Thursday 1 June 2006 What is science education for?
Institute of Ideas in association with Pfizer
The advocates of the new thinking in science education put great store by their emphasis on science education for the citizen, otherwise known as ‘scientific literacy’. But will turning off the Bunsen Burners and forcing students to focus on scientific issues and controversies encourage budding scientists, or put them off even more? In this provocative essay David Perks, head of physics at a London state secondary school, argues that attempts to make school science more popular by making it more ‘relevant’ are giving today’s students a watered-down science education that will not produce the scientists we need.
AUTHOR: David Perks
Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College, London:
‘David Perks’ first-rate exposition of the issues surrounding science education in our schools … may make uncomfortable reading.’
Michael Reiss, Director of Education at the Royal Society:
‘All curriculum reforms meet resistance … Both for reasons of practicality and because I am suspicious of monolithic arguments, I see a role for a diversity of aims of science education.’
Simon Singh, science writer:
‘Every politician responsible for education, science or industry over the past 20 years has allowed science education to decline miserably in terms of its mission to create new scientists.’
‘The new GCSE class could take as its textbook a series of cuttings from, say, the Daily Mail on one hand and the Guardian on the other. Far too much teaching at school has already degenerated into this kind of debate (think, for example, of religious education or philosophy), more suitable for the pub than the school-room.’
Dr Peter Martin, lecturer at the Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford:
‘The trends that Perks argues have been detrimental to GCSE science are all-pervasive, even at the highest levels of education.’
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