Two modest experiments which would boost the quality of our science lecturers

7th March 1997 at 00:00
It is not clear to me whether the proposed Alan Smithers experiment (TES, Feb 21) is aimed at taking in the "slack in the university system" for a few years until the demographic upturn saves higher education lecturers from the spectre of redundancy, or to improve the quality and quantity of trained physics teachers and thereby turn young people towards physics as an attractive A-level and degree route.

By replacing PGCE lecturers - those "one or two ex-teachers" who, after all, have first-hand experience of school science teaching, assessment, differentiation, school policies and practices - with threatened HE lecturers who are up-to-date with research physics (physics that is likely to become part of the school curriculum in about the year 2500), it seems to me we may just be missing the mark.

School physics teachers are not physicists, they are teachers. Their business is education and their training needs to be in teaching.

It is some years now since I was subject to the pedagogical skills of university physics lecturers.

From the reports my post A-level students give me, however, many HE lecturers would themselves benefit from a short course in the quality of teaching and learning.

I would offer two alternative routes forward. The first is a modification of the Smithers plan.

Why not integrate physics teaching as an optional module in the third year of undergraduate physics courses? By linking up with a local PGCE department or empathetic school, physics undergraduates could try a taster project in physics education.

This might range from a one-to-one mentoring or work-shadowing scheme to a small research project on a particular conceptual challenge faced by school pupils in physics.

As PGCE students have to put up with poorly equipped laboratories, it might be interesting to provide a coat of paint and invest in some decent chairs, blinds, teaching resources and apparatus?

It is time that "physics education" is given the recognition it deserves and the resources it requires.

The solution to reviving the interest in physics among young people lies not with physics and physicists but with physics education, educators and teachers.

BOB KIBBLE Coulsdon College London

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