21st Century science - dumbed down?

Arguments continue over science education in the UK.

Twenty First Century Science is a suite of new GCSE science courses for 14- to 16-year-olds and all schools in the UK can start the courses from September 2006. Schools can continue to offer separate Chemistry, Physics, and Biology courses.

Critics such as Sir Richard Sykes (rector of Imperial College London) is among many attack the new qualification. He warned a "dumbed down syllabus" may stop those who did not study chemistry, physics and biology individually from getting into good universities. Sir Richard Sykes stated on BBC News: "If you wish to have a dumbed-down syllabus for the general population that's fine. But for those who really want to go on and study a subject in depth, and particularly go to a good university like Imperial, then they'll never get there unless they study the individual subjects and take A-levels in these individual subjects." He wrote in a report from the Institute of Ideas think tank that: "A science curriculum based on encouraging pupils to debate science in the news is taking a back-to-front approach... Science should inform the news agenda, not the other way round."

David Perks who is head of physics at Graveney School in London, describes the changes as a "dumbing down" of the subject in a critical essay published by the Institute of Ideas (it is this essay that triggered the argument).

Baroness Mary Warnock said: "What counts as an issue to be debated in class is largely, as David Perks points out, dictated by the press. Far too much teaching at school has already degenerated into this kind of debate, more suitable for the pub than the school room."

However, not unexpectedly, the UK Department for Education and Skills said the qualification would be academically rigorous while encouraging more young people to consider studying science post-16. The British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Societyseem to support the new course.

This project began because the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) was asked by the government to explore ways to modernise the science curriculum which was criticised in some quarters. Pilot course started in September 2003 at about 80 pilot schools.

The BBC article on this topic has some interesting reader responses!

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