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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Science lessons 'tedious and dull'
science lesson
Inspiring the next generation of scientists?
Science lessons for teenagers are so boring they are putting pupils off science for life, a cross-party group of MPs warned.

GCSE science is based on rote learning of facts of little use and has made practical work a "tedious and dull activity", the Commons science and technology committee said.


Coursework is boring and pointless

Science and technology committee
The situation could have a major impact on scientific research in the future with pupils not inspired to continue with science beyond 16, the MPs warned.

Their report called for greater flexibility in the science curriculum and greater focus on contemporary science.

The MPs blamed the exam boards and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) for the problem, saying their approach to testing GCSE science was preventing good science from being taught in schools.

"Current GCSE courses are overloaded with factual content, contain little contemporary science and have stultifying assessment arrangements," the committee's report said.

science lab
Many labs are said to have poor facilities
"Coursework is boring and pointless. Teachers and students are frustrated by the lack of flexibility. Students lose any enthusiasm that they once had for science."

Poor facilities

The report also expressed concern about the pay and conditions for laboratory technicians, saying an additional 4,000 were needed in schools.

MPs fear poor laboratory facilities, coupled with a shortage of technicians, are to blame for the lack of exciting practical work being done in class.

The report calls on the Department for Education to invest more money in refurbishment programmes and address pay levels for technicians.

The department has already given 60m for refurbishment, but the committee says at least a further 120m is needed.

'Boring'

Chairman of the committee Dr Ian Gibson MP said: "Science should be the most exciting subject on the school curriculum: scientific controversies and breakthroughs hit the headlines every day."

"But school science can be so boring it puts young people off science for life," said Dr Gibson.

Ian Gibson
Ian Gibson's report was damning
"GCSE science students have to cram in so many facts that they have no time to explore interesting ideas, and slog through practical exercises which are completely pointless.

"This is a disaster: We need to encourage a new generation of young scientists and to ensure that the rest of the population has a sound understanding of scientific principles."

The Association for Science Education (ASE), which represents science teachers, said the report findings needed to be highlighted.

"We're still concerned about the supply and recruitment of teachers - it's chicken and egg, if you don't have enough teachers, the larger the classes get and the harder it is for teachers to deliver effectively," said ASE chief executive Dr David Moore.

Changes were being made in science teaching, said Dr Moore, but it would take time for them to take effect.

'Incomplete picture'

Chairman of the QCA Sir William Stubbs said the MPs' report painted an "incomplete picture".

"Opportunities do exist at the moment for teachers to make science lessons exciting, challenging and up to date," said Sir William.

"A revised modern science curriculum was introduced in both primary and secondary schools in September 2000 and thousands of pupils are already seeing the benefit.

"The number of candidates sitting GCSE science has risen steadily since 1998."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found 15 year olds in the UK came fourth out of 32 countries in scientific literacy.

"Over 110,000 of these have gone on to study a science subject at A-level this year," the spokeswoman said.

"This is a major achievement and the 60m invested in school labs in the last two years will further boost standards.

Computers in Science book
Dell is sponsoring science books for schools
"But there is even more we can do and we will continue the drive to improve our science base in schools and universities," she said.

  • Computer firm Dell and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts are sponsoring a science education book and CD-ROM for schools.

    The package is designed as a teaching resource to demonstrate the value of computers in scientific experimentation.

    The CD-ROM includes a software oscilloscope so classes can investigate the shape of sound waves.

    They are being distributed to 24,000 schools across the UK in July, aimed mainly at children aged eight to 13.

    Are science lessons boring? A selection of your e-mails is published below.


    Looking at the big inspiring ideas

    Chris Kitcar BSc (Hons) MSc, UK
    Science can be dull and uninteresting when it is taught in schools. This can be rectified by looking at science in the way that is done in the Christmas lectures and other Science and Technology related media. This means looking at the big inspiring ideas and breaking them down into the smaller less interesting parts.
    Chris Kitcar BSc (Hons) MSc, UK

    The way that science is taught at all levels needs to be looked at. Out of my graduation class of 60 (all Masters degrees) less than 20% went into science to work, the rest are working in either consulting or accountancy jobs.
    Paul, UK

    On visiting my son's school prior to him starting, I was delighted to see that basic science was being taught to 4 years old - and more importantly they were loving it. Science as with any subject is only boring if the way in which it is taught does not capture a student's imagination. Start them young enough and they will learn to appreciate it and become fascinated by it.
    Sian, UK

    I attended the ASE conference last Friday and listened to a talk by Andrew Hunt on exactly this issue. GCSE science can be boring and Andrew presented a series of scientific topics that should be taught as they relate to real life. As for shortage of science teachers this is a myth - I'm an NQT and can't find a first teaching job for September. I'm always up against several teachers more qualified than myself. Perhaps my Doctorate and 24 years of relevant industrial experience in pharmaceuticals doesn't help after all.
    Derek Mills, UK


    It is vital that school children first learn classical science

    Dr Andrew Park, UK
    Science builds on what has gone before. For example, the topical issue of genetic cloning has its roots in the work of a 19th century monk experimenting with pea plants. It is vital that school children first learn classical science before trying to understand the contemporary breakthroughs in science, technology and medicine. Any efforts to make school science the vibrant and interesting subject that it is are to be welcomed but not at the expense of omitting "factual content" and the history that has shaped modern science.
    Dr Andrew Park, UK

    I remember GCSE Science as pure torture; I also remember (as an 11 year old) thinking the experiments we conducted were totally pointless. I have a deep and enthusiastic interest in science and technology, but I do not thank my school for that.
    George, UK


    The courses were more practical and interesting

    Tim Wesson, UK
    Years ago, I did the Nuffield Physics 'O' and subsequently 'A' levels. In these courses, there was plenty of experimentation, and the learning was fun. My school deliberately chose Nuffield because the courses were more practical and interesting, and it worked for me, at least.
    Tim Wesson, UK

    My own experience of science as a pupil at school in the UK fits entirely with the committee's conclusions. With so many fascinating stories to be found, say, on the BBC website for science - where are they to be found in the classroom? Unfortunately, the exam syllabus contains too much rote learning (esp Chemistry).
    Jonathan BSc (Hons) Physics and Astronomy, Indonesia

    I was one of the last pupils to take 'O' Level Physics in the late 80s. Back then, it was a challenging and often interesting subject that really stretched the brain. On the other hand, I was one of the first pupils to take 16+ (precursor to GCSE) Chemistry. The exam, if I remember rightly, involved just multiple choice questions, and filling in blank spaces. Sure, we all got good results, but it didn't prove much!
    Frank, UK


    The curriculum needs changing now if we are to have future scientists in this country

    Claire, UK
    Teachers do not get enough freedom to make science interesting with the current curriculum. The same topics are repeated every year throughout the pupil's school life and I am not surprised that they find it boring, I imagine the teachers do too! The curriculum needs changing now if we are to have future scientists in this country. I am a technician at a school and we need more pay, we struggle to make ends meet on what pay we receive. Yet we have to have as much knowledge as the teachers for our subjects.
    Claire, UK

    I'm a chemistry technician and completely agree! Poor pay, generally poor conditions, badly treated. The lessons do seem very rigid with no room for development or further, in depth studies.
    Matthew Morley, UK

    As a student studying chemistry I do understand that GCSE science is a bore at times. That said, coursework is an essential part of science as it teaches the most important skill for later on when people do research they have to learn how to work independently and write up reports.
    Gabriel Asseily, UK

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    "Politicans want to take the principle 'science is fun' into the classroom"
    The BBC's Kim Catcheside
    "It's more a complaint about the curriculum than the teaching"
    See also:

    11 Jul 02 | Education
    03 Jan 02 | Education
    16 Jul 01 | Education
    05 Mar 01 | Education
    02 Jan 01 | Education
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