Excellence in Education at All Levels

Education(Ohio Science Museum)
Caption: Through education both in and out of the classroom, NSF hopes to motivate young people to study science and mathematics and gain the skills needed to be full participants in the work force and our democracy.

As part of its mission to promote the progress of science and engineering, NSF supports individuals and groups to undertake activities that ensure a technologically literate populace with the understanding and skills needed for the workforce of the twenty-first century as well as a well-trained cadre of scientists and engineers for the present and the future. Some of these activities take the form of projects dedicated to education and human resource development; others take place in the context of projects aimed at advancing the frontiers of knowledge or addressing strategic national goals.

In forming its investment strategy for education and human resource development, NSF's aim is to ensure that all members of society have real opportunity to succeed in science and technology so that the Nation can draw upon the strength and creativity that the diversity in our society has to offer. In particular, NSF is determined that all students at all levels will be exposed to programs with high standards for understanding and accomplishment; that all students have the opportunity to advance to higher levels; that all students who enter advanced training at the professional level are well and broadly trained; and that the process of learning does not end with the classroom.

Meeting this goal requires efforts from all parts of the Foundation. The undergraduate level plays a pivotal role. It is the conduit through which research can reach the Nation's schools. All NSF organizations have responsibilities at this level. Developing the appropriate blend of broad, flexible underpinnings and focused attention to disciplinary specifics is critical to meeting the full range of NSF objectives.

Four overlapping categories combine with the broad thematic emphases on integrating research and education and building diversity in the human resource base for science and engineering to address the National Science and Technology Council's priority for An Educated Citizenry systematically. They do not cover all aspects of the investment in education and human resources, but they provide a framework for describing the character of the investment.

  1. Systemic Reform K-12 - Since the initial articulation of National Education Goals in 1989, the Federal Government has adopted a comprehensive strategy for working toward the goal centered on making the U.S. first in the world in science and mathematics achievement. Systemic reform is the strategy adopted by NSF (as well as the recently passed GOALS 2000 for the Department of Education) to bring about the changes necessary to make progress towards the goals. Systemic refers to fundamental, comprehensive and coordinated changes made in science, mathematics and technology education through attendant changes in school policy, financing, governance, management, content and conduct. Specific efforts focus on changes at the state, city, rural areas and local school district levels. Collaboration and development of partnerships are necessary for improvement. Teacher training, curriculum adoption and adaptation, and appropriate assessment are key elements of systemic plans. The outcomes expected are improved science, mathematics and technology education for all students; preparation of a technologically competent and diverse workforce; and enhancement of scientific and technical literacy, understanding, and skills.

  2. Workforce - Developing and maintaining a strong corps of workers for all facets of the American economy are essential to the well-being of the Nation. NSF can play a key role by helping academic institutions to provide a quality science and mathematics education for all students at all levels. Workers well-grounded in science and mathematics are critical to occupations both in and out of the science and technology enterprise. NSF has responsibilities to improve the preparation and enhancement of teachers in the Nation's secondary and elementary schools, to help provide quality science and mathematics experiences for those choosing to enter technician/technologist fields, and to encourage and support young people to pursue careers in science, engineering, and technology at advanced levels. These responsibilities are addressed through curriculum reform, development of faculty and teachers, providing research experiences for students, and promoting learning connected to context, phenomena, and realistic use. Workforce education in science and technology will increasingly become a lifelong process.

  3. Flexibility in Advanced Training for Scientists and Engineers - The development of advanced training for scientists and engineers has occurred largely as a component of research programs, rather than through a strategic consideration of national needs for the science and technology workforce. As a result, many see the current system as one that tends to replicate itself by producing scientists and engineers trained for increasingly narrow - and increasingly limited - research roles. This works against the broader interests of our best students, the increasing diversity of today's generation of students, and the complex and rapidly broadening roles in our society played by those with science and engineering training. NSF aims for a flexibility in advanced training for scientists and engineers that will develop broadly educated people with the knowledge and skills necessary to address the needs of the Nation in a rapidly changing world. Encouraging undergraduate research experiences, developing curricula with broad perspectives and ensuring their dissemination, providing opportunities for students to interface with industry through internships or exchanges, and encouraging a broad view of professional possibilities and responsibilities provide NSF with an approach to developing flexibility. Some of these more broadly educated scientists and engineers will become the faculty members who will help determine the future of the academic enterprise.

  4. Scientific and Technological Literacy - Enhancing the scientific and technological literacy of the American people is seen as one of the keys to global competitiveness and to personal enrichment and quality of life, as well. Citizens who are scientifically and technically literate will be better able to participate in the democratic society by making informed decisions on matters involving science and technology. They will understand the need for a strong and robust science and technology enterprise, support its inclusion as a Federal funding priority, and encourage and motivate young people to study science and mathematics. Stronger efforts to disseminate the results of research are necessary to gain the understanding and support of citizens and legislators. Creative uses of museums, zoos, radio and television, libraries, and other non-academic organizations will be increasingly important in meeting this responsibility.

NSF in a Changing World: The National Science Foundation's Strategic Plan

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