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30 years ago

As the curriculum reforms gather apace, and the place of the sciences is again debated, similar preoccupations were reported 30 years ago (TESS, April 16, 1976):

The development of social and economic awareness through chemistry was the topic discussed at the annual chemical congress of the Chemicab Society and the Royal Institute of Chemistry in Glasgow.

Alexander W Jeffrey, HMI, spoke of a diminishing interest in chemistry among school children, though biology was increasing in popularity. Biology was seen as one of the social sciences, concerned in a positive way with the environment.

Chemistry - and physics - were unjustly considered to be the causes of pollution and other major ills of our society. How could schools remove the false image chemistry had acquired and restimulate interest?

Pure science was considered as the province of the convergent thinker, and divergent thinkers were much more common in the general population. But were the divergers attracted to subjects like chemistry because of the way they were taught?

Comprehensive education was here to stay and we would have to cater for the divergers. Chemistry could not adhere to a highly specialised education. It would have to include the larger social and environmental issues which were the provinces of the diverger - the province of the citizen.

Nora Lumb, principal teacher of science at Clwyd High School in Denbigh, made a plea for a return to the fundamentals of chemistry teaching. Too many teachers coming into our schools were not capable of the basic skills themselves. Too many were afraid of practical work, probably because they had had too little training in practical work at school.

Too many of our best qualified teachers were being drafted into administrative posts, to spend their time peddling new projects in order to justify their existence.

We must wake up the wise men of education and ask them for a clear directive towards academic excellence instead of complacent mediocrity.

Industrial, social and economic awareness could be introduced into the syllabus in the sixth year when pupils were mature enough to be interested in these issues.

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