Force to be reckoned with
most secondary pupils are neither interested nor motivated by science, but a particularly inspiring teacher can buck the negative trend, a wide-ranging survey of S3 pupils has found.
The findings of the Relevance of Science Education survey of 2,700 pupils across 92 schools have been fed to the group at Learning and Teaching Scotland working on the current review of science under A Curriculum for Excellence.
If they are incorporated into ACfE, schools could be looking at differentiated subject content for pupils of different abilities, more practical projects, and more topics which have a personal or human dimension.
The survey found that pupils were most interested in space, bangs and explosions, and things that might affect them personally. They were least interested in plants, agriculture, detergents and dead scientists.
In another key finding, pupils showed a significant lack of trust in what scientists had to say - which the authors described as "a wake-up call" to the profession to debate scientific controversies in more carefully measured and objective terms.
The debate about the future direction of the science curriculum comes as The TESS reveals (page 4) that the organisation Truth in Science is lobbying science teachers across all Scottish secondary schools to include its "intelligent design" materials in their teaching.
The organisation argues against wholesale acceptance of "neo-Darwinist"
theories based on natural selection, claiming instead that "science can identify features of the natural world that are best explained by an intelligent cause". Its critics have described intelligent design as "just a much more sophisticated version of creationism".
The survey, carried out last year in Scotland, is part of an international survey into the relevance of science education, led by Svein Sjoberg of Oslo University. The 250-item questionnaire has been distributed in 40 countries, asking 14-year-olds about their attitudes, interests and experiences relevant to the study of science and technology.
The responses from Scotland were broadly similar to those from developed countries in general, and quite close to those from England and Northern Ireland.
Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has sought to make science a top priority for Scotland's future economic prosperity, pledging last year that if Labour won the Scottish elections, he would create six science academies for the brightest S6 pupils.
A spokesman for the executive said: "The ROSE survey provides a useful 'snapshot' of the attitudes of young people towards science. The Scottish Executive has provided funding to allow the report's authors to work with the Scottish Science Centres Network to provide advice when developing new workshops, and activities to make science exciting for their visitors."
See page 4