In a few days, Science Week Ireland will begin, bringing with it a host of lectures, demonstrations, and good, clean, scientific fun. The aim of Science Week is, in their own words, “to promote the relevance of science, engineering and technology in our everyday lives and to demonstrate the importance of these disciplines to the future development of Irish society and to the economy.” An excellent cause, I’m sure you’ll agree, as science impacts, in some way or another, on almost every aspect of our daily lives.
Maybe I’m biased – I’ve always loved science, from the first moment I stepped into a lab, beginning my secondary school education, to the moment when I donned cap and gown to graduate with a BSc. I have always believed that a basic understanding of science is an extremely important part of any education, even if the student does not go on to study science at a higher level. You can perhaps imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that Science is not a compulsory subject at Junior Cert level.
I had always assumed that, while Leaving Cert science subjects were optional, Science as a subject was compulsory until Junior Cert. It seemed to make sense to me, considering that it’s an extremely useful subject, and that at least half (if not more) of all third level courses require at least one science subject to have been done at Leaving Cert level. I was honestly surprised to find that it is considered an optional subject in schools and is, as such, not a subject that schools are even obliged to offer to their students.
I have always felt that, for students just embarking upon their secondary education, one of the most difficult decisions that they must make is what subjects to study. After all, not studying Music, for example, at Junior Cert level will almost certainly preclude you from studying at Leaving Cert level, and similarly, will make attending a third level Music course nigh on impossible. By making certain subjects compulsory, schools hope to ensure that, regardless of what optional subjects a student takes, they can be sure to receive an education that is well rounded. How can any school not consider science to be a fundamental part of a student’s education, a subject that, at least until Junior Cert level, should be compulsory? Worse still, how can any school allow a student to begin their secondary level education with so many career options already closed off to them, and so many third level courses now beyond their scope, not due to inadequacy on the part of the student, but because the student may not be offered the opportunity to study science at all?
The goal of science week is to promote the relevance of science, something which, in my opinion, is even more important today than it has ever been before. The influence and impact that science and technology has on our lives has become so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible – who thinks of the detailed understanding of plant genetics necessary to produce viable crops when chopping tomatoes, or of the understanding of sound waves and their transmission when answering the phone? Surely it is crucial that people have some understanding of the world around us, steeped as it is in a rich history of scientific discovery and development.
The sad fact is that, perhaps because science is now so ubiquitous as to be commonplace, people no longer seem to feel the drive to study it. Uptake of study in various science courses remains consistently poor, and the rate of drop-off in science courses at third level is, frankly, embarrassing. I was, for example, one of just five students who took Computer Science in my 4th year in college. We shared a lab with students studying CSSE (Computer Science and Software Engineering), but between us all, we took up less than half of all the room allotted to us.
Almost without fail, when our politicians discuss the potential reasons why investors should choose Ireland, they will mention the high quality of our graduates, the progressive nature of our technology education, etc. If we are to live up to our reputation, we need to encourage people to study science, and enable them to do so. Those in charge of our curricula, namely, the Department of Education and Science, should make science education compulsory, and ensure that any student’s interest in science is not nipped in the bud before they’ve even reached their teens.
If you know someone who is starting secondary education, ensure that their school does offer Science as a Junior Cert subject, and encourage them to study it. Doing so will open up a world of possibilities, both in terms of career options, and further study options. If you know of a school that does not offer Science as an option for students, why not use Science Week to ask them why?
November 5, 2010 at 4:20 pm
This again? Seriously? What about the arts? The humanities? What about RELIGION? Shouldn’t they be compulsory? Are you suggesting that the children should be brought up already indoctrinated into thinking that they can find the answer to all of their questions through a microscope or in the bottom of a test tube? Will a child be able to find out about the morality of premarital sex, gay marriage and cloning in a Petrie dish? I didn’t think so. You love science because you happen to be good at it but what reason beyond that do you have for wanting to condemn children to a spiritually impoverished future? I dont see anything here beyond a convert blindly evangelising. And to think that scientists call us Christians blinkered!
No, I believe that science shouldn’t be compulsory and that the science that’s taught should be more monitored so that efforts are ade to make sure that a balanced science education is taught. How does corporate agenda “science” explain Reiki for example? They can, you know but they can’t patient it and sell it so they want us to believe it doesn’t happen? What about the great evolution debate? Do they teach all sides of it in schools or just the pro money antiGod point of view? Is that balanced? Of course you’ll probably say yes because that’s what you’ve been indoctrinated to say since the first day you started secondary school, you’ve never been taught to think or to question. Also how responsible is it for some one as influential as you to be posting 1 sided opinions like this ob your blog Zenbuffy? I trust I’ve made my point.
November 5, 2010 at 6:21 pm
Wow, Clearly Jack Mackarupp didn’t get an education in Ireland, where its compulsory now to have to study Religion and my sexual education consisted of a nun telling my class that Condoms don’t work and that AIDS was god’s tit-for-tat revenge on the Gays.
This wasn’t 40 or 50 years ago.
A well rounded education should teach all aspects life, be it math, politics, art, music, science, engineering and an optional amount of hat tipping to the church (Or even just a philosophy class).
Yet I see nobody question the relevance of Math in education, you need to be able to count, add, subtract, multiple and divide, You need to be able to manage data in front of you into something you can work with.
But the level of math in Irish schools also means that you can describe the motion of the planets, the rate of the rise of the tide, the speed at which the earth rotates and its angle to the sun at a given time. (Calculus is pretty powerful stuff)
But does this not challenge any ones beliefs?
I find myself surrounded by philistines who for some reason or another find science ‘boring’. Yet once you step back and see the incomprehensible nature of nature and the elegant truths which govern our universe explained in mathematics before you, nothing else will ever compare.
Truth is beauty, beauty truth. (to paraphrase an Ode on a Grecian Urn)
And to respond to your rhetorical questions, too much of science class is wasted on paying lip service to God. I’ve never had to sit in a class on religion class or had to read in a text book where the story of the crucifixion and resurrection is contextualized or contrasted with a little box saying that
“Many People do not believe in the resurrection or even in the existence of Jesus and that this currently a topic of much debate in the theological community”
By all means teach the controversy, just don’t stop at the science class door.
Why not tell children that Pythagoras didn’t have algebra and cast doubt over the validity of his theory… I mean it too is Just a Theory sold to us by the those with a corporate-mathematical-anti-god agenda…
I trust you make as little sense as possible.
November 9, 2010 at 12:20 am
Jack Mackarupp: as a student of religion and literature, my feeling upon reading your post is one of deep myötähäpeä (a Finnish word, roughly translatable as “vicarious embarrassment”). I won’t comment further.
ZenBuffy: excellent post. It’s interesting to see that the government’s rhetoric about Ireland’s scientifically-qualified workforce doesn’t always match up to the reality. Anyway, count me in as a big science fan. (Because, of course, one can be religious and deeply interested in science as well. For anyone who loves the splendour and variety of God’s creation, such studies are natural allies, not enemies.) I took science at junior cert level and carried on biology and physics to leaving cert level. (My school didn’t allow for the study of chemistry alongside those choices, so no scientific triple-whammy, alas.) I am very glad I had that opportunity and I believe every child in school should share that chance. In other words, it should be compulsory for schools to offer science. However, I disagree with the suggestion that it should be compulsory for students to take science. Anything that lessens a young person’s choice over their own destiny on the grounds that one knows better what they’d like to study than they do themselves strikes me as undesirable (and, dare I say it, a little condescending). What if they would prefer to study art, an extra language, business, or home economics? Who are we to say that such subjects are not valuable, or that any given student would not excel at them? Surely the choice should be left to the students. Of course, many students would benefit from compulsory science. And, personally, I would have to say that my hours studying business for junior cert were, in retrospect, a complete waste of time. It wasn’t a good choice. (If I knew then what I know now, I would have taken Latin.) But I still believe in leaving the choice up to the students. What I would agree to advocate, though, is a clearer explanation of what is involved in every subject choice (and what university courses one may study afterwards). More knowledge can only serve a better free choice.