Science Teaching

There are some fairly big waves being created by the UK exam boards’ changes to the science curriculum. The comments of Sir Richard Sykes (the Rector of Imperial) concerning the dumbing down of the science syllabus were very interesting indeed. worst of all, I think he has a point. It is also interesting how many in the science community are lining up behind him to agree.

I am a science graduate (Physics as it happens) and realise that to study science to a high level does take a significant level of intellectual discipline and, worse than that, requires a fairly solid base of actual knowledge to work from. It doesn’t appear that the new combined science has this and looks to spread its remit around fairly thinly. It’s all very well try to “debate” some othese issues but, to be honest, it’s not going to be all that useflu when they are not particularly weel-informed on the subjectas they’ll be asked to consider.

As an example, in the radiation area. It’s all very well talking for instance about radiation damage and associated risks, but having an understanding of what these things are is fairly central. Talking about neutron damge, for instance, is a bit silly if you don’t know what a neutron is, how it differs from a proton, how it fits into an atom, what sort of energies these things have, where the energy comes from and so on. In the end such as discussion is bound to be incomplete and, as a result, of little real use.

Or how about “The Earth and Universe”? Well, talking about that means you have to talk about stars, star formation, nuclear reactions, cosmology, measures of distance and time – if you push far enough you even talk about relativity. And that meeds maths.

Teaching in a university on what was a science-based course, but now sitting inside an arts faculty (don’t ask, too dull to cover in detail) I despair at the holes in students’ understanding of the world around them, and the basic science that underpins it. Worse, the fact that some are almost innumerate is seen by some almost as a badge of honour, very different to admitting that one cannot read or write. The fact that universities are having to teach basic maths and English to undergradutes, for God’s sake, should be rining alarm bells so loud that you can”t hear yourself think.

Or is there another reason for that?

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