Saturday, October 14, 2006

Science in the 21st Century

School children in England and Wales will soon be learning a new kind of science. A GCSE (an exam taken at 16) called Science in the 21st Century has been launched with the first candidates sitting the exam in 2008.

Scientists are up in arms because the new course is light on maths, test tubes and bad smells. They are afraid it is not rigorous enough to prepare students to study science at university. This is probably very true, but general education should be about educating everyone and not just the boffins with an affinity to lab coats. I had a look at the syllabus for the new exam and think that it is fantastic. We desperately need people to be able to make informed decisions about science and not be taken in either by the latest health scares or scientists telling them what to believe. Big questions like nuclear power, global warming, superbugs and obesity are not going to be solved by trigonometry or resolving forces. Children have to understand these issues to be useful citizens in 21st century democracies. It is not enough to expect them to pick the issues up from the TV or newspapers. So a round of applause for this new course. Ignore the naysaying scientists - they are just afraid of us having a population who knows what they are talking about.

I was surprised to find Simon Jenkins in the Guardian agreeing with me on this one. The last time I found myself nodding while reading one of his articles was in about 1997.

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