Science Makes the World Go Round

Scientific Ideas“Children find physics, maths and chemistry ‘too difficult'” was the alarming headline I recently saw. “Crikey,” I thought, channelling my inner Penfold, “that’s bad news for future British innovations.”

Then I started looking a little more deeply into the story. It turns out that that the survey which produced this startling quote was of the parents of  5 – 18 year olds! So, at best, we have the second-hand opinions of the generation that sometimes finds it ‘too difficult’ to get out of bed. Not a promising start.

However flawed, the survey did produce some interesting statistics.

  • 44 % of parents say their child would like to pursue one or more of the science-based careers listed in the survey
  • 24 % said their children can’t or couldn’t wait to give up science as soon as they are given the option to do so
  • 24 % said their children think science is “too much like hard work”
  • 19% citing science as “boring”.

At school I gained O levels in chemistry, physics, maths and biology and A levels in chemistry, physics and biology and went on to college to achieve an HND in Chemistry with Physics. I know exactly how dull a scientific education can be! The fact of the matter is that you have to learn the basics before you can do the harder (and more interesting) stuff in science.

The same is actually true of other subjects such as English Language. It’s conveniently forgotten that your English Language education starts from the moment you are born (assuming your parents are English speakers, of course!) It isn’t crammed into a 6 year gap from ages 11-16.

Mind the Gap, Please

What I find most alarming in all of this is the disconnect between effort and reward. How can you become a computer game designer (15%), a scientist (12%), a doctor (9%), an inventor (7%),a pilot (6%), an architect (6%), a forensic scientist (5%) or an astronaut (4%) without the correct knowledge? Just ‘wing’ it and hope it works out alright?  Bit dangerous if you’re a pilot or a doctor, I would say.

How did we get to this stage of so little joined-up thinking? Does the fault lie with the education system for not making science interesting enough? For forcing children to make subject choices too early, before they have a real grasp of the subject?

Maybe it’s the fault of the parents? It’s reasonable to assume that the some of the parents of 5 – 18 year olds come from the so called Generation Y or ‘ Millennial’ Generation. One of the key characteristics of Millennials is that they have a sense of entitlement without seeming to appreciate that nothing comes for free. (They have also been called ‘Trophy Kids’ due to the expectation that ‘taking part’ should be enough to get you a reward.) Has this rubbed off on their children?

Is the problem due to the lack of respect shown by the general population for the ‘hard’ subjects, calling those that study them nerds, geeks, swots, dorks, techies, weirdos and so on?

I don’t have an answer; I doubt that there is a simple one to this complex issue. However, I firmly believe that it is the responsibility of all us involved in ‘science’, however obliquely, to help reinforce the connections between science and expertise, between effort and reward, at every opportunity.

Here’s a start: The Big Bang Fair It’s a bit late for this year’s show but try to go along next year. You never know, you might be inspired yourself!

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