No geeks, we're cool and trendy

27th February 2009 at 00:00
Pupils' attitudes to science have forced the Government to take more action - without additional funding

A new 10-week science campaign was launched yesterday, using everything from social networking to traditional poster sites to communicate the Scottish Government's message that science is creative and trendy, not geeky. But there is to be no new money for science education.

The pound;350,000 marketing campaign will target 16 to 18-year-olds in the first instance, followed by 13 to 15-year-olds and then the "influencer" group of parents and carers. It aims to make science more relevant to young people, highlighting how they might develop pain-free leg-waxing or a guitar that tunes itself.

Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, said the Government wanted to challenge the "long-established perceptions held by too many, particularly young people, that science is difficult, irrelevant, and `uncool'".

Anne Glover, the chief scientific adviser for Scotland, revealed that only 3 per cent of pupils surveyed in advance of the campaign felt scientists had a big influence on people's lives. Yet, she added, "from the minute we get up to the minute we go to bed, every aspect of our life is affected by science, technology and engineering".

Young people felt that taking science closed down career options, yet the opposite was true, she said.

Professor Glover also revealed plans to invite PhD science students into schools to work with pupils because, it was felt, they would rather talk to someone like an older brother or sister than someone of their parents' or grandparents' age. This would also benefit the students by honing their communication skills.

Primary pupils, on the other hand, still think science is "cool", so are not in need of having their attitudes challenged. Nevertheless, Ms Hyslop acknowledged the call to improve continuing professional development in science, particularly for primary teachers who lack knowledge and confidence.

She also revealed that she plans to hold talks with Glasgow City Council over science education. Because of lack of demand from pupils, Govan High is offering neither Higher biology nor physics (although it is offering Higher chemistry), Lochend Community High is not offering Higher chemistry; and Drumchapel High has dropped Higher physics from its timetable.

A council spokesman said: "There is no child in Glasgow who would not be offered one of these science subjects if they wanted to study it - if necessary at another school."

Ms Hyslop said she was convening a science summit on May 5, which would focus on ways of empowering teachers "to make science exciting and relevant to young people, particularly at the earlier stages of the learning process".

The summit was announced last year in the wake of the publication of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) results, which placed Scotland 22nd out of 36 countries for science; at P5 and S2 levels, Scotland scored below the Timss average. Ms Hyslop described these results as "alarming" and "completely unacceptable".

Although there is no new money, she highlighted previous steps taken, including the introduction of a Scottish science baccalaureate from next year; a pound;2.1 million grant to the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre; pound;250,000 towards primary teachers' CPD delivered by science centres; and pilot funding of pound;140,000 to set up and strengthen school science clubs in primary and secondary, co-ordinated by experts in science, technology, engineering and maths.

The final guidelines for science in A Curriculum for Excellence, due in a few months, had been substantially rewritten after widespread concerns were expressed about the draft version, said Ms Hyslop. The Royal Society of Edinburgh, for instance, criticised the draft statements of experiences and outcomes for containing "hardly any mention of fundamental concepts, laws and methods". Leader 22.

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