Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dumbing-down science in the UK

See the article Critics attack new science GCSE
The new GCSE science curriculum has been branded "sound bite science" which takes a back-to-front approach.
Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial College London, is among the scientists to attack the core qualification, in which pupils discuss topical issues.

He warned a "dumbed down syllabus" may stop those who did not study chemistry, physics and biology individually from getting into good universities.
GCSE stands for "General Certificate of Secondary Education", a standard set of qualifications for most of the United Kingdom. According to Wikipedia, "Some commentators feel that the GCSE system is a dumbing down from the old... system (as it took the focus away from the theoretical side of many subjects and taught students about real-world implications and issues...), joking that it stands for General Certificate for Sitting an Exam."
But from this September, most are taking a GCSE in "scientific literacy for the 21st Century" - covering issues including global warming and mobile phone technology...

In a critical essay published by the institute, David Perks, head of physics at Graveney School, London, also describes the changes as a "dumbing down" of the subject.

He argues the new qualification will produce citizens without "a thorough grounding in the sciences" and suggests instead everyone should study separate chemistry, physics and biology.

Ethicist Baroness Mary Warnock, who has also joined the debate, added: "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."
The emphasis to make education "relevant" is political in nature, as a way to get students motivated to become activists on particular "hot" issues of the day. This kind of education seems to be most useful for either totalitarians or revolutionaries, depending on what issues are deemed "relevant". Also, this kind of education may appeal more to "feelings" which can be easily manipulated. Classical education instead teaches children more abstract and universal principles, facts that don't change with the political climate.

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