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Cliff Malcolm was a hero to many of us in science education, a man of immense intellectual energy, generosity of spirit and tireless enthusiasm. He had a great number of long-standing friends and admirers, many of whom wrote with him, and were encouraged and supported by him in their professional and personal lives. We all deeply mourn his premature passing.
Cliff will be remembered particularly for his groundbreaking curriculum work, first with the Frameworks documents in Victoria, later with the National Curriculum statement for science. In all his curriculum work he was challenging traditional views of the purposes of science education, and breathing fresh life into the curricula and other writing he was involved with. His was a vision of empowerment of teachers and students, and as such he found himself often aligned against academic forces resistant to change. His PhD in Nuclear Physics was no proof against the politics of curriculum. Cliff ‘s was a fundamentally moral view of the purpose of science education and its role of helping transform the lives of people generally.
Cliff moved to South Africa, first as a visiting professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (1997-2000), then as Professor of Science Education and Director of the Centre for Education Research, Evaluation, and Policy, at the University of Durban Westville (2000-2006), now the University of KwaZulu Natal. He also took on the editorship of the African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education. His main research interests continued to be learner-centred education, equity, and social justice; with much of his South African work conducted in rural areas and townships. Cliff was active in science education policy development in South Africa, taking a leading role in framing the Nelson Mandela Foundation study of rural education.
Cliff immersed himself in the spirit of the emerging black South Africa.
The 50 Letters from South Africa that he wrote
for Lab Talk, the Victorian Science Education journal, involved stories
about people and situations that awoke us to a new vision of the wider
purposes that science education should embrace. In South Africa this was
to help heal a fractured nation. He highlighted our myopic social complacency
in science education research and practice.
When Cliff returned to Australia in 2006 he joined the STEME group at Deakin and was particularly keen to be involved in research that explored the role of science education in rural communities. This linked with research he had engaged in, with Moyra Keane, in remote rural villages in South Africa. For Cliff, SiMERR provided an opportunity to theorise the mutually supporting roles of school and community. Sadly, soon after his return he found he had cancer. His work with us at Deakin continued amidst bouts of surgery and chemotherapy, and, just prior to his final hospitalisation, he was able to visit schools around the state to gather the data for a further study on teacher professional learning in rural schools. This was a wonderful experience for him as he was always a passionate learner and he loved to be part of the stories of teachers in these schools. Cliff passed away on March 24.
Cliff was predeceased by his wife, Marie, in 1992. His is survived by his children Steve, Marina, and Wes.
For us, he was a significant science educator but also a wonderful and inspiring friend. We deeply regret his passing.
We include below several extracts from tributes written by colleagues at the time of his death to complete our tribute to this outstanding educator and person.
He understood what was needed to advance Black South Africans and his great intellect was such that he could make it happen. His internationally funded research projects gave so many that important and necessary lift - intellectual & personal in a culturally sensitive way. The respect and love which so many South Africans gave to Cliff was clear evidence that he was a great cause for good. (Dr Warren Beazley)
Cliff thought fast, and seemed to write even faster. In both forms of communication he made connections that constantly left the rest of us wondering how his mind could be so broad and profound at the same time. It was a trap to agree to do some writing with him, because his part would be done before I had barely begun. The many people who for years read his letter from South Africa, as the first and often the only part of LabTalk, will know these qualities. He had an amazing gift, over his eight packed years in South Africa, of seeing in persons and situations he encountered the potential their story had for opening our eyes to things in Australian education that needed a critical eye rather than our passive acceptance. (Emeritus Professor Peter Fensham)
He was integral in opening new doors for me, both in my mind and professionally. He lifted the bar of my educational experience, was driven to perfection and was an amazingly warm man; a professional relationship was also a personal one. This was quite new to me at the time. His gift to the education community worldwide is immeasurable and he touched so many real people along the way. I am honoured to have known Cliff and had the opportunity to work with him. (Brigitte Glasson)
Cliff was an academic warrior for equity and social justice. Throughout his career, he knew what various students needed from school science, and he never compromised on this knowledge when he prepared lessons, developed programs, produced materials, and engaged in the politics of science education. His supervision of graduate students and his dedication to science teachers were legendary. He is admired by the science education community worldwide. (Glen Aikenhead)
I worked with Cliff at the Victorian Education Department and at Curriculum
Corporation. He was the most enthusiastic educator I have known. His passion
for science education engaged both teachers and students and he radically altered
the traditional approach to science teaching.
I will most remember him as a wonderful person with immense generosity of spirit. (Susan Mann)
In the name of science for all, a humanising faith, he was driven by a greater vision and moral purpose for science education in schools that could transform the social and economic lives of its immediate community in Australia and in South Africa. He found himself fighting many battles. For all of us the descriptions of these purposes of science education are not simple. They have become part of the materials for analysis of the political economy and are often tangled in the authority and mystique of academic Science that resist change. Cliff became the political focus of hostile resistance to proposals for systemic change. (Rod Fawns)
I remember him saying, when we were discussing some national science initiatives, that everyone is asking the wrong question - we shouldn't be asking how the curriculum can serve future scientists and users of science, rather we should be asking what science education can do for the country and all its people. How will it make Australia a better place? (Professor Russell Tytler)