Vol. 24, No. 3
It is widely believed
that practical work is an essential part of chemistry education. However,
in most countries there is no provision for such personal experiences,
and even at universities, provision is limited. This problem has been
recognized for many years by both UNESCO and IUPAC, and a number of
initiatives were taken to address it. The microchemistry program started
in 1997 aims to address the problem through promoting a small-scale,
low-cost approach, and done by means of introductory workshops for chemistry
educators in different countries. The concept has been received enthusiastically
in nearly 40 countries now, and pilot projects have been initiated in
several of these. This year, UNESCO and IUPAC have renewed their collaboration
on this project. In his lecture at the 8th International Chemistry Conference
in Africa (8th ICCA), 30 July4 August 2001, in Dakar, Sénégal,
Prof. Bradley presented the project and its outcomes. His lecture entitled
"UNESCO/IUPACCTC Global Program in Microchemistry" is published
in July 2001 issue of Pure and Applied Chemistry (Vol.
73, No. 7, pp 12151219) and reproduced below.
Matching Up To The Curriculum
Initiating A Pilot Project
Outcomes to Date
in chemistry education has begun. Practical work is an integral part
of science education. Ask any science educator, and you can be almost
certain he or she will agree. The implication that practical activity
is, therefore, a frequent component of science teaching is usually left
an unspoken assumption. The following quotes surely reflect a universal
opinion and expectation:
work is a defining characteristic of the natural sciences . wherever
possible, practical work should involve active student participation."1
is fundamentally an experimental subject . education in chemistry must
have an ineluctable experimental component."2
reality in science education is quite otherwise. Ask any honest educator,
and the appalling reality will invariably be disclosed. In the majority
of school science classrooms, there is no practical activity. In rich
societies, you may find virtual substitutes; in poor societies, you
will find blackboard descriptions. The latter will freely acknowledge
that the real experience cannot be afforded; the former will cite concerns
about safety and environment. When really pressed, many teachers in
both contexts will admit they are not really prepared (trained) for
it. At the university level, difficulties are also evident. Almost everywhere,
the burden is felt of providing practical experiences for increasing
numbers of students in a context of increasing costs of chemicals and
equipment. In poorer countries, the battle has been lost: practical
work has been ossified and eroded to the extent that students graduate
with little practical experience and little understanding of science.
is not something that has developed recently.3 Both
UNESCO and IUPAC have known about it for decades. At UNESCO, low-cost
equipment for science education has been on the agenda for action as
long as people can remember: it has principally been focused on primary
and secondary education.4 At IUPAC, the Committee on
Teaching of Chemistry (CTC) took up the challenge at a tertiary level,
focusing on low-cost instrumentation for chemistry.5,6
The history of these endeavors is a matter of record, and it would be
good to evaluate their long-term impact on science education.7
the past five years, a new onslaught on this historic problem has been
mounted in a cooperative program of UNESCO (Basic Sciences Division)
and IUPAC-CTC. The central thrusts of the program have been to disseminate
awareness of the benefits of smallscale, low-cost chemistry equipment;
to facilitate meaningful consideration of how the capabilities of the
equipment match the requirements of the curriculum; and to help initiate
pilot projects that permit classroombased assessment of the applicability
of the approach.
doing microchemistry at Lycee Gen.Leclerc,Yaounde.
used in this program was developed in South Africa and is based on the
use of plastic microwell
plates with two sizes of microwells. With this comes some familiar plastic
items for handling solids (microspatulas), liquids [propettes (Beral
pipettes), syringe], and gases (gas collecting tube); some specially
designed items (e.g., two types of well-lids) for more complex reaction
set-ups; some silicone tubing; a short piece of glass tubing; a glass
rod; and a microburner. These items are packed into a plastic "lunch-box"
to constitute a basic student kit. With this kit, a wide range of basic
chemistry experiments can be carried out, very simply and quickly. With
the addition of a few more items, numerous experiments in electrochemistry,
organic chemistry, and/or volumetric analysis can be performed.8,9
is now embodied in a host of experiment descriptions and supported by
packs of preprepared chemicals. The concept has been introduced and
disseminated in different countries by means of two-day workshops. The
workshops begin with an introductory exposition of the ideas, but the
main component is hands-on experience interspersed with discussions.
A videotape demonstration is also usually included. Normally, cautious
interest is provoked by the introduction, hands-on activity then begins
a little nervously, but within a half-hour, confidence and excitement
become palpable. Invariably, the majority of participantsusually
school teachers, science inspectors, and a few university lecturershail
the experience as promising a solution to the problem of practical work
provision. The concluding discussion is often sobering, because it is
here that the question "What now?" is addressed. While the majority
may be persuaded that the solution can now be imagined, the fact remains
that there are obstacles. The established curriculum needs to be scrutinized,
the textbooks must be considered, the examinations must be taken into
account, and, finally, the cost, which is low, but not zero. At this
final session, all these problems surface, and there needs to be a conscious
effort by individual participants to make a decision to tackle these
Up To The Curriculum
workshop, a selection of experiments is offered to illustrate the scope
and limitations of the approach. These experiments are almost universally
included in curricula. To tackle the question of the extent to which
a national curriculum can be supported by the new-style equipment, most
teachers and inspectors welcome an extensive listing and description
of experiments that can be done with it. Books containing descriptions
of about 100 experiments, including teacher notes, have been prepared
in English. To facilitate wider access, translation into other languages
has been encouraged. Often a local chemistry graduate who is enthusiastic
about the concept, proposes to undertake this. This has led to translation
into French,10 Russian, Arabic, Estonian, Persian,
and Portuguese at the present time, with other languages in the offing.
A decision to undertake such translation is often the next crucial step
toward wider interest (including government interest) in the concept.
some free copies of the book of experiments are distributed at the end
of the workshop, and, if required, a CD-ROM version is distributed also.
After some time has been spent on studying the full range of experiments,
it is usually concluded that the equipment can satisfy a substantial
fraction of a schools curricular needs. Some may argue that not
everything is possible and therefore nothing should be done, but such
views are a small minority. Some, too, may yearn for a traditional laboratory,
where one must go to perform "real science," but they too are a small
minority when compared with those who see the removal of the need for
such a facility as immensely liberating.
A Pilot Project
emerges during workshop discussions that some instructors are ready
and eager to try the approach in their own classrooms. Occasionally,
there is one educator, usually at a private institution, who can get
enough money to do so using the institutions own resources. More
often, the cost of a pilot project needs to be met by a donor agency.
UNESCO has had considerable success in locating sources of such fundingthe
final crucial step in the proper assessment of the applicability of
the approach in the local context.
our impression that in most instances the assessment has been comparatively
limited. Given the realities in most of the countries we have visited,
this is to be expected. In most cases, too, it must be remembered that
its not a question of weighing the relative merits of traditional-
and small-scale equipment: its a question of seeing what happens
when students are allowed to do their own, hands-on, practical work
for the first time. Can the teacher manage the situation? Did anyone
get hurt? What is the attitude of the students? These are the basic
kinds of questions most local educators and government officials want
answers to. Until a pilot project has been done, it is all conjecture
and/or unverified claims made by the promoters of the concept.
our experience that on completion of a pilot project, the demand is
always for wider implementation. This, however, is a national matter
in which the UNESCO/IUPAC program has no direct role to play.
between UNESCO (Basic Sciences Division) and IUPAC-CTC in this program
has been very fruitful. Introductory workshops have been held in nearly
40 countries, which have led to pilot projects in nearly half of these.
Many of these countries are poor, and their initiation of pilot projects
represents a commendable effort to improve science education in very
adverse circumstances. In three countries (South Africa, Cameroon, and
Kenya), extensive implementation has taken place.
agencies as well as ministries of education continue to support the
spread of the concept in developing countries and countries in transition.
As long ago as 1996, Beasley and Chant (in Australia), referring to
beginning university courses, observed "the trend from macro is now
established."11 The outcomes of the UNESCO/IUPAC-CTC
program since that time, reported here, give a global emphasis to this
observation. Furthermore, chemistry education worldwide may be revolutionalized
as the need for a traditional laboratory is removed and a majority of
students are able to experience chemistry firsthand.
of the past few years lead to a number of conclusions.
focused collaboration between UNESCO and a scientific union (IUPAC)
can be very effective in disseminating important ideas and information
in science education outside the relatively small number of wealthier,
developed countries. The political neutrality of these bodies is important
for open communication. The model we have established might be extended
to other scientific unions.
interventions "on the ground" are relatively costly, but essential
for new ideas to be seriously considered. Electronic or printed documentation
is cheaper, but is unlikely to achieve impact, although there is probably
an important supportive role for this.
successes of the program have created new channels of communication.
These should be nurtured for the benefit of all concerned. From the
IUPAC point of view, the Committee on Teaching of Chemistry endeavors
to keep informed of the developments and needs of chemistry education
at all levels worldwide. Apart from practical work, in all but the
richest countries there is a general dearth of good-quality (in the
scientific, educational sense) teaching resources for the common,
core chemistry content found in all curricula. Similarly, there is
a lack of teaching resources for topics of growing general importance,
such as chemical safety. CTC has identified further opportunities
and needs in these areas and is cooperating with UNESCO and with IUPACs
Committee on Chemical Industry to disseminate the DIDAC teaching resources
(including posters for classrooms without electricity).12
CTC is also working with IUPACs Commission on Toxicology to
disseminate a new resource for teachers that deals with chemical safety.13
We hope to continue this program over the next few years, in the belief
that a significant impact on chemistry education will be made.
IUPAC-CTC, I thank Dr. A.N. Pokrovsky, UNESCO Basic Sciences Division,
for the strong cooperation that has enabled this program to achieve
National Department of Education of S. Africa. Curriculum 2005
Intermediate and Senior Phase Policy Document. Pretoria, South Africa
2 IUPAC. Report of the Education Strategy Development
Committee, p. 8 (2000).
3 A.Musar. Equipment for Science Education: Constraints
and Opportunities, The World Bank, Washington, DC (1992).
4 UNESCO. Low Cost Equipment for Science and Technology
Education Vol. I (1985); Vol. II (1986). UNESCO, Paris.
5 K.V. Sane and D.C. West. Low Cost Chemical Instrumentation,University
of Delhi, Delhi (1991).
6 K.V. Sane. In Science and Environment Education:
Views from Developing Countries, S.A. Ware (Ed.), pp. 129-140, The
World Bank, Washington, DC (1999).
7 E.W. Thulstrup. In Science and Environment Education:
Views from Developing Countries, S.A. Ware (Ed.), pp. 113 -127,
The World Bank, Washington, DC (1999).
8 J.D. Bradley, S. Durbach, B. Bell, J. Mungarulire,
H. Kimel. J. Chem. Educ. 75, 1406-1409 (1998).
9 J.D. Bradley. Pure Appl. Chem. 71, 817-823
(1999). [pdf file-329KB]
10 Experiences de Microchimie: Manuel de l Enseignant.
UNESCO/IUPAC-CTC. J.D. Bradley (Ed.), Magister Press, Moscow (1999).
W. Beasley and D. Chant. Aust. J. Chem .Educ. 41,
(4), 103-105 (2000).
(6), 180-181 (2000).