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Claes Malmberg

Professor of Science Education, at the School of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences. Appointed in 2016.

What do schools need to do so that children and young people will develop into capable, reflective, critical and active citizens empowered to take responsibility? And how can science be used in the classroom as a tool for contributing to so-called citizenship education?

These are questions that Claes Malmberg is particularly interested in and which are distinctive for a certain field of research in science education – socio-scientific issues.

“You need science in order to understand and take a position on current societal issues. How to relate to what we hear on the news from a science perspective, for example. However, to relate to this we also need to factor in ethical aspects, be critical or make risk assessments”, explains Claes Malmberg.

Focus on the teaching situation

Above all, he thinks it is interesting to study what happens when dealing with these issues in the classroom. The subject can be anything from the massive information flow we are subjected to every day – if you are to avoid a certain type of food, for example, or if radiation from a mobile phone is dangerous when we carry it in our pocket.

“The situation in the classroom concerns very complex issues that touch on ethics, values and argumentation technique, which subject studies in science do not always cover in teacher training. As a result, many teachers feel uncertain where socio-scientific issues are concerned. Many pupils may feel that way too, if they are only used to teaching that focuses on what they are to learn for exams”, says Claes Malmberg.

“Schools have a unique opportunity to allow children and young people to practise important skills and problem solving, so that as adults they will be capable citizens”, he continues.

Tools to support pupils

Claes Malmberg’s research has resulted in theoretical frameworks and practical tools for how to approach socio-scientific issues in school and for how the teacher can support pupils in this work, including formulating questions, adopting a critical approach to sources, and argumentation. The aim of the working methods is to strengthen the pupils’ possibilities to use this knowledge in everyday life in both the short and long term.

“My vision is to establish a research environment in the educational sciences.”

Another field of research for Claes Malmberg is learning linked to sustainable development. This stems from the general debate in which sustainable development has become a self-evident goal, and it is the task of schools to nurture a specific type of citizen who makes sustainable decisions. In his research, Claes Malmberg took a closer look at what the desired citizen would be like and found what he has called “the eco-certified child”:

“School nurtures pupils to become good people and tell them what is right. It is a type of control that shapes good people as the norm. This is to a large degree based on political values.”

Individual in the centre

Claes Malmberg has primarily investigated how this norm is presented in textbooks and linked it to a number of questions. What is it, for example, that makes an individual choose the greater good? What are the controlling mechanisms? And to what extent is school to exert control?

“We are taught that everything is the choice of the individual, but what we don’t see in the teaching materials is the critical individual. And it’s not consumer behaviour that is called into question – everything concerns making the right choice. In teaching materials, we see, as in society as a whole, a clear depoliticisation and individualisation. What citizens collectively request is not put forward, but rather what the individualised citizen should choose. There is a lot to think about regarding this perspective,” he says.

Both of Claes Malmberg’s main fields of research are also internationally active: Education and Sustainable Development (ESD) and Socio-Scientific Issues (SSI). Within these areas, he is involved in collaborations with researchers in countries such as England and Switzerland.

Science and the future

Behind his research is a great personal interest in sustainability issues and how we are to build the society of the future.

“Of course, the society we want to have is a politically-charged issue, but my starting point is the importance that science knowledge has for attaining that future.”

Claes Malmberg’s great interest in what happens in the classroom also stems from his role as a subject teacher. Since 2006, he has been involved in practice-related research. As a professor and research team leader, he sees his main task as providing creative conditions for innovative research.

“My goal is to develop interdisciplinary research. We have broad interdisciplinary expertise within my school and using joint research themes we can connect together thematic cross-disciplinary issues with various societal challenges. We have all the prerequisites to be very good at this!”

Text: INGRID EKSTRÖM
Translation: BRYAN RALPH, LUND UNIVERSITY

Photo: IDA LÖVSTÅL

Claes Malmberg was born in 1956 in Halmstad. He gained a Bachelor of Science degree in Upper Secondary School Education (Biology and Chemistry) at Lund University in 1983, and a Master of Arts in Education at the University of Greenwich in 1996. Back at Lund University, he gained a PhD in Education in 2006 with the thesis “Building Knowledge on the Internet. A Study of Students in Dialogue”. Between 2006 and 2013, he was Senior Lecturer in Education at Malmö University, where he became Associate Professor of Science Education in 2013 and was promoted to assistant professor in 2014. In 2015, he began as senior lecturer and leader of the research team, Studies of Learning, Professions and Societal Development,[Office1] at Halmstad University. He was appointed Professor in 2016.

Updated 2018-02-26