Improving chemical education and going toward sustainability.
The IUPAC project, “Systems Thinking in Chemistry for Sustainability: Toward 2030 and Beyond”, involves a global group of thought leaders in chemistry and chemistry education seeking to orient chemistry and STEM education and practice toward sustainability, making use of systems thinking tools.
They have been meeting in two working groups bi-weekly, one focused on extending a previous IUPAC project on systems thinking in chemistry education, and one working group focused on meshing with other global initiatives focused on sustainability, such as IYBSSD 2022. The previous project led to a special issue of the Journal of Chemical Education, several publications in Nature family journals, and was featured on the cover of Chemical & Engineering News.
The compelling role of chemistry
As the material basis of society and sustainability, chemistry has a compelling role to play as the world approaches 2030, the target date for attaining the UN SDGs. But new approaches to both the design of chemical reactions and processes and to chemistry and the other basic sciences will be needed to make more rapid progress.
It will also be crucial that the basic sciences work together to achieve sustainability goals, and systems thinking can facilitate this process. The challenges continue beyond 2030 when considering how to meet global sustainability challenges such as the climate commitments by 2050 in the Paris accord.
Addressing global sustainability agendas
IUPAC, whose mission is to “develop the essential tools for the application and communication of chemical knowledge for the benefit of humankind and the world,” is well positioned to visibly help to lead efforts to redefine and expand the central role for the global chemistry profession in addressing global sustainability agendas. The rapidly emerging area of systems thinking in chemistry shows strong potential as a framework to help guide and support IUPAC in giving leadership to and through chemistry as the world approaches 2030, 2050, and beyond.
Systems thinking (ST) is one of five key competencies identified as essential for a sustainable future.
A former system thinking project
A recently completed IUPAC project has established the importance of systems thinking (ST) in chemistry education (STICE), both as a way of integrating the fragmented knowledge and understanding of chemistry that is typical in many 1st year chemistry courses, and as a means to elucidate the interconnections between chemistry and Earth and societal systems needed to address the compelling 21st Century challenges of sustainable development. The STICE project catalyzed considerable global momentum, with wide dissemination at national and international conferences, publication in Nature journals, 43 contributed papers to the December 2019 special issue of the Journal of Chemical Education, and a feature cover story in the February 3, 2020, issue of Chemical & Engineering News.
Three coherent strands
This project builds on the momentum and success of the IUPAC STICE project to guide an interwoven program of work to extend systems thinking into three coherent strands focused on:
- formal chemistry education;
- chemical industry.
An important motivation for the project will be to support and facilitate a strong chemistry contribution to the 2022 International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development, for which IUPAC is a founding partner.
Goals for the project, aligned with these 3 strands are outlined below.
Using systems thinking (ST) approaches to integrate and strengthen contributions from education in the basic sciences toward meeting the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG), the project task force will focus on the role for chemistry as a central science in contributing to solutions to Earth and societal system challenges. Systems thinking is designated as a key consideration in attaining UNESCO’s Learning Objectives for achieving the UNSDGs.
UNESCO coordinates the Education for Sustainable Development Goals. The completed IUPAC Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education (STICE) project was informed by both successes and weaknesses in the application of ST to other STEM disciplines, and a review of ST in other STEM disciplines was carried out as part of that project.
The STICE framework and approach that has emerged is well positioned to leverage that learning to strengthen connections among the basic sciences, with a substantial initial focus on supporting IUPAC’s contribution to the UNESCO (and hopefully UN) International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD) 2022. Activities and approaches informed by systems thinking in science education to be disseminated during IYBSSD will be proposed by a task force subgroup that will include consultation with IYBSSD steering committee members, members of IUPAC’s Bureau, the International Science Council, UNESCO, and the three IUPAC standing committees involved in the project (CCE, COCI, and ICGCSD).
Project efforts in this area will be guided by task group members with expertise in systems thinking, education for sustainable development, green and sustainable chemistry education, and membership in the Young Global Alliance, with the aim of reinforcing the contribution of basic sciences to sustainability in the 2030 Agenda and beyond.
2. Formal Chemistry Education
IUPAC sets standards for a common language for the global chemistry community. The area of systems thinking in chemistry education has emerged rapidly and would benefit from IUPAC’s continued role in guiding its further coherent development.
This project proposes to coordinate, evaluate, and publicize steps to carefully articulate the essential characteristics of ST in chemistry education and to outline ways in which ST can synergistically support educators in using and assessing student outcomes from other pedagogical approaches such as context-based learning, problem-based learning, and critical thinking. A seminal starting point for this aspect of the project is offered by the work of task group members Orgill and York and future directions were laid out by task group members.
This subgroup will work with CCE to formulate a set of IUPAC recommendations to guide the use of STICE, including a mechanism to articulate learning outcomes for STICE to guide curriculum development, implementation, and assessment. In addition, to encourage and expand the uptake of STICE in chemistry at both secondary and tertiary education levels, the project will suggest ways to catalyze partnerships, in which not only educators take part, but also representatives of institutions responsible for chemical activities in society (industry, pharmacies, chemistry labs, OPCW, to name a few) to develop practical materials, examples and tools to support teaching, learning, curriculum development and assessment, with IUPAC CCE oversight of the project ensuring that diversity in international contexts is taken into account.
A website to facilitate open access to and exchange of information, tools and education resources for STICE will be created and supported for a minimum of project duration, with efforts made to develop a sustainable mechanism to keep it up to date following the project ending. Project efforts in this area will be guided by a subgroup of the task force with expertise in systems thinking, chemistry education research, curriculum development and dissemination, assessment, web site development and deployment, and accreditation of chemistry programs.
These activities will be carried out with the specific goal of strengthening the contributions of formal chemistry education to sustainability science and to meeting global sustainability goals such as the UN SDGs, thus supporting activities undertaken in Strand 1 (Sustainability).
3. Chemical Industry
Discussions will be initiated with COCI, to explore:
- how chemical industry may be able to contribute to outcomes of the IYBSSD (Strand 1), emphasizing the central role of industry in the translation of basic sciences into sustainable products, processes and services;
- how industrial perspectives can be linked to outcomes chemistry programs and courses, both at the secondary and tertiary level related to the incorporation of ST into formal chemistry education, so as to support the needs of industry and sustainability goals set out by industry (Strand 2);
- the potential for mechanisms to increase the capacity of industry to incorporate ST in ways that embrace and extend principles of existing initiatives such as Responsible Care, Green and Sustainable Chemistry and the Circular Economy to reinforce the overall goal of sustainability.
The work in this Strand will be led by COCI members and informed by task group participants with expertise in systems thinking, green and sustainable chemistry applications in industry, chemistry education and experience with facilitating interface and dialogue with industry.
This content has first been published by IUPAC.