12 January 2012: Science Minister, David Willetts, yesterday met with six science students to hear their recommendations for the future of UK science policy.
The Minister was presented with a report of recommendations, summarising the views of 150 14-18 year old science students towards the state of UK science policy. Covering four specific areas, the students voiced their concerns and proposed a variety of radical recommendations for the Science Minister to consider.
Science and education
One of the most critical recommendations to come from the students was to make GCSEs harder, aiding authorities to better distinguish between those achieving the top grades. Additionally, they also called for the development of a new science GCSE aimed specifically at those wanting to enter a career in science, going above and beyond “citizen science” (basic science literacy) GCSE offered at present. Better standards in the classroom were also demanded, with students calling for an end to methodical practicals in favour of true experimentation in the classroom alongside a government commitment to recruiting more passionate teachers.
Science and the environment
Another, more radical recommendation was to establish a “Beef Tax”. The tax would be a levy on products, such as beef, which have a high environmental impact, encouraging Brits to choose more environmentally friendly foods. Additionally, the students also called for a greater education of the impact our lifestyle has on the environment, a government commitment to investing in green technology, and the implementation of a carbon tax system to avoid penalizing the world’s poorest economies.
Science and careers
Students recommended tackling the stereotype of scientists as “male, stale and pale” by investing in greater exposure to careers in science. They called for careers talks from interesting scientists, a wider availability of work experience in labs, more emphasis on science careers outside of medicine and a greater government investment in the science industry to encourage more students into STEM careers.
Science in the media
In order to relieve some of the tensions between the media and the UK science community, the students recommended breaking up media conglomerates to allow more viewpoints within the industry and a diversification of reporting on science issues. Additionally, the students want to see more scientists in the media spotlight and called for the government to establish checks between funders and scientists to avoid suppression of research and freedom of information.
The report was produced after science students gathered at the UK’s first ever science ‘unconference’ for young people, held at one of the UK’s oldest scientific institutions, the Royal Institution, and led by its L’Oréal Young Scientist Centre.
The Ri Unconference was led by the students and provided a unique opportunity to voice their thoughts and solutions to the problems facing the science sector today. The event showcased the importance of listening to young people and culminated in the creation of this report which was presented to Science Minister David Willetts with the hope of shaping future science policy.
Minister for Science David Willetts said: “Engaging the next generation of scientists is vital and it’s great to see young people being given an opportunity to participate in a debate on a range of important science issues. There are some novel ideas proposed and I will read this report with great interest.”
David Porter, manager of the Ri’s L’Oréal Young Scientist Centre, added: “At a time when young people are coming under such scrutiny, it’s really important that they are given the opportunity to shine. We are too quick to underestimate young people and take responsibility out of their hands but this report, following the Ri Unconference shows exactly the opposite.”
Xanthe Gwyn Palmer, 16, who took part in the Ri Unconference and presented the report to Science Minister said: “It’s not often that students are given the chance to get their voices heard on issues that matter; it’s even rarer that we get the opportunity to change things. I hope there are more events like the Ri Unconference
Having read the above article, I have drawn the conclusion that those 150 students, that had the delightful opportunity to speak with the Science Minister, ought to be shot.
I shall explain my detest for increasing the difficulty of GCSE Science examinations in further detail. At this present moment in time, I believe there is sufficient differentiation between those pupils who are successful at school and those who are no so. Increasing the difficulty of examinations, would only increase that level differentiation, which is one of the biggest issues in society, a giant gap in community and all that. Making education harder, only adds yet another factor to the ever increasing list of mediums. For example, a student who does not achieve many qualifications at the end of mandatory education, is likely to remain unemployed and thus I can infer that increasing the difficultly, will only further increase the amount that are failing, therefore, consequently increasing the unemployment rate further, something which I strongly advise against for obvious reasons.
I suggest that they focus their entire attention and desire to improve the education in this country, by removing the useless areas of the syllabus, of which I feel amount to the majority and instead, teach students today insightful and beneficial topics by teachers who are good at their job - "teach" and avoid solely relying on worksheets and textbooks to do their job for them.
To further reiterate my point, I shall provide a suitable example displaying my personal experience with the education system in this country today;
During the Years 7-9, I was forced to take part in 1 hour of Music each and every week. This equates to 117 hours over the three, and I, much like many others in my class, knew for sure that I was not going to chose to pursue this subject at GCSE, simply because pupils were required to be able to play a musical instrument to a satisfactory level in order to persevere with this subject. I could have correctly informed you, way back in Year 7, that I was never, ever, going to learn how to play a musical instrument and I beg the question, "Why are students, who chose not play a instrument, not allowed to spend all those hours, improving other key subjects that they considered more beneficial to them and that in the long-term, would mean that they achieve a better set of qualifications?!".
I understand that someone is likely to reply, stating that it is of good nature to be aware of music and/or how to play the keyboard, however, I can assure you that I would rather eat my own hand than touch another musical instrument for the rest of my life!
why go backwards instead of forwards?
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