BBC NEWS
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC News UK Edition
    You are in: Education: Features  
News Front Page
World
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Education
Hot Topics
UK Systems
League Tables
Features
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
CBBC News
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
 Sunday, 7 July, 2002, 09:21 GMT 10:21 UK
Language study for the 21st Century
Binary code superimposed on compact discs
It is all about noughts and ones

Students must be taught that there is no difference between a lemon and a floppy disk.

Or at least that the binary data on the floppy disk is written in the same language as the genetic code of the lemon, claims a leading American academic.

It is all about noughts and ones.

This may sound nuts, but this knowledge makes the difference between a successful economy and a doomed one. It is what the US understands and Argentina failed to.

According to the director of the Harvard Business School Life Science Project, Dr Juan Enriquez: "The new international language of this century is the language of IBM and computers and not English any more. It's the language also of genetics."

Knowledge transfer

He believes technology and the ability to use and transmit data are what drive civilisations.

"Society must be science and computer-literate. People are trading knowledge and not wheat any more.

Those who ignore the genetic revolution will be functionally illiterate

Dr Juan Enriquez
"And the language of computers is how we communicate this knowledge.

"Businesses are built on this knowledge and governments trade with it.

"Ninety-one per cent of information now is in digital code. Governments ignore this at your countries' peril," he said.

Literacy in this new language should start at school, he said.

Students should become as well versed in the language of binary code and science as in English and history.

Gender gap

But for this advice to be effective in the UK, not only do there need to be curriculum changes but girls need to be encouraged into studying computers and science in the first place.

As there is a significant gender imbalance in science and maths education in secondary school, there cannot be a literate science and computer population if a majority are not speaking the language.

So for how can girls be encouraged to jump on board?

According to Professor Alison Wolf of London University's Institute of Education: "The gender imbalance begins at 16 when girls are specialising too early and making choices which set them on a course generally in the arts subjects.

Circle of expertise

"Girls generally achieve better than boys at school and have a tendency to be better at foreign languages and English than boys.

"In girls' schools particularly, there is also a culture of encouraging the arts above the sciences."

She explains that this is because many mixed and boys' schools have better maths and science teachers, as there are usually more men teaching these subjects who are educated in the relevant disciplines to a high level.

"The problem is self-propagating. More men graduate with science degrees and teach maths and science.

"Often in girls' schools there are more female teachers who have not studied maths or science to a high level and the teaching is not quite as good as a result."

The maths curriculum should also be changed in schools to be much broader to interest more students

Professor Alison Wolf
That said, the girls who do go on to study maths and science at university level are graduating with degrees which are just as good as those achieved by men.

The problem is that the numbers involved are much smaller.

Last year for instance there were 16,801 male entries for computing A-levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and 4,943 female. The split in maths was 41,178 to 24,469.

"The first way to change this trend is to get teachers to advise girls that degrees in the sciences will earn far greater salaries. There is no doubt about this," Prof Wolf said.

"Then at the age of 16 girls can make more informed choices about their futures.

"The maths curriculum should also be changed in schools to be much broader to interest more students. At the moment it is very narrow," she said.

Government backing

Dr Enriquez added: "But being literate in computers and science, particularly genetics, is only the first step.

"Governments have to back the scientists and help fund research institutes for an economy to be successful.

"The British government has to wise up to this. The US economy is already in front because the government significantly backs genetic research.

"Those who ignore the genetic revolution will be functionally illiterate and unable to understand or compete in a rapidly changing economy."

See also:

15 Apr 02 | Education
06 Feb 02 | N Ireland
13 Jun 02 | Features
19 Feb 02 | Education
23 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Features stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Features stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | World | UK | England | N Ireland | Scotland | Wales |
Politics | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology |
Health | Education | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes