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On-line version ISSN 2304-8557
Print version ISSN 0023-270X

Koers (Online) vol.77 n.1 Pretoria  2012




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


Etiek as kommoditeit in die opleiding van hoër onderwys-studente in die natuurwetenskappe en ingenieurswese in Suid-Afrika



Jean du Toit

School of Philosophy, North-West University, South Africa





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.


Die velde van die natuurwetenskappe beweeg al verder weg van suiwer teoretiese benaderings tot kennis en word toenemend 'n soeke na toepassings en produkte as die resultaat van navorsingsprojekte. Hierdie verskynsel word selfs in die akademiese milieu aangetref, waar die natuurwetenskap toenemend die doelwitte van die uitkoms-gebaseerde ingenieurswêreld nastreef. Sodanige ontwikkelings word as noodsaaklik beskou in 'n wêreldwye ekonomie wat al hoe meer deur praktiese ekonomiese resultate gedryf word en al hoe minder deur die ideaal om by te dra tot navorsingsveld-spesifieke feite en kennis. Hierdie verskuiwing in navorsingsfokus beteken dat natuurwetenskappe en ingenieurswese met 'n reeks sosiale en etiese probleme gekonfronteer word wat wyer strek as die grense van die laboratorium. Met hierdie veranderinge in gedagte word die etiese begronding van graduandi belangriker. Hierdie artikel sal poog om na die invloed wat 'n suiwer positiwistiese wêreldbeskouing op die etiese en waarde-geassosieerde opleiding van universiteitstudente van die natuurwetenskappe en ingenieurswese het, te kyk. Daar sal gepoog word om aan te toon dat opleiding in die veld van etiese benaderings nie as 'n struikelblok gesien moet word nie, maar eerder as 'n geleentheid vir groei van die individu as deel van die samelewing en as 'n lid wat 'n bydrae tot sy of haar gemeenskap lewer. 'n Oplossing vir die tekort aan etiese opleiding word ook voorgestel: Eerder as om slegs addisionele etiek-modules tot hoogs-tegniese kollege en universiteitskursusse toe te voeg, behoort na die onderliggende wêreldbeskouing en die versteekte en nul-kurrikula van grade gekyk te word om studente eties te begelei.



Full text available only in PDF format.



Competing interests

I declare that I have no significant competing financial, professional or personal interest that might have influenced the performance of the work described in this article.



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Jean du Toit
PO Box 208, Building F13
School of Philosophy and Ethics
North-West University
Potchefstroom 2520
South Africa

Received: 20 July 2011
Accepted: 03 Nov. 2011
Published: 14 Nov. 2012

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