Physics still a force in Scotland

25th August 2006 at 01:00
The key to stemming the "Irresistible decline of physics" (TES, August 11) may lie with the Scots. According to RA Sparkes "The proportion of youngsters who study physics at the post-16 level is more than three times higher in Scotland than in England. (The Curriculum Journal, 6, 101-113, 1995).

If it is any consolation, the declining interest in gaining science qualifications is not exclusive to the English. According to research by ROSE (The Relevance of Science Education), available at www.ils.uio.noenglishrose, the more developed a country, the less positive young people are towards the role of science and technology in society - and the more reluctant they are to carve out a career in these areas.

The situation in England is not helped when so many prominent people regard scientific illiteracy as a source of pride.

In contrast, scientists in developing countries are held in much higher esteem and may command relatively high salaries, even if that means coming to the West to do the jobs that we are becoming too posh to do.

Perhaps the large pools of deprivation in Scotland mean that, when it comes to science careers, the Scots align themselves with developing countries.

Or perhaps the lucrative careers that suck in English physicists are less accessible to the Scots. Or a different attitude towards education might be the root cause.

Whatever the reason, the solution seems fairly simple. Pay physics teachers more money - a small price to pay to secure the future of British science.

Besides, I suspect that the difficulty of teaching a subject is directly proportional to how difficult it is for pupils to learn it. Take a straw poll and physics always seems to come out as the hardest subject to learn - and perhaps, by association, to teach.

Mike Follows


West Midlands

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