I. Germanys Political Discussion about
The project Early Technical Education
would like to find ways to introduce children to scientific and technical
questions, from nursery school age on, in order to promptly arouse an interest in that
area or to use the curiosity existing at that age. The aim of this project is
to lay the foundations for a mathematical scientific understanding and thus
to promote, on a long-term basis, the corresponding competences in / with the
smallest ones already. At the same time special attention shall be paid to the early
advancement of girls. They are
still underrepresented in the technical field when they have to choose a
The publication of the PISA Study last
winter has shown, that the students performance and knowledge in the
scientific-technical field is still in great need of support, even in the
technically highly developed countries of Europe. In the subjects of
mathematics and natural sciences Germany takes the 20th position
of 31 countries whose basic achievements were tested in the OECD study.
Boys still have a lead over girls in these subjects despite all efforts of
equal rights. The question about the causes for the altogether poor
performance of German teenagers at the age of approx. 15 years has resulted,
within recent months, in the following aspects of discussion:
- How can children learn to use knowledge and competences in
application- and practice-oriented
- How can learning strategies be improved?
- How can we develop a better learning
- How can we make better use of childrens
learning windows and learning periods?
The Role of Nursery
Schools in Germany
The last two aspects above all others show that very
soon after the PISA Study had been published, the nursery schools had to be
included in the discussion about education. The discussion triggered by the
results of the study showed the following: Whereas in most countries nursery
schools work as educational facilities, the situation in Germany is differnet.
Here they have the role of an institution, where parents leave their child
for as long a time as possible, so that it may still play a little. Nursery
school teachers in Germany are also sceptical about learning: They equate it
with achievement pressure and excessive demand, are quick to speak of
over-institutionalization and deplore the loss of childhood in general.
Wassilios Fthenakis, director of the Munich State
Institute for Early Education and one of the few German scientists who deal
with the educational facilities aimed at small children, criticizes the
deficits in German nursery schools: Germany has failed to adequately promote
preforms of school learning.
The only systematic investigation concerning the
quality of nursery schools is five years old by now and was conducted by
Wolfgang Tietze. He came to the conclusion that two of three nursery schools
are only mediocre. In only three of ten nursery school groups there were significant
conversations between children and nursery school teachers; common activities
did not even constitute 7 % of the observed time.
In many German nursery schools its still a common
pre-supposition that the little ones would gladly have it as undemanding as
possible, also critizises correspondingly Donata Eschenbroich, culture scientist and employee at the German
Youth Institute in Munich, whose book World Knowledge of the Seven-Year Olds
How Children Can Discover the World figured on the top seller lists of
German book traders for several weeks.
Developmental psychology has long since discovered
so-called cognitive windows in the third till fifth year of life: This is
the optimal time for the appropriation of accent and basic grammar of a
second language, for spacial orientation and for elementary mathematical
thinking. The neuro-biologist Ernst Poeppel of Munich reminds accordingly
that the years in nursery school are part of the most important learning
phase and that the institutions therefore should not be institutions for
storage, but places where children acquire knowledge comprehensively and
playfully. The extraordinary teachability of the brain
correspondes with a special readiness to learn, which expresses itself within
almost all areas as curiosity and thirst for knowledge - and all this still
without being influenced by any pressure to do well at school.
Where the education for pre-schoolers
might be headed, that is something experts of the European Commission
presented as early as 1996 in an action-campaign / programme laid out for ten
years: Formation in daycare centres has to promote an understanding of
mathematical, biological scientific, technical and ecological concepts as
well as fine arts and esthetic abilities.
Surprisingly enough, the German legislation also
leaves little doubt: Nursery schools are educational facilities. Section 22,
paragraph 2 of the Children and Youth Welfare Law (KJHG) formulates under the
heading Principles for the Promotion of Children in Daycare Institutions
the following: The task covers the care, formation and education of the
child. The educational and organizational offers have to be tailored to the
needs of the children and their families. Thus all Federal States are obliged
to realize the educational mission in nursery school. In a judgement made in 1998 the Federal
Constitutional Court described nursery schools as a place of the promotion of
equal opportunities and emphasized the right of the children to an optimal
support and to a balancing of educational disadvantages, going as far as
possible, before the beginning of primary school.
Reality looks different. In Germany there are almost
no concepts for an early promotion of pre-schoolers. In November 2001 the so-called Forum
Education, in which Secretaries of Education and Science of the Federal
Government and its States cooperate with representatives from science, church
and social organizations, published recommendations in which they stress the
importance of the early, individual promotion of children, and demand that
the day-care centres educational goals must be defined. The committee also
explicitly emphasized that the research capacities for early childhood
education have to be extended and that structures have to be created which
make it possible to profit from the positive experiences of the other
Moreover, the 2001 OECD study Starting Strong -
Early Childhood Education and Care criticizes that Germany and Austria in
contrast to all other countries do not offer college or university education
for pre-school teachers, so that education usually takes second place behind
the minding of children.
Germany invests substantially less into the first years of education than for
example Austria, Switzerland, the USA and, above all, Scandinavian countries.
And we dont do this despite the obvious connection between a qualitatively
good pre-school education and the later school career.
The Federal Republic recruits predominantly women
for the youngest children ones, women who not rarely - says Donata
Eschenbroich begin with the baggage of their own unpleasant educational
careers and who only just earn over 1,000 gross.
Their own experiences with learning are more often than not unpleasant and
they fear all technical and scientific tasks.
Their training must therefore also be taken into account if you want to do
justice to the educational mission of nursery schools.
Research Beginnings in Germany
Beginnings that implement educational offers for
nursery schools and also cover scientific and technical aspects have existed
for some time already, even if they are being discovered only now, after the
PISA shock, by a broader public. A pioneer in this respect is surely Gisela
Lueck, professor for chemistry didactics at the University of Bielefeld, who
has tested scientific experiments in nursery schools for almost ten years and
whose habilitation document Natural Sciences in Early Infancy will be, among others, one of the bases of
the following remarks. She conducted her experiments in nursery schools with
completely different catchment areas. 70 per cent of the children decided to
participate in the experiments which were carried out once every week for
about 20 minutes. Half a year later nearly half of the children still
remembered the experiments and could also explain the principles. Children at
this age are obviously open to natural sciences, a fact which is
substantiated by the popularity degree of television programmes such as The
Show with the Mouse (Die Sendung mit der Maus) or Dandelion (Löwenzahn).
On the other hand, Gisela Lueck would rather not yet speak of learning at
this age, she prefers the term to experience instead.
The development psychologist Elsbeth
Stern works in the area of primary education at the Max-Planck-Institute for
Education Research in Berlin. In several tests she has proved that children
can understand physical laws far earlier than assumed. Children could often
surprise us with quite amazing realizations, if we only succeeded in arousing
their curiosity. They acquire knowledge in rapid speed if they try out as
much as possible by themselves and experiment with objects they are
acquainted with from their everyday life.
Together with Kornelia Möller, professor for didactics of science in primary
school at the University of Münster, she manages a project in which the
education quality of schools is examined and which focuses on the learning
and teaching of mathematics and natural sciences. They prepare series of
lessons about topics like What happens to a blackamoor head (a
chocolate-coated cream cake) in space?
That a process of reorientation has begun does not only
become obvious in the ever increasing numbers of universities that do
research on this topic. Also numerous nursery schools have started to look
into the matter. And we mustnt forget the opening of experience-orientated
museums, so-called interactive Science Centres, now also in Germany, in which
children, parents and educators can find numerous stimulating suggestions.
And apart from that there are by now a number of museums that specialize in
industrial enterprises also successfully operate laboratories where children
and teenagers can make themselves familiar with the world of natural sciences
and technology. Companies such as BASF, Hoechst AG and Bayer AG organize open
days and so-called join-in labs and organize events which are particularly
suitable for children at pre- and primary school age. Experiments are
selected carefully and they always have a connection to the childrens
All in all we can vaguely sense that a
new era is about to dawn in the Federal Republic regarding the possibilities
of scientific-technical early education. So far the effects on the general
interest in scientific-technical questions and the acceptance of natural
science have not yet however been object of examinations.
An analysis of 1345 biographical data of first-year university students in
the subject of chemistry who applied for a chemical industry scholarship
however, shows the formative influence of an early introduction to phenomena
of physics and chemistry . The impulse to work in chemistry was given as
early as preschool age in 22 per cent of the test persons.
Cognition-psychological and Neurophysiological Conditions for the Introduction
of Scientific Phenomena in Early Infancy
A controversial discussion about our pupils lack of
interest in scientific subjects has not only been led since the results of
the Pisa. Contents from the areas of chemistry and physics have an ever
smaller importance in the special knowledge lessons in comparison with
sociological topics. In secondary schools chemistry and physics as subjects
are offered only in the 7th or 9th school year. Too late, many critics say,
since the young people develop other interests in this phase of puberty.
Consequently those critics demand the introduction to scientific questions at
pre-school age, since children in this developmental phase are particularly sensitive
/ susceptible to these phenomena.
This leads inevitably to the central question,
whether an age appropriate introduction to scientific phenomena is at all
possible for children at pre-school age and whether and how the teaching of
natural sciences in day-care centres makes sense.
In order to answer this question, an analysis of
development-psychological, cognition-psychological and neurophysiological
findings is essential.
A detailed processing of the current state of
research concerning common conceptions of pre-schoolers about the world can
be found in the much-acclaimed work of G. Lueck, in which she and pre-school
children look at phenomena from inanimate nature with the help of experiments
and develop explanations for them.
Psychology of Development and Cognition
Look at any discussion about mental development in
infancy, and you cannot miss references to Piagets psychology of development
and cognition. In view
of the different prioritizations of Piagets test results and the vast
quantity of secondary literature with their segmentary views of his research,
we will only deal with the relevance of Piagets cognitive theory of
development for nursery and pre-school age and for early childhood experience
with natural sciences.
Piaget groups the infant and pre-school age of the
2-7-year-old children as pre-operational phase. Their thinking is still
full of logical mistakes, since childlike thinking is more controlled by
perception than by logic. It will however be increasingly possible for the
child to realise / imagine complete actions on a mental level, if these
actions were already carried out in "real life". Conceptual
thinking develops in this phase. The child is not yet able, however, to
understand all qualities of these concepts. It identifies all men for some time as
"dad" and all women as "mum". The child can thus identify
objects; its understanding however is incomplete, since it cannot distinguish
yet between seemingly identical members of the same concept. Hence the term
In this phase of their development children assume
something alive in many things, like in the moon, a doll or other objects of
daily life. This animation (animism) in which children attribute
supernatural, magical qualities to lifeless objects is an important feature
of the early pre-operational phase, just like the difficulty to distance
oneself from the own personal perspective and to take someone elses view
In order to answer the question, whether children at
pre-school age can access scientific phenomena in a way that seems
appropriate, its particularly important that four- to seven-year-old
children hardly succeed to seize invariances. "This is true for the
invariance of substance, weight and volume almost in the same way...".
A well-known example of the invariance of liquid quantities is the experiment
with two cups. Two identical cups are shown to the child, both are filled
with water up to the same level. Then the contents of one cup are poured into
a long thin tube. The child, who first said that the quantities were the same
in both cups, is now asked whether there is just as much, more or less water
in the new container. At the intuitive stage (graphic thinking) he or she
will certainly say, it is more, because the water is higher in the tube. In
other words, the child pays attention to the misleading perception
characteristics of the stimulus situation.
A child in the phase of graphic-intuitive thinking
already begins to gradually seize invariances. In this process of
successively acquired ability of recognizing invariances the child also loses
If we summarize the previous remarks, then the
childs pre-operational thinking seems to speak against an early introduction
to scientific phenomena.
however states several arguments, which nevertheless make an introduction to
scientific phenomena in late nursery- and pre-school (5-6½ years) seem
Piaget himself points out that some
five-year-olds and even more six-year-olds acquired the ability to recognize
so that we can assume that children are also able to make further logical
considerations and to understand certain characteristics of inanimate nature
in a meaningful way.
G. Lueck states that a certain developmental
stage must be reached in order to able to tackle scientific phenomena, namely "the perception of
the changes due to the development of decentring, which leads to the
corresponding adaptation processes...".
This means that attention is no longer directed towards only one single
object or feature, but the child is increasingly able to take into account
more than one point of perception.
In this context G. Lueck refers to different views
on Piagets stage theory.
Some authors argue against the rigid age limits in
his stage theory and justify this with Piagets methodical procedure when he
determined the respective age of the children, the influence of the media,
who contribute to an acceleration of mental developments, and the realization
that children develop cognitive abilities of the operational phase earlier
than found by Piaget when the tasks given use a situation of the childrens
actual life as a starting point.
To sum up one may say that cognitive developments
dont take place at the same time in all areas as a function of developmental
stages, but that the acquisition of knowledge takes place in specific content
areas at different times and in different sequences. Elsbeth Star of the Max-Planck-Institute for
Education Research in Berlin likewise vehemently opposes Piagets stage
theory. In several tests she could prove that children can understand
physical laws way earlier than claimed by Piaget. Fourth graders were able to
understand the principle of density as mass per volume and they could show it
in a coordinate system. If one follows this argument, an
introduction to scientific questions at pre-school age seems sensible.
A further objection to Piagets epistemology lies in
the fact that it completely ignores affective and emotional aspects. But its
above all aesthetic aspects, sensory perception as well as the joy in
experimenting that are crucial for the first contacts with inanimate nature.
For this reason it is important to deal with Eriksons developmental
psychology, since he attaches great importance to the affective aspects in
H. Eriksons Development-Psychological Approach
Eriksons development-psychological approach defines
the formation of identity as the main problem and major task of any
individual. The most important characteristics of the development of an
individual identity are, according to Erikson, psycho-sexual and
psycho-social developmental crises and a feeling of inner unity (feeling of
identity) that makes itself felt every time after a psycho-social crisis
(autonomy versus shame and doubt, initiative versus guilt etc.) has been
successfully overcome / coped with / mastered. Erikson models his conception
of a healthy personality on Marie Jahoda, according to her, a healthy
personality masters his or her environment actively, shows a certain
homogeneity and is able to recognize the world and him or herself
The growth of a personality follows an inner 'basic scheme', "which the
individual parts observe, and in which each part goes through a time of
predominance, until all parts have grown to be a functioning whole".
This growth takes eight developmental stages, all of which are characterized
by "developmental crises":
Baby age (primeval trust versus
Infant age (autonomy versus shame
Play age (initiative and feeling of
School age (sense of work versus
feeling of inferiority feeling)
(identity versus identity diffusion)
Early adulthood (intimacy versus
Adulthood (reproduction versus
Mature adulthood (integrity versus
disgust with life)
For our purposes the "play
age", which approximately corresponds to nursery- and pre-school age is
of special interest.
In this phase the child further develops its
identity step by step over the crisis. It starts not to talk about itself in
the third person any longer. The child searches and explores its environment;
and free play unfolds its special quality. It offers the child the
possibility to understand the world. "At this stage three strong
developmental pushes help the child, which, however, also accelerate the next
- The child learns to move more freely and
more powerfully and thereby gains another unlimited field of activity;
- Its language ability perfects itself
further so that it can understand and ask a lot of questions, and on the
other hand misunderstands all the more;
- Language and freedom of movement together
extend its world of imagination, so that it is frightened of its own, half
dreamed, half thought images (...) Now it learns urgently and
energetically: Beyond its own borders and towards future
possibilities" and it thereby develops an insatiable thirst for
The basic strength in this phase is the
strength of acting resolutely, which is realized in play, its not without
reason that Erikson calls this phase play age".
What does the child do in order to find its
way in the world? First it looks for ideal models. These are usually the
parents, who are perceived as great and powerful. Professional roles such as
policeman, firefighter, engine driver or astronaut become interesting. These
ideal roles are essentially taken from picture books, fairytales and various
other media, in particular television broadcasts and completed by the childs
own imagination. In common play with other children these roles can then be
realized interactively. The childrens initiative is supported by increasing
mobility, physical drexerity, language skills, cognitive competences and fantasy.
Gisela Lueck pleads for making use of this phase of
thirst for knowledge and for introducing children at nursery- and pre-school
age to scientific topics. Experiments with inanimate nature seem particularly
suitable at the "play age" phase / play stage, since children can
thereby test awakening abilities such as reconstructing, interpreting,
reasoning etc. The sense of success associated with these experiments offer
the children a chance to further consolidate the positive mood experienced
toward scientific phenomena while experimenting and to put them on a sound
The childrens conceptions and experiences should be
used as a starting point when dealing with technical phenomena. Thought
processes that widen childrens conceptions of technical connections only
develop when they actively try to come to terms with their environment.
Kornelia Moeller, who works on the teaching of
technology in science lessons at primary school age, is likewise guided by
these realizations when she refers to the cognition-psychological work of
Aebli. According to Moeller children often acquire a first, still barely
conscious knowledge of how to handle technical devices and processes that
might well be called IF-THEN knowledge, by actively using them. However, its
not enough to use technical devices; its only the evaluation of the process
and its results, correcting, optimizing and concluding, all in all the
reflecting on what has been done that leads to an understanding and
successful outcome of technical and scientific experiments at primary school
When you look at the rapid development of
neurophysiology in recent years, then the question arises whether findings
from this area and/or neurobiology could not be helpful for our study.
Although many questions are still open, neuroscientists start to understand
increasingly better what in the brain it is that changes during learning.
The most important components of the brain are
neurons (nerve cells). These highly specialized cells receive
electro-chemical impulses from several sources. When the sum of these
impulses exceeds a certain value, they trigger an impulse for their part,
which is received by a neighbouring neuron. Researchers say: The neuron
fires. The contact points, at which the impulses are picked up from the
neighbouring neurons, are called synapses.
The brain potentially contains all
prerequisites for thinking and learning already at birth. 70% of the brain capacity
can be used for learning, merely 30% are from the beginning reserved for
certain things. In the first five to six years of life the human brain is
being substantially transformed. A network of 20 billion nerve cells reacts
very flexibly to every kind of impression, image and information, by changing
the linkages / connections between the nerve cells (synapses). During such
stamping / moulding-similar learning processes, the electrical impulses are
transferred from one nerve cell to the next by chemical messenger substances
(neurotransmitters). Each nerve cell has a transmitter and a multiplicity of
receivers at its disposal; these pick up the information of the other nerve
cells. The brain converts this information into new structures, or interlaces
these with other, already existing / available structures. In this process
certain neuro-connections are strengthened, others are weakened, others
disappear completely. "This decrease in the number of contact points
between the nerve cells is not a loss, but it is a selection. The
interconnections which are suitable, which belong, are strengthened and
maintained. The ones that are confirmed by the dialogue of the childs brain
with the environment are the ones that are used." This means that there are time windows or "sensitive
phases" in the different phases of the development in early childhood,
in which information is taken in at much higher speed and effectiveness than
in later phases. Children in these phases are particularly sensitive / susceptible
to special influences. Thus those areas in the nervous system which are
responsible for music or languages will, in comparison with others, clearly
develop more fully if the child is confronted with music from early on or
grows up bilingual. It is obvious that there could be also a "sensitive
phase" for scientific questions. These structuring processes are in the
main complete with puberty, afterwards only the network formed up to then is
at the adults disposal, what is being learned then will mainly be embedded
into this network.
If one summarizes the development-psychological,
cognition-psychological and neurophysiological aspects, then the conveyance
of natural science experience seems to be quite possible and meaningful at
pre-school age. This realization is supported by more and more researchers.
They point to the early interest of pre-schoolers in scientific phenomena and
support an early, age appropriate access to scientific phenomena.
Children apparently need learning processes which
are demanding and comprehensive and which call for mind, psyche and body
equally. Learning succeeds more lastingly, when the contents of the
experiments come from the childrens immediate range of experience, appear in
various contexts, appeal to as many senses as possible and can be conducted
by the children themselves. Learning situations with a positive atmosphere
and in which the children are often praised produce additional motivation.
Above all the influence of social role models, like parents and teachers
should not be underestimated at pre- and primary school age. The way they
radiate certain interests, how lovingly they deal with the children and how
variously they use body language is of crucial influence on a childs
III. What has learning got to do with gender?
Gender specific differences, theories about their
causes and conclusions for pedagogics, that do justice to both genders
Observed behavioural differences between
girls and boys
First behavioural differences between girls and boys
can already be observed in babies, particularly in the way they make contact.
Gender-typical play-interests diversify early. Boys at the age of
approximately two years for example already show a strong interest in big
play vehicles and in building materials, whereas girls more frequently spend
time with dolls and soft toy animals. Romping, scuffling, expansive, loud,
competitive, risky and rough motor activity games as well as dominant
behaviour are regarded as typical for boys. Games with a high share of
caring, nursing and grooming acitivities and cooperative game forms are
considered typical for girls.
In the areas of intelligence, abilities and
competences fine-motor skills as well as verbal competences are more strongly
pronounced in girls and women. Boys and men take the lead in the areas of
spatial-visual sense, quantitative-mathematical and analytic thinking. Their social behavior is different as well:
Whereas for boys and men competition and dominance, and within this framework
self-presentation, play a large role, girls show a rather pro-social
behavior of domincance. For girls egalitarian structures are usually
more important than hierarchical structures. Boys get togehter in cliques
with some permeability, whereas girls usually have a close relationship to a
(girl) friend. Accordingly girls exchange confidences about personal and
emotive topics, whereas boys go out and do things together.
Another crucial difference is self-confidence: Boys
and men tend to have too high an opinion of themselves, girl and women on the other hand often
under-estimate their abilities. This self-assessment is maintained despite
contrary test results and it leads to different reactions in the face of
difficult tasks. Boys and men think that they can deal with a task and they
get down to work on it, even if a successul accomplishment is improbable.
Girls and women on the other hand are quick to interpret a failure as a sign
of their insufficient competence and consequently lower or completely give up
their aspiration level. Its above all this difference in combination with
the different powers of self-assertion that account for gender inequalities
in competition and achievement situations, which make it difficult for girls
and women to enter certain branches and fields of the world of work.
What needs to be stressed is that there is no
characteristic, which exists in only one gender. Thus there are girls with a
mathematical gift and who by far exceed the average boy in this point, and
the legions of (male) poets and writers should be proof enough that verbal
skills are not the exclusive domain of the female sex. All abilities and
competences which are called typically female or typically male can also
be observed in the opposite sex and even more strongly pronounced in
individuals of the opposite sex than in the statistic average of the sex
whose core competence lies in that area. But despite the statistic
over-lappings a polarization of the sexes has developed in most cultures,
which leads to gender specific career choices and opportunities of
advancement and that makes is difficult in particular for girls and women at
the present moment to find equal access to some vocational fields. This is
partly true for the field of natural sciences, but above all for all jobs
that have to do with technology.
Below we will briefly presented how recent research
explains these inequalities.
Approaches at Explanations
Research on Socialisation
Researchers that have been working on socialization
for the last 30 years assume that gender roles are culturally formed and that
they are presented to the children from their birth on as stereotypes that,
by different forms of learning, contribute to the fact that girls and boys
very quickly acquire different gender specific abilities, skills and ways of
Based in different psychological and
learn-theoretical models starting with Freunds deep-psychological
personality model, to different learning theories, to Kohlbergs model of the
acquisition of gender roles - the research on socialization tries to prove
that children are strongly pushed toward the acceptance of stereotyped
cultural gender roles by identification with psychological parents, imitation
of role models and as well by the permanent reinforcement of gender-typical
The educational goals which mothers formulate for
their daughters and for their sons actually differ in many aspects. Ambition,
discipline, moral courage as well as understanding technology and
craftmenship are the centre of attention for boys, whereas helpfulness,
housekeeping, tenderness and open-mindedness are the educational goals for girls. According to this approach expectations and
reinforcement mechanisms of the adult world shape the gender role behaviour
of girls and boys.
Apart from biological reasons Eleanor Maccoby
stresses the aspect of self-socialisation: Children, who are disposed from
birth on to classify everything that they observe in categories, notice in a polarizing way that there are
two categories of people, arrange them accordingly and mutually strengthen
their gender-conformal behaviour in their peer group. You are not allowed to do this / You cannot
do this, because you are a boy / girl. I am allowed to do this / I can do
this, because I am a boy / girl. This would be the behavioural guideline in
the coeval group. In this context it is important that at first everything
that has a connection to the own sex is regarded as valuable and positive.
The affective associations of such judgements gain a particularly high
significance and accordingly stick for a long time. The daily staging of
ones own gender role, the so-called doing gender, can contribute to the
phenomenon that on the one hand gender-typical abilities are learned and
practiced, while on the other hand the competences of the opposite sex are
not acquired at all.
Numerous studies within the field of familial,
pre-school and school education prove that parts of a gender role are
actually acquired during a process of socialisation and enculturation. This
is the only way to explain intensifying developments in the course of school
socialisation like the increasing distance of girls from mathematical and
scientific subjects and questions - and the insuing polarization when it
comes to the occupation of vocational fields.
But these research results and the underlying
theories are not sufficient as exclusive explanation, because gender specific
behavior of individuals can be observed very early already, before the
substantial cognitive and affective learning processes develop. In addition
this behaviour can be found - at diverse levels of specificity - in all human
cultures. This view is held by Doris Bischof-Köhler, developmental
psychologist and pupil of Konrad Lorenz. The examples quoted by her suggest
that despite a contrary educational intention, like the one that prevailed in
the Kinderläden (childrens shops) of the student movement or in the
egalitarian communities of the Israeli Kibbuzim, children showed strongly
On the basis of the evolution theory which regards
the passing on of ones genes by procreation and raising of a survivable new
generation as the goal of all life, Bischof-Köhler suggests that in the
course of millions of years and due to their different biological equipment
and the different necessities for parent investment, men and women developed different strategies
of partner search and choice. The male sex developed a specific orientation
toward competition that, due to the necessity of competing for females,
stressed assertive strategies; the possibility of distributing ones genes
on several females may in addition have required a spatially more expansive
behaviour. Females on the other hand, who could bring only a limited number
of children into the world, had to be more selective in their partner choice.
Since the females invested a lot of time and energy into the long pregnancy
and the nursing that followed it, they could develop caring capabilities. In
the process of phylogenesis these different emphasis were further favoured by
a division of labor, which assigned the task of everyday supply to the women
by collecting fruits and plants at close range of home and thus the new
generation, while the men developed cooperative work forms in big game hunts
and in addition settled conflicts with neighbouring groups.
This is how, according to Bischof-Köhler, a gender
specific behavioural pattern developed, which cultures take up in their
stereotypes. But these stereotypes are not forced on the children.
Its rather that right from birth on girls and boys
show typical ways of behaviour that respectively provoke different
interactional patterns in the mother. While the boys health and emotional
state after birth are unstable and demand a lot of devotion in the first
months, girls are neurally more advanced, emotionally more stable, easier to
take care of. Later on girls react and communicate better, they provoke the
mother to communicate extensively.
Men and women show different brain-anatomical
structures. The lateralisation of the brain is more clearly pronounced in men
than in women, whose brain seems to be more bilaterally organized. The female corpus callosum contains clearly
more nerve tracts than the male one, these favour the exchange between the
hemispheres. Although a different brain anatomy could
also be the result of thousands of years of socialisation, it was proven that
hormoneal influences, in particular androgens, which are dispersed in the
prenatal phase, do not only affect the morphology of boys sex organs, but
also brain structures and thereby behavioural dispositions toward competition
and aggressive conflict management, connected with increased spatial-visual
competences. The genders different styles of thinking could also originate
here. Whereas boys think in a rather function- and process-orientated way,
thus connecting information with a purpose or a function, girls think
statically, in the form of relations, classifications, conceptual
combinations. Boys rather use the cognitive strategy of interactively testing
interim solutions. Girls first try to understand the whole problem and all
its aspects. Bischof-Köhler puts this down to the different phylogenetic
functions when women had to consider the whole household and the needs of all
its members including many matters of minor importance, whereas men could
afford to fade out their surrounding in order to concentrate on a
No judgement should go with the assessment of
different cognitive strategies. Bischof-Köhler however assumes that the
traditional didactics of mathematics and the generally used tests are rather
conceived for male strategies and thus make it make more difficult for girls
to develop their abilities. Different core abilities which could easily be
compensated by support - and learning offers, that are not adjusted to boys
and girls thinking strategies - this in connection with clearly
gender-specific differences in self-confidence and social blanket judgements which grant
women fewer chances of success - lead to a successive discrimination of
girls in the process of school learning in the subjects mathematics and
physics. And also educators support this by different reinforcement behavior
towards girls and boys. Contrary to feminist research on socialization
Bischof-Köhler does not attribute this to the fact that women - due to a
discriminating public opinion - are considered less able to achieve
The opposite is true: Since right from the start
girls seem relatively easy to handle and supporting, parents and teachers
think them capable of more and dont praise them for many achievements that
they consider natural. Since their workstyle, diligence and conduct are
usually inconspicuous, girls are predominantly reproached for intellectual
mistakes. Boys on the other hand are reproached in all areas, but they are
most frequently praised for intellectual achievements. Due to their
genetically determined social and moral competence girls take reproaches to
heart more. Thus the different point balances of praise
and reproach cause different effects on the self-respect of the sexes, with a
positive effect in the case of the boys and a negative one in the case of the
girls. Although girls are looked upon favourably, a
more negative self-perception and possibly weaker achievements result at the
When the sexes enter into competition, e.g. in
co-educative situations and later also in the world of work, girls and women
usually lose. In mixed-sexual situations boys clearly behave dominantly, while girls show inhibition under
competition pressure. Bischof-Köhler also attributes this to their
basic biological equipment.
Gender Mainstreaming Principle of the European Union
Even if humans may have acquired gender specific
behavioural dispositions in millions of years, different core abilities dont
justify preference or exclusion strategies regarding educational or
vocational decisions. In all States of the European Union an increasing
number of women work. The EU has made vocational equalization of the sexes
its express goal. In order to reach this goal, the Gender Mainstreaming
Principle became an integral part of the Amsterdamer Treaty of 1st May 1999
and it assumed concrete form through the 1999 guidelines concerning
employment policies. The principle means that all measures of the European
Union of its members are to be examined as to their possible effects on both
sexes and can only be realized if they support equal chances for both, men
and women. Right from the outset and in all political areas gender specific
interests must be taken into account. The principle aims at equal chances of
employment for both sexes and an equal distribution of paid work.
Regarding the Educational Procedure in Early Technical Education
If one regards the different dispositions,
attitudes, behaviours and processing forms of boys and girls, it might become
clear that early technical education cannot be sex neutral. Its aim is not
egalitarianism but equal chances. Just like in all EU measures
the effects on both sexes have to be considered beforehand, we also have to
ask before every project, every set-up of a new area for playing and learning
and also in everyday situations in day-care institutions:
gender-specific standards and values exist in the institution and can these
lead to a difference in appreciation or to differences in the opportunities
to learn, develop and participate?
there opportunities to participate or are there entrance barriers (regarding
activities, space, time), which depend on the childrens gender?
there a distribution of educational attention that depends on gender?
the group tolerate or support gender-specific behaviour of dominance and
competition in case it reduces the opportunities of the other sex?
the possibilities of access to play-, learning and experimentation materials
differ for boys and girls?
- Is it necessary to take
special strengths and weaknesses or special thinking structures of one sex
into consideration in certain learning and play situations?
it necessary to particularly motivate and encourage the girls in the area of
it make sense to tailor the organization of experimentation and construction
tasks to the respective interests of the sexes?
it occasionally make sense to work with separate groups of boys and girls?
IV. Early Technical Education by Audio-Visual
Television, Radio, Cassettes, Computer Games,
Children at the age of 4-6 years already have a
pronounced / distinct / strong interest in scientific and technical facts.
This shows above all in the fact that the media have been providing
schoolchildren and pre-schoolers with a broad variety of cientific and
technical contents for years. In the German educational system sciences are
nevertheless only taught systematically in secondary school, i.e.
media get children interested in scientific topics long before our
educational system intends to teach natural sciences.
On the basis of G. Luecks study, which deals with
the conveying of natural sciences in early infancy, the following chapter will examine which
media convey scientific topics, to what extent pre-schoolers make use of the
offer and whether children at this age are able to follow the presented
technical and/or scientific facts at all.
In her study regarding audiovisual media Gisela
Lueck mentions above all the classic media television, radio and cassettes
through which children at pre- and primary school age acquire knowledge about
animate and inanimate nature. Lately, however, the modern communication media
also prove to be very interesting for children: Beside computer games, the
Internet also gains increasing importance as a fountain / supplier of
knowledge for 4-8 year-old children.
3-9 year-old spectators still regard television as a
popular medium of entertainment and in addition, as a source of information
about scientific questions. The programmes which offer scientific contents
meanwhile take up a broad spectrum. The most successful childrens programmes
(success in this sense is measured by the height of ratings), in which also
technological contents or topics from inanimate nature appear are Die
Sendung mit der Maus (The Show with the Mouse), Löwenzahn (Dandelion) and
Sesamstrasse (Sesame Street).
Every week 300,000 children between the ages of 3
and 5 years and just as many between 6 and 9 years watch The Show with the
Mouse. Fact stories take up approximately 30 % of the programme and many
contributions also deal with scientific matters such as the phenomena air,
swimming and sinking or the candle. Also more complex
scientific-technical questions are picked as main features / central themes,
e.g. Why does a perm keep / stay? or What happens when you cook a potato?
but also How does a nuclear power plant work?
The audience ratings for Dandelion, a programme
produced by ZDF (the second channel of public German television), are lower
than for The Show with the Mouse. The magazine which addresses children of
5-9 years, focuses on ecological questions, yet topics of inanimate nature
are likewise dealt with: 42 out of 136 shows can be assigned to this subject
area, for example, states of aggregation of water, air, salt, swimming and
sinking, but also the examination of objects and substances (from their
production and/or origin to recycling) which children are familiar with from
their everyday life: Oil, glass, coal etc.
Unlike The Show with the Mouse or Dandelion the
scientific share in Sesame Street is considerably smaller, although it is
nevertheless explicitly intended / planned in the conception of the show. Special emphasis is given to social learning
in this show that many parents regard as very suitable. Cognitively oriented
factual issues from the childrens environment are clearly less taken into
account than in the two programmes mentioned before.
To what extent are children
between the ages of 3 and 9 years, however, able to take in and understand
technical-scientific contents presented on television? In their study
Information Processing by Children the media-psychologists Hertha Sturm and
Sabine Joerg have developed three criteria on the basis of Jean Piagets
development-psychological approach. According to these criteria,
for an understanding of scientific contents are fulfilled:
on what is shown so that the childs attention is better directed,
unidirectional course of action,
into account the childs egocentrism by a small number of perspective
In both programmes, The Show with the
Mouse and Dandelion, these three criteria for child-adequate television
are met, and have been increasingly met in recent years because of the
constant development of these programmes. For lack of studies on reception it
remains nevertheless impossible to specify to what exact extent a
pre-schooler can actually cognitively follow the technical-scientific facts
that are presented on the screen.
The auditory media (radio as well as sound storage
media) also take up the topic of conveying technical-scientific contents.
Younger children value auditory media more than older ones; in addition,
hearing is a particularly emotional sense of perception a dissociation from
what it has heard is more difficult for a child than a dissociation from
contents that it has perceived visually.
Different public radio stations also produce
programmes for children with a technical-scientific share, even though this
share is small. These shows are mostly aimed at children at primary school
age. Scientific studies on the reception of these childrens programmes,
however, do not exist, so that also within this field, similar to television,
there are no reliable findings as to what children actually do take in,
understand, and remember of the presented topics.
Children have access to cassettes very early:
already 70 % of the four-year-old children are familiar with the respective
devices. The mass-market of cassettes for children is
above all economically orientated and therefore media critics frequently
describe the productions as auditory trash. Since cassettes usually exploit
topics that have already proven successful in other media - the media
syndicate contributes much to the commercialization in this field - the
industry is considered as hostile to innovation. (...) Low quality standards
in production are possible because buyers react rather indifferently,
obviously make only little artistic demands and differentiated orientation
possibilities for the broad public, for instance in the form of reviews,
press reports etc. are missing.
As an outstanding example of a very wide-spread
cassette Lueck presents the series Benjamin Bluemchen (market share: 15,4
%!) and states that the technical-scientific share in the treated topics is
only marginal. Lueck says that scientific contents in Benjamin Bluemchen
are frequently presented in such a complex way that it is almost impossible
for children to understand them. The respective background is often not
explained. So (...) a rather nature-hostile idea / image of technology will
settle with young listeners.
Beside television and cassettes,
computers have become an integral part of the world experience of pre- and
primary school children. There are numerous games and learning programmes,
which are adjusted to the different age groups and the childrens
developmental stages. Literature distinguishes between different types of PC
games (e.g. so-called strategy-games, action games, learning games).
Small children can already use a computer within the possibilities
corresponding to their respective stage of development: There is something to
see, to feel, to hear; one can point at something, it moves, figures possess
well-known characteristics of organisms or objects etc. The competences and
skills which can be acquired by playing lie in the fields of fine / precise
motor activity, reactions, concentration, creativity, problem solving skills,
only to mention some. Thus ever more day-care facilities integrate the PC
into their didactic offer / work, although the inhibitions to use (new) media
in educational work are frequently still strong with the pedagogical staff.
In Reggios pedagogy on the other hand - a very
progressive educational approach that sees the child as co-creator of its
own knowledge, an inquiring and problem-soving being equipped with various
abilities and competences - (...) the handling of a computer (...) is
part of everyday life for the five- to six-year old children in the local
day-care centres (...). They make this medium part of their games, (...) or
they concern themselves in projects with the insides of this medium.
For pre- and primary school children
there is already a large number of computer games, which are used with
unabashed interest by 3-year-old children as well.
Many so-called edutainment games (derived from education and entertainment)
go beyond mere playing and convey information worth knowing in passing or
explicitly. CD Roms that playfully convey technical-scientific knowledge to
children of 4 years or older also figure under this heading. Games which
recruit their identification figures from childrens TV broadcasts, e.g. from
Dandelion enjoy of large popularity. The children can interactively acquire
information on different topics from animate, but also inanimate nature (e.g.
earth-water-air) or test existing knowledge.
Contrary to the frequently uttered assumption, that
the Internet was not yet for children, children are about to conquer the
Internet, too. By now there are some hundred websites, which address
particularly children. In this context its frequently the nursery school
teachers who show disconcertion, who do not know how to deal with this topic,
since they often are not yet sufficiently qualified to deal with the computer
and/or also the Internet. Pedagogically meaningful analyses and help are
offered by the recently published manuals of Michael Kobbeloer
Internethandbuch fuer Erzieherinnen und Erzieher (Internet Manual for
Educators) (2002) and Christine Feil (ed.) Internet
für Kinder. Hilfen für Eltern, Erzieher und Lehrer (Internet for Children. Assistance for Parents, Educators and
Search engines and portals particularly set up for
children also offer the possibility of attaining information about
technical-scientific contents. The childrens search engine
www.blinde-kuh.de (blind mans buff) offers a separate category:
knowledge, which is linked with different topics, and also deals with
inanimate nature. So far, however, there are no studies that deal with the
way children use the Internet and possible effects of Internet use on children
regarding the appropriation of technical-scientific topics.
To sum up one can say a pronounced interest of
children at pre- and primary school age concerning technical-scientific facts
can be observed. The media take up this interest in different ways: While
childrens TV broadcasts with scientific contents show surprisingly high
ratings even with younger children, the modern communication media enjoy an
increasing popularity with still younger addressees, since here
technical-scientific topics can be acquired interactively.
In connection with the topic media early technical
education gains a complex importance, when you consider that the teaching of
media competence in nursery- and primary school includes the active handling
of technical equipment, when at the same time the media themselves can also
convey contents from the technical-scientific field. To make this complexity
accessible to the children, that is the task of the pedagogical personnel
that work in pre- and primary schools.
V. Possibilities of a Methodical-Didactical Translation of
Scientific and Technical Topics into Practice
In a discussion with Donata Elschenbroich, Arthur
Fischer, Dr. Wolfgang Einsiedler, Dr. Gisela Lueck, Dr Gabriele Koening and
Dr. Ulrich Kramer all stress the importantce of imparting technical and
scientific phenomena in early infancy.
In his retirement Arthur Fischer of the
Fischer-company (Fischer-Technik) supports young inventors clubs and
organizes tinkler competitions for children and teenagers. Hes made it his
duty to carry new ideas into the childrens world. In the discussion with
Donata Elschenbroich he says that each child is full of ideas, which fade after
a few years in school, because school presses the children into a corset,
which does not suit them at all. He thinks that the handling and contact with
technical materials should be encouraged early. In this context he mentions a
recently discovered material made of corn semolina. It can be used to produce
building blocks that can be glued and cut and therefore seems particularly
fit for the simple creative play of younger children. With the help of this
material called Fischer-Tip he wants to create a new movement that gets
creativity going again.
Wolfgang Einsiedler, didacticist at the Institute for Primary School
Didactics at the University of Erlangen has observed that the years before
the primary school are not taken seriously in the field of general scientific
knowledge. He illustrates how the naïve concepts that children have
concerning scientific phenomena can be trained, understood and extended. He
goes on to say that early experiences with objects and materials help the
child to form his or her identity. In this context it is important to keep
and encourage the childrens interest in scientific topics. In the
instruction process emphasis should not only be put on concrete and graphic
images, but the step towards abstraction should to be taken as well. He
points out that processes of reflection and symbolization should already be
encouraged in nursery schools.
In the discussion with Donata Elschenbroich Gisela
Lueck makes clear that the significance of the natural sciences in the
national curriculum - above all the subjects physics and chemistry - has been
decreasing since the 60's, whereas on the other hand the natural sciences
have become ever more important for society in general. In the further course
of the discussion she describes the importance of instructing children in the
phenomena of inanimate nature in pre-school (detailed remarks about how to
translate this into practice in a methodical-didactical way follow below).
Gabriele Koenig, vice director of the Fulda Academy describes the
possibilities of conveying scientific-technical contents: The Academy offers
plenty of courses and projects in which children can acquire knowledge by
working practically and close to reality. In the courses and projects
children work together with artists, scientists and craftsmen. The products
of their work enter the Academys permanent exhibition. G. Koenig makes clear
that the co-operation with experts and specialists causes a certain
fascination in the children which gives their tinkering and researching a
special seriousness. The presentation of all products that have been created
in the workshops in the Academys museum engenders respect and appreciation
of their own work in the children.
Ulrich Kramer, founder of the first computer schools for children
in Germany (profikids) points out that it is especially important for
children to handle computers, since they will not get around working with
them. In this context he says that an early contact with the computer makes
it become something natural for the children.
In his courses for young children he offers a lot of
variety: children learn to handle computer games in which they sort colors
and shapes, put puzzle together, develop small logical rows, or get to know
first letters and numbers, just to give some examples. And in addition Kramer
offers the appropriate data banks and knowledge programmes for this age
In the conversations with Donata Elschenbroich it
becomes obvious that an early contact with technical and scientific topics is
important for the further development of a child. When you turn to literature
to search for possibilities to systematically introduce such topics at
pre-school age, you will find a vast number of books that contain numerous
interesting experiments. References to systematic research or possibilities
for a methodical-didactical approach in the social-educational practice are
Gisela Lueck has extensively dealt with the conveying of natural
sciences in early infancy.
Presentation of the Experimental Series Natural
Sciences in Early Infancy
Reasons for the selection of contents:
Gisela Lueck focuses on experiments concerning
inanimate nature, since in her opinion inadequately greater importance is
given to topics from animate nature in early infancy. In this context she
points out that the curricula for scientific instruction as well as
introductory instruction, but also the course contents at the School for
Social Pedagogy in the scientific subjects refer to a large extent to biological
topics. Among others she gives the following reasons for the selection of
experiments concerning inanimate nature:
concerning inanimate nature are available all year round, which offers the
opportunity to repeat and change an experiment and to reconstruct the laws of
nature in miniature.
- The advantage of discussing topics from inanimate nature with
children is the simple interpretation of many phenomena.
of inanimate nature are involved in many biological processes.
the science lessons in primary school as well as in secondary education
physico-chemical questions dont get the attention they deserve.
show that a broad spectrum of intuitive scientific knowledge is already available
in early infancy and can be used as a starting point.
Requirements for the conduct of scientific
experiments in day-care facilities
of safety regulations
The selection of the materials
used and set-up of the experiments must obey safety regulations. No risks
that might endanger anybodys heath should be taken. The series only makes
use of materials that are usually available in any household.
of inexpensive and easily available materials
experiments mostly make use of materials that are available in day-care
facilities anyway. This keeps the financial burden as small as possible and
ensures that the materials are at hand. The children can therefore repeat the
experiments at home.
successful outcome of the experiments
pre-schoolers a reliably successful outcome of the experiments is absolutely
necessary, since in case of failure the children can not fall back on any
scientific foreknowledge that they could use to discuss the unexpected
a basic scientific interpretation
experiment should be accessible by a simple scientific interpretation, so
that apart from the symbolizations a rational-scientific interpretation
alternative can be offered.
feasibility for pre-schoolers
In order to successfully promote active
participation and autonomy it is important that the children experiment
independently. Furthermore age-dependent conditions, like the inability to
precisely measure out liquids, must be taken into consideration when
experiments are selected.
to everyday life
A connection to everyday life suggests itself
since in case of a recognition or repetition at home the depth of the
impression experiences a greater boost.
of 20 minutes
Children can usually concentrate for 20
minutes while working on a team.
The systematic set-up of the experiments is
supposed to exercise a positive influence on the depth of the impression.
Selection criteria for
the structure of the experimental series
The childrens intuitive, basal concept of knowledge
serves as substantial criterion for the choice of the experiments. Further
criterium is the general set-up as mentioned above.
for the conduct of the experimental series
- In order to gain and keep the childrens
attention it is important to place the experimental set-up in a clearly
visible and defined area.
- The respective materials should be
presented with care and they shoud be clean.
- A framesetting refering to the
experiments, for example in form of a story increases the childrens
- The children should not be given too many
theoretical explanations, it is the experience of experimenting that is
important: When I do this, then that happens!
- The experiments should be offered once a
Gisela Lueck carried her experiments out in nursery
schools with completely different catchment areas. Over a longer period of
approximately seven weeks more or less 70 - 80% of the children voluntarily
participated in the experiments. The childrens memory ability was
surprisingly high. After approximately three to six months approximately 30%
of the experiments could be reconstructed without assistance, another 20%
could be remembered with a little support. Empirical studies show that
children that were considered difficult or unconcentrated, and also children
with handicaps participated with a particularly large interest in the
Further recommendations concerning the
methodical-didactical translation into practice, especially for physical
experiments can be found with Mireille Hibon and Elizabeth Niggemeyer.
Mireille Hibon has been studying the secrets of
physics in the école maternelle for 20 years with 5-6 year-old children. At
first it began with simple experiments, which touched off a large interest on
the childrens part. The open-mindedness of the children, their genuine and
keen questioning for the phenomena of life encouraged her to carry on. In the
book translated by Elizabeth Niggemeyer Spielzeug Physik (Toy Physics) she
briefly refers to methodical-didactical principles.
Structure of the
M. Hibbon presents two possibilities of offering
of the experiment by the nursery school teacher
While the educator shows the children the
experiment the children can observe and ask questions. In this context it is
important not to give the children rash answers but to set the children
thinking by stimulating questions and to make personal discoveries possible
After the experiment the children can draw
what they have discovered, afterwards the pictures are discussed and the
children can experiment by themselves.
children are given selected materials for playing
First the children have the possibility to
play and experiment with the selected material. The childrens questions and
statements are taken up by the educator, in order to search for solutions
that everybody can agree on. After this the children are again asked to paint
and comment on their discoveries.
Each child is equipped with a folder in which
it can collect the drawings.
the experiments everyday articles e.g. aquariums, candles, compasses,
ballons, magnifying glasses, screws, old eyeglasses are placed at the
childrens free disposal.
Denning presents methodical-didactical ways of handling media.
distinguishes between topic-centered and open media projects. The following
table gives an overview of important principles for carrying out media
Several single activities follow one another
A learning process develops from an impulse, its course and
result have not been laid down in
Orientated towards the goals that the educators have chosen for
Orientated towards the needs that children utter
Decisions made by adults are emphasized
Decisions are made by both, children and adults are equal
Organised learning process, planned in advance
Open learning process
Children are directed towards specific learning objectives
Children co-operate with educator and together they decide on
different equally important contents
Educators have to motivate
Group motivates itself
Educators direct the learning process
Role of educator
Educator accompanies the learning process
Thomas Denning explains the principles in detail and
presents an example of a media project.
The possibilities of the use of computers in nursery
school and day-care are presented in the project report of the School for
Social Pedagogics in Luedinghausen.
The project of the School for Social Pedagogics in
Luedinghausen tested, in co-operation with three social-educational
institutions, possible uses of computers in pre-school facilities. The
institutions involved in the project tested various possible uses:
AWO (Workers Welfare
Association) day-care centre, Duelmen: Use of the computer during free play
phases, integration of the PC into a project
St. Benedikt nursery
school, Herbern: Promotion of individual children through the work at the PC,
formation of a computer work group
Childrens house at the
Luchtbach, Duelmen (day-care centre): Use of the computer as learning aid and
leisure activity, creation of a nursery magazine
The general set-up of the individual institutions
and the results of the project are presented and described in the project
Its an essential task of the project Early
Technical Education to develop further concrete concepts for the methodical-didactical
implementation of scientific and technical topics on the basis of the
possibilities described above.
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