The Government's science awareness campaign is a pointless waste of money for everyone, except for the government itself, which will claim it is doing something to secure our technological future. The UK's Science Minister, Lord Drayson, has decided that too few students are taking up science or engineering careers because they think that science is too hard and elitist:
"Continued success in science is vital to our future - and yet there is still the perception among many of our people that science is too clever for them or elitist in some way.So, his solution is to tell young people that science isn't hard or elitist! So there, job done.
"We must challenge myths like these if we are to build a prosperous, science-literate society, able to tackle the difficult issues that modern science presents and work them through to create the jobs and growth of the future.
Strangely, the press release announcing the Science [So What? So Everything] campaign links to the 2008 Public Attitudes to Science survey, which showed that awareness of, and attitudes, to science was high and increasing. So why the expensive awareness campaign?
The real issue of course, is that, in spite of the fact that young people are aware of the importance of science in their lives, fewer are choosing is as a career.
Let me suggest what the government ought to be doing to encourage the uptake of science careers:
- Keep science lessons difficult (for politicians, read 'challenging'.) Talented students are attracted by elite, high status careers, such as medicine. They will not be tempted by science if it is made too accessible. I want scientists and engineers to be clever — they should be seen as an elite.
- The government should properly fund blue sky science, rather than focus on research with short term medical or environmental benefits. The stingy approach to astronomy and particle physics funding over recent months was very off-putting.
- OFSTED should be reigned in and retrained: the education watchdog's penchant for fashionable trends, such as interactive whiteboards, computers and 'learning styles' has diverted attention from the skills teacher should be developing, i.e the one research has shown to work.
- Encourage talented, able scientists to become teachers by making teaching high status (and, yes, elitist). The UK's science education is already one of the best in the world, as I posted on before, but most Physics teachers will retire in the next decade.
An awareness campaign just allows the government to claim it is doing something, without having to actually tackle the serious problems that are stopping the country from attracting the best student into science and engineering careers.