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  • InterdisciplinarityIn

    General Education

    Division of Educational Sciences,Contents and Methods of Education

    May 1986

  • Interdisciplinarityin

    General Education

    A study by Louis d'Hainautfollowing an International Symposium

    on Interdisciplinarity in General Educationheld at Unesco Headquarters

    from 1 to 5 July 1985

    May 1986

    Unesco

  • ED-86/WS/78

  • CONTENTS

    Page1. Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

    2. The subject and its context.................................... 1

    2.1 The fundamentals of interdisciplinarity ................... 12.2 The concepts of interdisciplinarity ....................... 72.3 The forms of interdisciplinarity .......................... 92.4 Definition of an interdisciplinary education .............. 11

    3. Interdisciplinarity from an educational point of view ......... 16

    3.1 The problem .................................................... 163.2 Forms of presentation and organisation of content ......... 173.3 Levels of intervention .................................... 243.4 The sectors of education concerned ........................ 27

    4. The symposium .................................................. 29

    4.1 Terms of reference and justification of the symposium ..... 294.2 Organization of the symposium .............................. 324.3 Objectives proposed to participants ........................ 344.4 Synthesis of discussions ................................... 344.5 Guidelines for Member States on the value of

    interdisciplinarity in general education................. 394.6 Suggestions and proposed lines of action .................. 43

    5. Fundamental questions .......................................... 46

    5.1 Why interdisciplinarity in general education? .............. 465.2 What fields are to be given preference? ................... 495.3 Does interdisciplinarity increase the cost of

    education? .............................................. 525.4 What are the difficulties? ................................. 545.5 What is the procedure to be followed....................... 61

    6. Appendices

    6.1 List of participants ....................................... 896.2 List of case studies and reference documents ............... 956.4 Bibliography ............................................... 99

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    1. FOREWORD

    An International Symposium on Interdisciplinarity in General Educationwas held at Unesco Headquarters in Paris from 1 to 5 July 1985. In theterminology adopted by Unesco, general education is taken to mean 'educationfrom kindergarten to the pre-university level and which does not aim at anyspecialisation preparatory to a determined profession'.

    At this symposium, the Unesco Secretariat requested the Rapporteur totake stock of interdisciplinarity in general education so as to place theproblem in its conceptual context and integrate the lessons learned fromthis symposium as well as from previous symposia organized by Unesco indifferent regions of the world.

    It is this stock-taking which is presented here.

    It comprises four main sections:

    In the first section, the author places interdisciplinarity in its gen-eral context and in the context of education.

    The second section consists of summaries of a series of case studiesprepared for the symposium which take stock of interdisciplinary educationprojects in some 20 member countries.

    The third section is a report of the International Symposium in Paris,its discussions and conclusions.

    The final section is a synthesis of replies to some fundamental practi-cal questions given by participants at the Paris International Symposium andat regional seminars organized by Unesco, together with replies to questionswhich emerge from consideration of the problems involved and the experienceacquired.

    2. THE SUBJECT AND ITS CONTEXT

    2.1 The fundamentals of interdisciplinarity

    1. The evolution of knowledge and its discovery

    The nineteenth century and the early twentieth century were marked bythe elaboration, diversification, and increasing narrow specialization offields of thought. Many disciplines came into being and development indepen-dently of one another, in some cases dividing into clearly compartmentali-zed sub-disciplines. In the twentieth century, particularly in the secondhalf, the unifying discoveries of science, already begun in the previouscentury, together with the development of epistemology and the breakdown offrontiers imposed by the complexity of areas of knowledge, increasingly ledscientists and philosophers to consider the essential unity of the variousscientific fields and subjects. This belief is the ontological unity of thesciences became an increasingly profound conviction which constitutes the

    epistemological basis of interdisciplinarity.1

    The present century saw the emergence of new fields which do not fallwithin traditional disciplines but which involve them and tend to fragment

    1. See Smirnov (1983)

  • them. Information theory, which involves thermodynamics and fundamental biologyas well as telecommunications, is an example. Numerous problems of modernscience lie on the borderlines of, and overlap, several disciplines. Thisapplies, for example, to biochemistry; and as long ago as the late nineteenthcentury it became necessary to introduce the concept of physical chemistry.This trend towards integration has become more marked.

    Another form of interdisciplinarity has developed spontaneously in recentyears: the use in one discipline of methods specific to another. For instance,the human sciences have increasing recourse to the experimental method, andhave borrowed models of experimental design and analysis from agriculturalresearch.

    We note also, as pointed out by M. Malitza (1977), that the evolution ofhuman concerns has given rise to new groupings of the field already explored,and constantly renewed experience gives rise to new hybrid entities which, inorder to be understood, require a simultaneous examination of different dis-ciplines and the formulation of new concepts. This decompartmentalization andreorganisation of disciplines is today leading to integrations which quiterecently seemed incompatible, and suggests what I. Prigogine and I. Stengers(1979) call a 'new alliance between the natural sciences and the humans c i e n c e s ' .

    Discovery, which a century ago resulted from the work of an individualscientist, is to an increasing extent the result of the work of teams ofresearch workers often belonging to different disciplines, to the point thatthere are some who believe, like Smirnov (1977, p. 53) that 'inter-disciplinarity is at the present time one of the major theoretical and prac-tical problems for scientific progress'. Collaboration between research workersand the link-up, or even integration, of disciplines and methods of working andresearch mean that specialists in different fields must be able to consult-with one another and understand one another. This necessity leads to : thecreation of common ground and areas of interface between disciplines, andcontributes to the creation of interdisciplinarity.

    Advances in the human sciences have also greatly contributed to the dev-elopment of interdisciplinarity, because they have had to borrow certain oftheir theories or instruments from other disciplines; for example, games theo-ry, factorial analysis, the concept of feedback; and the complexity of theirsubject matter obliges them to have recourse to several disciplines simulta-

    n e o u s l y .l

    Of course, thefpresent- growth of interdisciplinarity does not mean thatindividual disciplines=areulosing their importance in the quest for and the 0organisation of knowledge,' or that 'they are to be abandoned in favour ofother approaches. What iS really happening 'is that other and more complex,more unifying and more transposable lines of approach are being added to exis-ting disciplines in

    the discovery, structuring and understanding of facts and relationships.

    2. Problems of the contemporary world

    The world of today faces major problems - majorfin respect of their mag-nitude and the gravity of their consequences. Famine and the destitution ofentire populations, the'level attained by the exponential population growth,

    1 . See L. APOSTEL (1983).

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    the threat of nuclear war and the deterioration of the environment are prob-lems which ethics, science and education can no longer ignore or leave un-solved. All right-thinking people are aware of this.

    But these problems do not lie within any one discipline, and their solu-tion requires interdisciplinary approaches and collaboration between special-ists in different disciplines. The same is true of many human and social prob-lems; their complexity is such that they involve interaction between very dif-ferent aspects of knowledge and its discovery. For example, the fight againstdisease often demands physiological research, chemical and pharmaceuticalinvestigations, clinical medical studies, statistical or epidemiological sur-veys, and educational measures; it can also have important economic and sociali m p l i c a t i o n s .

    In the last century, science was geared to the solution of relativelysimple problems lying within a field of homogeneous relationships which couldbe embraced by a single discipline. Today, one of the essential features ofthe problems arising is their great complexity. The contemporary world posesproblems involving a considerable number of factors intwhich social and tech-nical aspects overlap, multiple and essential interactions abound, precisionis mingled with a great deal of uncertainty, and the field