Science can be a magnet

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
This week's response to the Scottish Science Advisory Committee (page one) will receive a mixed reception. Many of the proposals are already in hand, as the Executive points out. Millions of pounds has been ploughed into science as part of the national strategy and support for the Improving Science Education 5-14 project to boost professionalism and confidence of science teachers, particularly at primary.

But there's a clear promise of more to come after the current spending review. As the Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace, says in his letter to the advisory committee's chairman, the climate for public investment in science has rarely been better.

A look at what has materialised over the past few years shows how much investment there has been - four national science centres of which any country could be proud and a host of science festivals and roadshows which take science to the people. On top of those, there is a whole new interest in science fuelled by the media, in particular television.

In many ways science has never been so popular. Whether it's DNA in forensic police dramas or cloning issues raised by medical research, children are fascinated by it. And yet, there is a major gulf somewhere.

Large numbers of secondary pupils continue to turn their backs on science and do not pursue it in later school careers. They arrive in secondary science labs with a sense of awe and excitement and novelty. But sadly, the appeal of the television programmes does not translate easily into the daily chore of the lab and string of curriculum targets.

Primary schools provide the key. Hence the great pressure that has been put on the Executive to give primary teachers more training and to create dedicated science rooms and spaces. Pressure not only from the advisory committee but from bodies like the Institute for Science Education in Scotland. Only with the right resources and training, with imaginative investigations and hands-on projects, will primary staff be able to instil in youngsters an early love of science and create the right kinds of enquiring minds. But it will be up to the secondary schools to nurture them.

Much remains to be done. And if the promise of more money is fulfilled, it must be used wisely. That depends not only on the Executive, but also on local authorities.

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