be provided in a collaborative and inclusive manner.

What are your research topics?

My research field aims to promote scientific thinking and skills from early childhood education to higher education. A question central to my work is how to promote future experts’ scientific literacy personally, professionally and societally so that their knowledge is relevant and equal.

We investigate phenomena in a range of learning environments, including science labs organised by universities, schools, libraries, science clubs and science-themed birthday parties. We are developing new student-centred and research-based solutions and pedagogical models for a sustainable and good future, such as massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

The work is multidisciplinary and collaborative in nature, and we do it together with researchers specialised in different fields, teacher education providers, the private sector and other organisations.

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

Science education combines basic research and applied research well. It produces novel solutions and models, for example, for teachers to use. We design them collaboratively utilising an approach known as co-design.
Science education belongs to everyone, and related efforts are carried out in both Finland and abroad.

At the moment, we are developing, under the VirtuaaliLUMA scheme, new opportunities for equal science education in mathematics, science and technology. In the international Teachers’ Climate Change Forum project, we look into how to collaboratively promote topics and questions pertaining to climate change. One option is to start from students’ questions.

At the University of Helsinki, the LUMA Science Helsinki research group has at its disposal six science labs where we organise various science activities, such as science birthdays, camps and clubs, also studying their impact. They also constitute a part of a new kind of teacher education.

New operating models that are based on research can also be made available to everyone online (link in Finnish only). So far, we have released more than 30 online courses and related international publications.
In the international StarT programme, all children and adolescents get to be stars and gain experiences of success. The programme is being implemented in over 50 countries. We have also developed ways to provide science education across generations, also known as family science education (link in Finnish only).

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

The research is fascinating, as there are always more questions in the air than answers. You learn by asking and wondering! Right now, we are particularly focusing on questions related to the nature of the natural sciences, striving to come up with new, student-centred pedagogical solutions that educate curious discoverers.

Especially close to my heart are research questions pertaining to sustainable development as well as international and national collaboration. Inclusive, equal and intergenerational science education taking place in different cultures is always inspiring.

I also wish to promote the continuous learning of teachers at different educational levels and support junior scholars. Indeed, my motto is “Together we are more!”

Maija Aksela is the professor of science education at the Faculty of Science.