When educational discussions turn to cultural capital, and the gap between pupils who are disadvantaged and their peers, the solutions suggested can be simplistic: providing culturally rich experiences; ensuring no assumptions are made about prior knowledge; and teaching skills that may not be as embedded as you might hope.
But the reality is always more complex, and this is very clear when looking at science in the primary school where I work. The majority of pupils are from affluent, professional families and they arrive already brimming full of cultural capital. In science, many are far ahead in their knowledge and experiences of the subject compared with their disadvantaged peers.
Taking them all to a museum isn’t going to cut it: if anything, because our more affluent pupils have likely already been to the museums we visit beforehand, the gap widens because these children have more to build on to make the most of the experience.
I wanted to address this imbalance and found a potential answer at the Primary Science Teaching Trust conference. There, I was introduced to the “science capital teaching approach” – the culmination of a research project undertaken by Professor Louise Archer and colleagues at UCL Institute of Education and King’s College London.
What is science capital?
The project recognises that many groups struggle to make science relevant to their lives, especially women, working-class pupils and some ethnic minority pupils. All these groups are markedly under-represented in science, an elite subject that “can provide a route to social mobility”, as explained in an excellent downloadable publication (Godec et al, 2017).
The notion of science capital draws on the theory of Pierre Bourdieu and his description of “habitus, capital and field” (1977). He asserted that an individual’s dispositions and attitudes, or habitus, are acquired through their upbringing. “Capital” refers to the social, cultural and economic resources that a person has access to in order to advance in life, while “field” describes the environment surrounding the individual, including their social relationships, prospects and opportunities.
It is the field that plays a principal role in governing whether a person’s capital or habitus are valued.
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October 18, 2019