Inquiry-based learning put to the test:
Medium-term effects of a science and
technology for children programme
* and Joakim Sv
Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy (IFAU), Uppsala,
KTH, Education and Communication in Engineering Science (ECE),
We evaluate the effects of participation in the Swedish version of the Science and Technology for
Children Program on content and process skills in sciences, in grade 9. The Swedish version, called
Natural Sciences and Technology for All (NTA), is predominantly employed in grades 1–6. Our
outcome measures are scores and grades on nationwide standardised tests, and course grades, in
biology, chemistry and physics, for the years 2009 and 2010. A nationally representative random
sample of almost 16,000 test-taking students is coupled with multi-level information about the
NTA, and background factors. Non-random selection into the programme is addressed by propen-
sity score analysis. The matched sample has almost maximum common support and is well behaved
in terms of propensity scores. Accounting for selection is shown to be very important. We find sig-
nificantly positive effects on national test scores (effect size 0.24) and national test grades for phy-
sics, but not for biology and chemistry. With respect to course grades, we find no significant effects
at all. We consider explanations for the differences in the estimated effects across science subjects
and between types of outcome variables, i.e. national standardised tests versus course grades.
Inquiry-based learning has its roots in constructivist learning theories, according to
which learning is a process requiring active engagement of the student. Specifically,
knowledge is constructed through experiments, problem solving and discussion (cf.,
e.g. James, 2006; Cakir, 2008).
This paper aims to contribute to an empirical strand of the literature on inquiry-
based learning, namely the literature on quantitative evaluations of the effects of
inquiry-based programmes employing so called science kits. We make five contribu-
tions to this literature.
First, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first study conducted on a nationally
representative sample of students, namely Swedish students in grade 9, the final year
of compulsory school, in which the students generally reach 15 years of age. The
value of this contribution is emphasised by the fact that the Science and Technology
for Children (STC) programme, whose effects we evaluate, is a very international
*Corresponding author. Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy (IFAU),
P.O. Box 513, SE-75120 Uppsala, Sweden. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2018 The Authors. Review of Education published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British
Educational Research Association.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License,
which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited
and is not used for commercial purposes.
Review of Education
Vol. 6, No. 2, June 2018, pp. 103–141