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Shortage of science-savvy primary teachers ‘a disaster’

Academic calls for a 'science-based' curriculum so that the UK can unlock the opportunities of the digital age

Improving science teaching at primary school is essential if the UK is to be a pioneer in the fourth industrial revolution, one academic tells MPs

Academic calls for a 'science-based' curriculum so that the UK can unlock the opportunities of the digital age

A shortage of scientifically literate primary school teachers is a “disaster” for Britain’s attempts to get ahead in the “fourth industrial revolution”, an academic has said.

Professor John Baruch, director of the Leeds Beckett University Centre for Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, said that the country needed to embed a “science-based" curriculum to realise opportunities brought about by technology.

The "fourth industrial revolution" refers to the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence, and the academic contrasts this with earlier technological revolutions based on steam, electrification and computerisation.

The House of Commons Education Select Committee is currently carrying out an inquiry on the topic, and Professor Baruch is among a number of witnesses giving evidence to the MPs tomorrow.

In Professor Baruch’s written evidence to the committee, he suggests that Britain is not currently equipped to realise the opportunities of these new technologies.

“The trajectory of current policies on education curricula and skills is not helping to launch the new economy,” his evidence states.

Every child 'should have strong background in science'

In particular, he says that “the woeful shortage of scientifically literate teachers in primary schools is a disaster”.

To prosper in the future, he says British education should not be “skilled-based” but “science-based”. He calls for every child and adult to be given “a strong background in science and an understanding of how science works”; “hands-on experience with materials and models”; and “practical science” in biology, chemistry and physics.

Professor Baruch also calls for a new form of examination.

“Examinations do have a role but in a world of AI and robotics (robots are much better at answering examination questions than humans), excellence in examinations can only emphasise how inferior humans are to the new technologies," his evidence says.

“We need examinations that encourage and emphasise areas where humans are greatly superior to robots and AI and will remain so well into the foreseeable future.”

Earlier this year Tes published an investigation on the health of science in primary schools.

When the government last monitored the national performance of 11-year-olds in science in 2016, it found that less than a quarter – 23 per cent – had achieved the expected standard.

Some commentators have claimed that the subject has suffered because of the focus on English and maths, as well as a lack of interest from Ofsted, with science mentioned in just 4 per cent of primary inspection reports.

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