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Lab technicians will help to put back 'wow factor'

As Science Week begins today, Neil Munro and Douglas Blane report on the latest moves to revitalise teaching in schools

School lab technicians are to receive more support, Euan Robson told MSPs.

The moved was urged last year by the Scottish Science Advisory Committee in its report Why Science Education Matters.

The Deputy Education Minister also underlined the importance of better and more modern teaching materials, a task handed to Learning and Teaching Scotland.

The need for continuing professional development for teachers, also highlighted in the advisory committee's report, will be tackled by five consortia set up under the aegis of the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre, Mr Robson revealed.

"We want to put the wow factor back into science," he declared, citing the Scottish Space School initiative which sends 50 youngsters to Houston, Texas, each year to be inspired by Nasa scientists.

He urged MSPs to be more upbeat about science. Despite the decline in numbers taking science after 16, it remained the third most popular subject after English and maths. Presentations for Higher last year were 9,489 in physics, 9,292 in chemistry and 8,920 in biology. History, the next most popular subject, attracted 8,088 presentations.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Tories' education spokesman, who initiated the debate, said more had to be done to spark pupils' interest but this required teachers who are "suitably motivated, educated and supported (and) have access to high-quality resources and training opportunities".

Lord James was supported by Wendy Alexander, the former Lifelong Learning Minister, who said young people had no lack of interest in science and technology but the science curriculum needed to be modernised.

Robert Brown, Liberal Democrat convener of the Parliament's education committee, pointed to the perception of science as "difficult". The pass rate for Higher physics and chemistry is around 73 per cent and for biology 65 per cent. This compared with 90 per cent in Higher Spanish.

Other MSPs, including Sylvia Jackson, a former chemistry teacher, suggested that applied science would be more attractive to pupils.

Robin Harper, leader of the Scottish Green Party, pointed out that the Third International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) had shown Scottish pupils trailing behind international averages, yet "13-year-old Scottish pupils performed considerably better in practical tasks than in written tasks".

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