Research in Science Education

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 117–147 | Cite as

Scientific and Cultural Knowledge in Intercultural Science Education: Student Perceptions of Common Ground

  • Mzamose Gondwe
  • Nancy Longnecker


There is no consensus in the science education research community on the meanings and representations of western science and indigenous knowledge or the relationships between them. How students interpret these relationships and their perceptions of any connections has rarely been studied. This study reports student perceptions of the meaning and relationship between scientific and cultural knowledge. Personal meaning maps adapted for small groups were conducted in seven culturally diverse schools, school years 7–9 (with students aged 12–15 years) (n = 190), with six schools in Western Australia and one school in Malawi, Africa. Of the six Australian school groups, two comprised Australian Aboriginal students in an after-school homework programme and the other four schools had a multicultural mix of students. Students in this study identified connections between scientific and cultural knowledge and constructed connections from particular thematic areas—mainly factual content knowledge as opposed to ideas related to values, attitudes, beliefs and identity. Australian Aboriginal students made fewer connections between the two knowledge domains than Malawian students whose previous science teacher had made explicit connections in her science class. Examples from Aboriginal culture were the most dominant illustrations of cultural knowledge in Australian schools, even in school groups with students from other cultures. In light of our findings, we discuss the construction of common ground between scientific knowledge and cultural knowledge and the role of teachers as cultural brokers and travel agents. We conclude with recommendations on creating learning environments that embrace different cultural knowledges and that promote explicit and enquiring discussions of values, attitudes, beliefs and identity associated with both knowledge domains.


Scientific knowledge Cultural knowledge Border crossing Worldview Multicultural Indigenous knowledge Aboriginal Intercultural 



This work was supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage grant (LP100100640). We thank our co-investigators of the project, staff at the Gravity Discovery Centre and Graham Polly Farmer Foundation (partners in the research grant) for facilitating group participation and Fred Deshon for introducing us to School Green. We thank the principals and teachers who provided access to their classes and students who participated in this study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Science Communication Program, School of Animal BiologyThe University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia

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