Ethics as commodity in higher education of South African natural science and engineering students

19 April 2016

The fields of the natural sciences are increasingly shying away from purely theoretical approaches to knowledge and are instead looking toward real-world applications and products to be derived from research projects. This phenomenon is seen even in the academic setting, which increasingly seems to mimic the goals of the outcome-driven engineering world. Such developments are deemed necessary in a worldwide economy that is driven more by practical economic results and less by the ideal of contributing to discipline-specific facts and knowledge. This shift in research-perspective means that science and engineering are faced with a host of ethical and social issues which extend beyond the confines of the laboratory. With these changes, the importance of an ethical grounding for graduate students becomes ever more pressing. This article will look at the influence that a purely positivist worldview may have on the ethical and value-related education of university students in the natural sciences and engineering. It will attempt to show how the teaching of ethical approaches need not be seen as an obstacle for the training of a potential scientist or engineer, but rather as an opportunity for growth in the individual as a contributing member of his or her society and immediate community. A solution to this continually growing need for ethical grounding is suggested: educators should look at the underlying worldviews and collateral or hidden curriculum (that which is not taught formally in classes, but which the students learn anyway) and the null curriculum (that which is not taught in classes) to provide their students with ethical guidance, rather than simply focusing on adding extra ethics modules to highly technical university or college courses