Technology Education at JISTEC'96:
A plethora of hope -- an absence of polarization
University of Missouri-Columbia
The second Jerusalem International Science & Technology Education Conference (JISTEC'96) was held in Israel on January 8-11, 1996. Simply put, this conference represented the most stellar international collection of technology education advocates the world has ever seen in one place. Building on the experience from predecessor conferences such as INCOTE'92, Technosphere, and PATT, the success of JISTEC'96 was exemplified by drawing a reported 1050 attendees from 84 nations of the world, including 28 ministers of education. JISTEC'96 truly deserved its international appellation and as such it stands in marked contrast to the ITEA conference, which might be more appropriately named the American Technology Education Association Conference.
JISTEC evolved from the efforts of Dr. Arley Tamir, Israel's Deputy Director for Science and Technology Education, with the guidance of an International Advisory Committee and the auspices of UNESCO. As conceived, the conference consisted of four individual program strands: (1) Technology & Science in Culture, (2) Technological Literacy, (3) Technology Education, and (4) Technical & Vocational Education. These strands contained invited presentations that were offered through plenary and symposium sessions. A series of papers, selected from responses to an international call for papers, followed the plenary and symposium sessions. The conference was buttressed by a most impressive working exhibit of school technology education practice staffed by young Israeli public school students. A small group of vendors and a larger set of displays and posters by various centers and organizations rounded out the educational menu for the participants. JISTEC'96 presenters represented a full spectrum of levels, positions, and presentation styles. Sessions ranged from emotional exhortations (e.g., for appropriate treatment of technology), to rational, measured treatments of key conference topics. The latter was epitomized by David Layton's capsulation of the scope of the conference at the closing plenary session.
What was learned by those who attended and participated? While that, of course, depends on the individual, I am certain that all who attended were affected by the event. The momentum of technology education around the world was obvious. It was also apparent that, while a multiplicity of approaches to technology education exists, all nations were engaged in the quest of better preparing their future generations with respect to technology. Despite the diversity of approaches there was little evidence of the polarization (e.g., between science and technology education or between technology and vocational education) that we experience frequently in the United States. It also became apparent that the monotheistic view of technology education being advocated by some in the U.S. is not practical. In fact, it seemed that our international colleagues demonstrated much higher levels of tolerance for diversity in addressing technology education than we do. The ready acceptance of the notion of a continuum of programs addressing technology education goals ranging from general education through vocational/technical education and including workforce training served as a good example of such tolerance.
It was impressive to observe the exceptionally powerful example of collaboration between science educators and technology educators exhibited at JISTEC. I wonder why it is that we in the U.S. seem to encounter much more competition between science and technology educators--actually their associations--than we see on the international scene? It seems that the probability of meeting and exchanging ideas with science and/or engineering colleagues is much higher internationally than here at home. Why is this so? The conference also drove home the similarity of problems technology educators share throughout the world-problems of definition, of gaining respect for our program, of explaining our purpose to decision makers, of defining and measuring student progression, and of ways of increasing the participation of women and minorities.
JISTEC'96 clearly reinforced the sense that the U.S. is not the world's center for technology education anymore-if indeed it ever was. To be sure, our strength in content delineation is clear but so is the British focus on process and progression and the German emphasis on rationale and theory. The Dutch, Scandinavians, and Chinese also have much to offer as do the members of the former USSR. Educators in the U.S. need to elevate our vision and interact more with these colleagues to enrich technology education's gene pool of ideas here. I noted the genuine scholarship and respect for theory exhibited by our international colleagues and I came away from the conference hoping for more of the same at home.
Were there any negatives to be heard? Of course. Some colleagues from overseas complained about the "lack of mastery of the theory of technology education" by many of the attendees. Others wanted to attend more sessions than time permitted. It was noted that presenters often felt a need to preface their remarks with a lengthy general description of their country's educational systems thereby shortchanging their treatment of the actual topic. Curriculum materials were noted to be relatively absent by some and perhaps the conference's only genuine weakness was an absence of international publishers' displays of technology education related books.
While departing from Israel, however, I reflected on the significance of the accomplishment of the Israeli conference team, the translators and the many others who collaborated and helped make JISTEC'96 possible. The profession owes them all an exceptional debt. Undoubtedly many of the attendees will never know of the myriad of behind-the-scenes activities of this conference. The conversations with ranking UNESCO officials about incorporating technology education into their next biennial program of work or the impact of JISTEC on a senior White House policymaker are but two examples. Nor will the real dynamics of interaction among a cadre of the world's key scholars as they crafted the conference's outcome statement ever become common knowledge-but we will all be strengthened by their work.
If we listen!
Dyrenfurth is Professor, Technology & Industry Education, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri.
The author gratefully acknowledges the reflective input of Patrick Foster and Scott Johnson in reacting to drafts of this essay. Also acknowledged is the personal nature of this overview, shaped in part by the author's role as a member of the conference's International Advisory Committee, and as such it is not to be confused with an analytical summary of JISTEC'96 events.
Reference Citation: Dyrenfurth, M. (1996). Technology education at JISTEC'96: A plethora of hope--an absence of polarization. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 33(2), 83-85.