20 October 2008 00:00 [Source: ICB]
WHAT HAPPENS TO CHILDREN'S LOVE OF SCIENCE?
You remember how it was at school when you knew the answer to a question (or thought you did) and really wanted the teacher to pick you? Arm straining out of its socket, desperate to call out: "Miss, Miss, ask me, ask me"?
Well, that was what I witnessed in a science lesson I was in a few weeks ago. Let me set the scene. A multicultural school in inner London, a year-two class (that means 30 six to seven-year-olds) with a broad range of abilities and special needs. A very excited year two class. Why? Because a man from the education department of a large international oil and petro-chemical company was talking to them about how candles burn.
I was on the final school experience of my teacher training after deciding on a monumental career change from petrochemical journalist to primary school teacher. And one of the most valuable things I have learned about science in school over the past year is that children LOVE it - the boys and the girls.
So when the man from the big company came in to elicit and expand the pupils' knowledge about where wax might come from, why a flame on a gas cooker is bigger than a candle flame and other such intriguing questions, the arms were indeed straining out of their sockets. It was an excellent lesson. The man was astounded at one boy's response to a question that he had never had answered correctly before.
So I really have to ask - what on earth happens to children's passion for science as they get older? UK university science departments are closing down UK secondary schools are desperate for science teachers. And everybody knows the strain the lack of new recruits is putting on the chemical industry in Europe.
Perhaps it is the switch from the excitement of discovering the world through science as a child to being swamped by text books as a teenager that does the damage. A recent report from Ofsted, the government's schools inspector in the UK, meanwhile, stated that some teachers lack the confidence to teach science well - including primary teachers.
So could the industry help at all? Could it play a part in energizing teaching and putting the flair back into teenage science? I have little idea of how many petrochemical companies are supporting schools in Europe. But I will say this - you are certainly welcome in my classroom.
Jane Gibson is a former ICIS Chemical Business journalist
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