Innovative Approaches in Science Education Explored through a Gender Perspective in the Context of a Knowledge-Based Society

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1 Innovative Approaches in Science Education Explored through a Gender Perspective in the Context of a Knowledge-Based Society 1 Blerjana Bino, 2 Erjon Curraj 1 London School of Economics and Queen Mary, University of London (United Kingdom), 2 European University of Tirana (Albania) Abstract The emergence, development and the rapid proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) have significantly transformed almost all dimensions of our contemporary society leading to a conceptualisation of our society as a knowledge-based society. The dynamics of the knowledge-based society, as a networked society that is based on command and control centres of knowledge generation and information flows, have the potential to construct an emerging development paradigm whereby research, science and technology play a crucial role. However, the opportunities for development offered by science and technology in a knowledge-based society remain limited if they lack diversity and gender equity. Studies have shown that despite significant transformations in contemporary society, women remain under-represented in science and technology in terms of study programmes, engagement in research projects and workplace. This research paper is concerned with the gender dimension of science education in the context of a knowledge-based society. The paper is particularly interested in a gender analysis of the complex relation between science education, technology and innovation on one hand and women empowerment on the other hand in developing countries and draws from the case of higher education landscape in Albania. The principle aim of this research paper is to explore the ways in which and to what extent the introduction of innovative approaches in science education could enable increased inclusion and participation of women in research, science and technology and thus contribute to their empowerment. This research paper explores innovative approaches in science education in Albanian higher education landscape by paying particular attention to the context and discourses on women, science and technology. Key words: science education; information and communication technologies (ICTs); science and technology system (S&T); research and development programmes/activities (R&D); gender; participation and empowerment 1. Science education and research in a knowledge-driven society The emergence, development and the rapid proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) have significantly transformed almost all dimensions of our contemporary society leading to a conceptualisation of our society as a knowledge-based society. Castells has introduced the concept of spaces of flows [1] to shed light into the underlying logic of the implications of ICTs on social practices and interactions. His principal argument is that the contemporary society is constructed around various forms of flows, which include not only flows of money, resources, human capital in international trade and business, but notably flows of information and knowledge; flows of technology, know-how and flows of cultural aspects. The concept of spaces of flows is essential in understanding the conceptualisation of the contemporary society as a network information society, knowledge-driven. This does not imply that information, knowledge, science and technology have not been important for the development and progress of other societies. The principal implication here is that information, knowledge, science and technology are the drivers of social, political and economic development as well as human self-realisation. In this context, ICTs have become part of political discourses and public policy development, particularly so issues related to access, education and literacy. The paper is informed by the theoretical framework regarding the transformations of the research, science and innovation system in lieu of the development of a knowledge-based society highly relying on the

2 application of ICTs as means of communication, cooperation, data collection and methodology. First, the knowledge-production, research and innovation system has been significantly transformed in lieu of the knowledge-based society. This implies that knowledge-production and scientific research are interrelated with social and economic objectives. The transition and reorganization of the R&D system has been described by various analytical models, whereby the most prominent is that of the Triple Helix [2]. The Triple Helix model repositions the university in the context of a knowledge-driven society as centre of education, training, research and knowledge-creation in driving innovation and development processes. This model views university as more entrepreneurial, as centres to drive innovation systems and provide knowledge and research to business, industry and policy-making processes [3]. The model implies increased cooperation between the spheres of government, business/industry and higher education/research/academia. This has also become a significant dimension of public policy intervention in S&T and R&D system that respond to the new and emerging demands of the contemporary society. In this light, the development of quality S&T education in terms of teaching methodologies, learning practices and research activities is crucial if the knowledge-production and scientific research are to contribute to social and economic progress in a given society. While the dynamics of the transition of research, science and innovation are still highly debated, one cannot omit the gender perspective that underpins these developments. The gender dimension is particularly relevant in lieu of the increased role of ICTs and introduction of innovative approaches in S&T education and R&D programmes and activities. Concerns about women access to ICTs are growing given the premise that the application of ICTs conditions deep transformations of the science and research landscape. The potentiality of S&T to contribute to social and economic development remains limited if the S&T system lacks the diversity and gender equity. As such the access, participation and inclusion of women in S&T education and career at all levels is crucial for their own self-realisation and empowerment as well as for the development of the knowledge-based society. Revealing the gender bias and gap in S&T is a pressing matter for developed and developing contexts alike. This paper, adopting an analytical approach, discusses the developments in science, research and education from a gender perspective in the case of Albania. 2. Methodology Approach The paper adopts a qualitative methodology approach and it is principally analytical, aiming at the examination of the S&T education, research and innovation system through a gender perspective and thus identifying future areas of research and suggestions for policy development processes in this regard. The paper is based on the key findings of two roundtables organized by the UET Centre and the European University of Tirana in November 2012 with stakeholders of the National Innovation System in Albania. The roundtables discussed the dynamics of the national innovation and research system in Albania with the overall purpose to enhance the partnership between the spheres of government, business and university and thus moving towards the Triple Helix model. The participants in the roundtables on the R&D system in Albania included: academics, researchers, experts, policy-makers, international donors, civil society organisations, students, representatives from the business sector. In addition, the paper draws from secondary resources in regards to research and innovation systems and infrastructures in Albania. The secondary resources refer to the assessment and progress reports concerning S&T/R&D, conducted by national institutions such as the Ministry of Education and Science as well as international actors in the field such as: European Commission, ERA Watch, Centre for Social Innovation Vienna (WBC-INCO), Regional Research Promotion Programme of the University of Fribourg etc. One of the major constraints in exploring the participation of women in S&T education and R&D careers in Albania is the lack of gender-disaggregated statistics. The Ministry of Education and the Institute of Statistics are currently working on collecting this data, which will enable future researchers to investigate S&T education and career through a gender perspective based on a quantitative methodology approach. Consequently, this paper takes a more analytical and qualitative approach. 3. Research, science and higher education in Albania: A gender perspective The Albanian Government is addressing issues related to research, science and technology at the level of strategy and policy-making only recently, in line with the ambition to join the European Union and be part

3 of the European Research Area. One of the major developments in this regard, has been the adoption of the National Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (NSSTI) and consequently the establishment of the Agency for Research, Technology and Innovation (ARTI) in Other efforts towards the development of the knowledge-driven society in Albania refer to the adoption of the Crosscutting Strategy of Information Society and the establishment of the National Agency for Information Society. What is more, particular attention is paid to innovation in the private sector in order to increase the competitiveness of Albanian companies at the regional and European market and bridge the innovative and technological divide with other countries in South East Europe. In this sense, the Business Innovation and Technology Strategy has been launched in 2010 followed by the Action Plan to implement the Strategic Programme for Innovation and Technology Development of SMEs for This policy framework is supported by agencies such as the Business Relay and Innovation Centre and the Albanian Investment Development Agency. Despite the significant progress in establishing and sustaining a national system of innovation, which is more and more moving towards the Triple Helix model, Albania faces major challenges regarding research, development, science, and technology. One of the main challenges refers to the position of women in research, science and technology in terms of study programmes, engagement in research projects and workplace. The 5 th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education concluded that women are underrepresented in science, technology, research and higher-education decision-making processes [4]. OECD reports that the participation of women in S&T education and careers has increased in general terms, but women are concentrated in fields such as biology, health and education, which have been traditionally conceived as women-professions, and are less represented in physics, computing and engineering [5]. Contrary to detailed data for the OECD countries, the survey of the existing studies in regards to the participation of women in S&T education and career in Albania showed the difficulty of finding reliable quantitative data on the number of women in R&D activities. The more recent gender-disaggregated data is that provided by the progress report on the developments regarding science and technology cooperation in the Western Balkan [6], complied by the Centre for Social Innovation Vienna in the framework of the WBC-INCO project under the 7 th EU Framework Programme as shown in Fig. 1: Fig. 1 Human Capacity in R&D as in 2011 WBC-INCO Report Total Female Researchers Prof. Researchers Prof. Assoc. Researchers Dr. The most concerning aspect is not only the relatively isolated quantitative data, but the omission of the gender perspective in the policy discourse on S&T education, research and innovation system in the country. As such, the discourse on S&T in the public sphere seems to intentionally disregard the gender dimension of the research and innovation system and even provide contradictory statements. For instance, the report of the Ministry of Education and Science to the European Commission in regards to

4 Research and Science in 2011 states that women in higher education and research in Albania are represented at almost an equal ratio in all positions and levels [7]. The same document reports that 53% of the HEI staff is women and they compromise only 30% of the leading positions in R&D system. This omission in the policy discourse on the side of the S&T mainstream establishment, leadership and decision-makers is critical as without acknowledging and addressing the roots of the gender gap in S&T, increased participation and inclusion could not be achieved. It is thus necessary to reveal the gender bias that underpins policy and strategies on science, research and higher education. The analysis of the policy documents regarding S&T education, research and innovation systems in Albania point to the relatively limited attention being paid to the gender gap. The NSSTI, as the first innovation policy in Albania, represents the intention of the Albanian Government towards the development of a knowledge-based society, whereby science, technology and innovation are the most important resources. The NSSTI sets out the main objectives to achieve the vision of a knowledge-based society: (i) improvement of research infrastructure which refers directly to higher education; (ii) creation of scientific excellence in research areas that correspond to the priorities of the government set out in the National Strategy for Development and Integration ; (iii) investing in the education and professional development of highly qualified researchers, scientists and academics. However, the NSSTI does not make any reference to the gender gap in S&T. The strategy falls short of assigning priority to bridging the gender gap in research, science and technology. The NSSTI highlights the role of public and private funding in research and innovation for higher education institutions and business and it recognises the importance of integrating the research and innovation system in Albania with the European Research Area. ARTI is foreseen as a connecting node in the National Innovation System as it is responsible for managing funding programmes and serving as an interlocutor between the government, university and business. Nonetheless, ARTI has not made any particular efforts in regards to the participation of women in S&T education, research and innovation system. The omission of the gender perspective is evident in the National Strategy on Higher Education too, whereby emphasis is placed on the importance of building human capital in S&T, research and innovation, but no specific measures are envisaged to increase the participation of women in this sector. As the major strategies are in a process of evaluation and re-design, they should be informed by the outputs of research in regards to the gender gap in S&T education and careers. In addition, the progress report of the European Commission in 2012 underlines the importance of S&T education, research and innovation for the social and economic development in the country. The European Commission reports that despite the development of the strategy and National System of Innovation, in 2012 there has been limited progress in research, S&T and innovation policy in Albania, particularly in regards to the integration in the European Research Area [9]. Two of the major problems remain the low level of investment in research and human capital building. However, the Progress Report on research and science does not directly refer to the gender gap in S&T education and careers. A comprehensive report on the S&T in Albania [10], argues that the brain drain, lack of financial resources and limited efforts to generation renewal in R&D system constitute some of the main constraints for the development of human capital in S&T, but does not particularly address the challenges related to gender gap achievements in R&D. The findings of the roundtables and the secondary resources confirm that women in the research, S&T and innovation sector in Albania face horizontal and vertical segregation. For instance, women are concentrated mainly in the social, humanities and life sciences rather than engineering or computing and they tend to have lower-positions in the research and science career ladder. According to the OECD report on women in S&T some of the explanatory variables for the horizontal segregation refer to: individual preferences and gender-specific motivation; highly controversial results in regards to ability in mathematics; networking and interpersonal factors; organizational structure and working practices; social attitudes and customs and sex discrimination. The factors for the vertical segregation of women in S&T careers refer to: difficulties in reconciling professional career with family life; gender-biased evaluation of research outputs; research agenda and highly competitive, rather than cooperative, working environments [8]. Whereas the explanatory variables for women horizontal and vertical segregation in S&T education and careers in OECD countries have been intensively researched, there is a need to further develop academic research in regards to the participation of women in S&T and R&D sector in Albania. In particular, future research should apply a combined methodology of quantitative and qualitative data collection in order to examine the position of women in S&T education in Albania as well as their research outputs and career development. As Albania is developing its innovation policy and working towards the

5 enhancement of the Triple Helix it is necessary to explore the participation of women in research in the business sector as well as their involvement in science-driven start-ups and innovative entrepreneurship. 4. Some concluding remarks Participants, researchers and experts in the roundtables as well as secondary data analysis reveal that some of the mechanisms for positive transformations in regards to the participation of women in S&T education, research and innovation system are: (i) develop strategies, policy and actions plans to encourage and support women participation in S&T education and career; (ii) opening up career paths for women through targeted funding for research in partnership with the business sphere and the government; (iii) implementation of gender mainstreaming programmes and awareness raising communication strategy; (iv) in-depth research, data collection and programme evaluation; (v) dissemination and promotion of good practices and role models as well as enhancing formal and informal networking amongst researchers and academics. In addition, gender achievement gap for S&T subjects in secondary education should be bridged so as to increase the participation of women in S&T tertiary education and career. The findings of the roundtable with researchers and other stakeholders in the national innovation system demonstrate that there is a need to improve the public understanding of science and technology as well as the relevance of R&D programmes and activities in social and economic development. The participation and inclusion of women in these processes is highly relevant in order to ensure gender equality and equal opportunities for all to contribute to S&T. References [1] Castells, M., Chapter 6: The Space of Flows, in Castells, M. (2 nd Edition). The Information Society, Volume 1: The Rise of the Network Society, (Oxford: Blackwell Extract, 2000), p [2] Etzkowitz, H., & Leydesdorff, L. (2000). The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and Mode2 to a Triple Helix of university industry government relations. Research Policy, Vol. 29, p [3] Etzkowitz, H. (2011). Normative change in science and the birth of the Triple Helix. Social Science Information, Vol. 50, No. 3-4, pp [4] Blättel-Mink, B. (2008). Reinventing gender in higher education, Conference report: 5th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education, Berlin, Germany, August 2007, Equal Opportunities International, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp [5] OECD. (2006). Women in Scientific Careers: Unleashing the potential. Workshop Summary. ISBN , p. 12. [6] WBC-INCO. (2011). Progress Report on recent developments regarding science and technology cooperation in/with the WBC, Centre for Social Innovation: Coordination of Research Policies with the Western Balkan Countries, p. 11. [7] Research and Science (2011). Report of the Ministry of Education and Science to the European Commission. p. 23. [8] OECD. (2006). Women in Scientific Careers: Unleashing the potential. Workshop Summary. ISBN , p. 13. [9] European Commission. (2012). Albania 2012 Progress Report. Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges EC: Brussels, p [10] Dall, E. (2007). Science and Technology: Country Report Albania. Information Office for Steering Platform on Research for Western Balkan Countries. SEE Science EU, p. 38.

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