Teaching misses the wonder of science
Schools have betrayed the spirit of scientific inquiry by encouraging an attitude of passive acceptance among children, Professor Durant told the Technology College Trust conference last week.
The science curriculum must be reformed to include a compelling basic package for every pupil while still nurturing the experts of the future, he said.
Outside the classroom, science is enjoying record popularity while in school it is suffocating under the strait-jacket of the national curriculum, he said.
The curriculum is so dry that too many students drop science before they realise how exciting it can be.
He said: "This is a tragedy. Over decades the system has been driven by the need to create scientific experts. The competence of this tiny minority has been bought at the price of the alienation of the majority of pupils. Most people are not going to become scientists but they do need scientific training for whatever they will do in life."
Professor Durant attributed popular science's appeal to its topical coverage which encouraged critical debate.
He said: "Popular science is very selective and covers subjects of public concern or where something strange has happened. School science is abstract and curriculum-driven irrespective of issues of the moment.
"School science bears as little relation to popular science as it does to research science in the lab."
His views echo a new report into science education funded by the Nuffield Foundation which calls for a more flexible curriculum.
It advocates a move away from the accumulation of facts towards "explanatory stories" covering big ideas such as the particle model of matter and genetic inheritance.
Dr David Moore, chief executive of the Association for Science Education, said: "Science should be exciting. At present it spends too much time on content rather than making it fun and showing how it impacts on all our lives."
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