Tribute to Cliff Malcolm


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.