In 1992, 94.1 per cent of Australian high school students studied a science subject. In 2010, that proportion had dropped dramatically, with just 51.4 per cent doing science. What happened, and how can we make science a more appealing subject?
Way back when I went to high school, it was taken for granted that if you wanted to get to university, you would study both physics and chemistry. I had originally planned to do both, until the first day of year 11, when I realised in the nick of time that it would be far more useful to me to study French rather than chemistry. So I switched subjects, to the horror of the science department and the school guidance counsellors. It didn't make any difference to my scores — even when I dumped physics in Year 12, I was dux of the school. But for all that, the combination of 4 unit maths and computer science meant I wasn't exactly missing out in the science area.
These days, it would seem missing out is all too easy. The research by the Australian Academy Of Science suggests that a continuing emphasis on university graduates is making life tougher for the growing numbers of students who complete year 12 but don't want to go on to further study. Lead author Professor Dennis Goodrum put it neatly in the announcement of the research:
The belief that students only take science subjects in preparation for university has resulted in an overcrowded curriculum. This encourages science to be taught in a traditional way which assumes that students know little and the role of the teacher is to fill their heads with new facts and knowledge.
Recommendations in the report by the Academy to improve the numbers of students studying science include reassessing the amount of content in each course, improving science teaching resources, making courses more practical and engaging and encouraging better teaching. (It would presumably also help if there was just one national curriculum for science rather than a hodge-podge of state-based systems.)
How much science did you study in school? Wish you'd done more, less, or just had a better teacher? Share your thoughts in the comments.