Do students want to be scientists and contribute to sustainable development?

First insights from the GAI (Global Assessment Instrument)

Students in front of x-ray of a hand. Photo.

In this blog post we give preliminary insights into the results of the GAI (Global Assessment Instrument) pre-test which has been running since February 2020. The project Science Education for Action and Engagement towards Sustainability (SEAS) aims to develop models for open-schooling implementation, and the GAI instrument serves to collect information about some important aspects of students’ learning.


Open Schooling

Open schooling aims not only at making school accessible by overcoming barriers of distance and time,  but also at making content relevant to other spheres beyond the formal education.

This includes linking school activities with out-of-school activities and connecting formal, informal and non-formal settings. Openness in open schooling also refers to the content of local network activities that aim at generating community well-being in terms of addressing local sustainability challenges.

While traditional schooling activities are orientated towards predetermined content, open schooling activities are directed towards addressing issues that are of relevant for the participants and their local networks. Hence, open schooling in this context is characterized by the contribution and collaboration of institutions and actors outside traditional school structures. By including participants in identifying sustainability challenges, they are enabled to develop a sense of ownership and agency over the learning process.

The Global Assessment Instrument

The GAI aims to collect data with respect to the overall goals of enhancing literacy and interest among children and adolescents. We use two standardized online questionnaires for different age groups to assess the impact of the six open schooling networks on the participants’ scientific literacy, interest in scientific careers and sustainability citizenship.

Pre- and post-measurements are performed at the beginning and end of each SEAS intervention within each local network. The pre-test defines the status-quo in terms of student’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviour. It also serves as a benchmark to later compare the results to those of the post-test and to identify impacts of the open schooling activities. The post-test contains the same constructs and items as the pre-test.

The instrument was developed in cooperation between the partners alpS GmbH, The Association for Science Education, the University of Ghent and the University of Oslo. It is builds on previously identified assessment resources in dimensions relevant to operationalising literacy and interest in the terms outlined in the SEAS’ conceptual framework.

First insights in the pre-test results

By the beginning of 2021, 299 pre-tests had been collected from pupils mostly between 13 and 18 years of age from Estonia, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Norway. 

Scientific literacy

Scientific literacy is understood primarily in the context of improving engagement with sustainability issues.

Beyond the ability consider phenomena according to disciplinary terminology and discourses, scientific literacy here refers to a “critical”, “emphatic” and “reflexive” engagement with phenomena.

As a background for the SEAS methods, scientific literacy is about applying and adapting scientific knowledge and methods to real-life challenges. It is also about reflecting on the usefulness and relevance of science, thereby connecting science to beliefs, values and interests. It is the kind of civic scientific literacy that enables individuals to participate in democratic debates on issues of public interest.

In this sense, the GAI’s evaluation  of scientific literacy relates to assessment of the adaptability of disciplinary knowledge and methodology to “sense- and meaning-making” and the possibility to enable meaningful and empathetic engagement with sustainability challenges that are the content of open schooling activities in the local networks.

Figure 1 shows  the results of a question that asked students to rate the listed statements regarding their scientific character .Students mainly attribute scientific character to observations and experiments. This indicates a more "classical" idea of science. This is also reflected in another question, where measuring facts is more associated with scientific work than social science methods. Nevertheless, students also think that scientists contribute to solving societal and/or environmental problems and are responsible for the impact of their results.

In this respect, respondents also relate science to more recent developments that are becoming more prevalent in science under buzzwords such as "third mission" or "responsible science".

Figure 3
Figure 1: Assessment of statements regarding their scientific character.


To gauge interest in a career in science, students were asked for their level of agreement for the listed job areas. Overall, there is a rather low interest in a scientific career (Figure 2), although the participants agree, that they could contribute to the solution of different environmental problems by becoming a scientist. Students could imagine working with people making discoveries about the world around us rather than using mathematical models to solve scientific problems.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Interest in a career in science of the participants.

Sustainability citizenship

Within the SEAS project, sustainability citizenship is defined as pro-sustainability behaviour driven by a belief in equitable distribution of environmental goods, in participation and in the co-creation of sustainability policies. It focuses on environmental issues, but must go beyond environmental actions to encompass economic, social, political and cultural spheres. In this sense, open schooling in SEAS is intended to condition sustainability citizenship among  participants in local network activities and is therefore subject to evaluation by the GAI.

The students' assessment of their ability to contribute to the achievement of global goals is shown in Figure 3. Based on the figure shown, the  overall picture is positive about their ability to contribute to global goals. Above all, aspects related to equality and justice are perceived as something to which one can make a personal contribution.

Figure 3
Figure 3: The participants perception of their opportunity on contribution to global goals.

The main motivation to act in an environmentally friendly way is to avoid negative effects for other people, animals and plants through one’s own actions (Figure 4). Interestingly, societal perception and appreciation play a subordinate role in the students’ personal environmentally friendly lifestyle. This highlights the intrinsic value of eco-friendly living for students.

Figure 3
Figure 4: Motivations to act environmentally-friendly.

First insights into the GAI point to a generation of students with a rather classical understanding of scientific work and, probably for this reason, limited interest in becoming scientists. Their intrinsic motivation to contribute to solving sustainability-related problems such as justice or climate change suggests a more activist attitude. This makes open forms of education all the more important.

Tags: Sustainability citizenship, scientific literacy, open schooling By Stefanie Mössler, Armin Kratzer
Published Feb. 24, 2021 11:10 AM - Last modified Mar. 3, 2021 1:37 PM
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The SEAS blog focuses on current research and activities in the intersection between scientific literacy, open schooling and sustainability challenges when students collaborate with families and stakeholders from civil society and industry in becoming agents of community well-being.