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Boffins tour with a science spectacular

The Edinburgh International Science Festival always provides stimulating opinions. The latest come from Ian Gibson, who shared his views on school science at the launch of this year's EISF schools programme.

He chairs the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, which in July produced a report concluding that while the science curriculum aims to strike a balance between increasing the appeal of science to the many and preparing a few for a career, in practice it does neither.

"We have a meeting with the Minister next week," says Dr Gibson, "and I'm hopeful that more money is going to be made available for school science."

The report branded the science curriculum as dull, over-prescriptive and repetitive. It called for more emphasis on recent discoveries and ethical issues, greater variety of experiment and investigation, more support for independent thinking from pupils and a better definition of scientific literacy.

While endorsing the committee's findings, the Edinburgh International Science Festival claims it already brings excitement and topicality to science for many school pupils - 60,000 in the first half of the coming year.

"The prosperity of the UK hinges on the success of businesses that spring from the outputs of science and technology," says EISF director Simon Gage. "Our initiative aims to give children an active interest in science and inspire them to pursue the subject."

This year's EISF touring schools programme, sponsored by The TES Scotland, includes favourites such as "Little Giants", "Light Fantastic" and "Rainforest Science", and features four shows from the popular Dr Bunhead, such as "Wacky Water Works" and "Leaf Factory", with Barney, "the SAS-trained stunt banana".

"Leaf Factory started as a big show with lots of props," explains Dr Bunhead's alter ego, scientist and teacher Tom Pringle. "So it has taken time to adapt it for schools. It is still spectacular, though, and conceptually rich. People get the idea that plants feed themselves through their roots, and it's hard for kids to grasp the amazing fact that they get almost all their weight from the air."

Participation, humour and entertainment feature strongly in all EISF shows, but these are only means to an end, says Dr Gibson. "Scotland has always had a wonderful Science Festival. It beats anything I've seen in England. But I sometimes think science festivals are regarded as light entertainment - a kind of fete - whereas what they are doing is deadly serious and very important."

The Select Committee's report Science Education From 14 to 19 and the Government's initial response are at www.parliament.ukcommonsselcomsamp;thome.htm Bookings for the EISF schools programme, tel 0131 220 1881;

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