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The importance of science

It is important that the UK has enough well-qualified scientists to meet the demand, but there is much evidence to suggest that there is a shortfall in the numbers of young people coming through into science-related occupations. This explains why science continues to hold core subject status with the National Curriculum. The ASPIRE Project reported concern that women, and working-class and some minority ethnic groups are under-represented in the study of science, especially in the physical sciences and engineering (Archer et al., 2013). Nevertheless, scientists in the UK remain among the best in the world. Schools and universities prepare the most talented and able scientists extremely well, but there is a big gap in achievement between the most able and the least able pupils in terms of success in science subjects. Compared to other countries in the world, many young people in the UK who have potential in science fail to opt for science subjects that would lead them to careers in science. Overall, this situation is very worrying.

So why teach?

Children not only need to perform well in science in primary schools but also need to enjoy science and to recognise that science is important in their lives. Ofsted (2013, p.4) reported that the best science teachers set out first to ‘maintain curiosity’ in their pupils and that this not only fosters enthusiasm for science, but also helps pupils fulfil their potential. Children must find their science education stimulating and memorable so they continue to study science for as long as possible. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that many children do enjoy science at primary level (Archer et al., 2013), especially practical work (Ofsted, 2013), particularly when it is well taught and when they have ownership over some of their work. However, despite enjoying science, they do not see themselves as scientists and do not consider taking up a scientific job when they leave education. The ASPIRE Project (Archer et al., 2013) found that only approximately 15 per cent of young people aspire to become scientists. Surprisingly, perhaps, they concluded that at least among the 10–14 year olds in the study, negative views of school science are not the problem. Their findings showed that most young people report liking school science from Year 6 to Year 9 and that 42 per cent of Year 9 students were interested in studying more science in the future. Students also reported positive views of scientists and said that their parents thought that it was important for them to learn science. However, despite these widely-held positive views, the majority of 10–14 year olds do not aspire to become scientists.

Be an inspiration

The problem seems to relate to children not fully understanding what scientists do, except at a very superficial level. Archer et al. (2013) found that most students and families are not aware where science can lead to and that ‘the brainy image of scientists and science careers’ puts many pupils off. Children’s perceptions of science and scientists have been the focus of research for many years across the world. Although there may be some evidence to suggest that children’s perceptions may now go beyond the stereotypical view of the scientist, due to recent changes in the ways that scientists are presented in the media and to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives, clearly there is still a problem, particularly with girls continuing to see science as male dominated.

The challenge for you is to raise your children’s awareness of the importance of science in their lives, whether they are male or female, no matter what their socio-economic background. You need to help children not only to enjoy science and to be curious, but also to see the relevance of science in their lives. And as primary science educators your aim is to develop the children’s knowledge, understanding and skills. In science, the particular skills that help us in working scientifically are known as the process skills. To know what skills you need to be developing in children, take a look at the specific process skills below.

The 6 Process Skills

  1. Observation and questioning
  2. Predicting and hypothesising
  3. Gathering evidence: recording and presenting
  4. Interpreting findings
  5. Drawing conclusions
  6. Evaluating: identifying barriers and ways forward

This is an extract from Primary Science for Trainee Teachers