Simon Jenkins on Britain's science curriculum

"If I were a scientist or mathematician I would plead for my subject to be optional after primary school."

- Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian

Jenkins' article comes amidst a media furore in Britain in the past few weeks following the announcement that the GCSE school curriculum will move away from rigorous science teaching in favor of more 'relevant', issues-based discussions around current topics such as global warming, GM foods, health and diet. As the quote demonstrates, Jenkins obviously feels that this watered-down version doesn't go nearly far enough.

In a rather intriguing conspiracy theory, Jenkins also speculates that scientists are pushing the old curriculum in order to populate the universities with 'press-ganged' lab assistants – he is obviously not familiar with how much trouble it is to look after a three-month placement student in a lab and how little useful research usually results from such a stint.

Scientists have come out heavily against the decision, saying that a well-educated population needs to know about science and, moreover, that students who want to specialize in science won't get the basic grounding they need. Jenkins and others, however, believe that a science education should not be mandatory and that for many years, other disciplines such as history and economics have suffered from the government's emphasis on 'mass-science' teaching. Meanwhile, he claims, the old science curriculum was so boring that the number of students wanting to persue it has plummeted – except in fields, such as medicine, where the jobs are plentiful.

Nevertheless, Jenkins clearly feels his stance is not anti-science:

If I were a scientist or mathematician ... I would crave [these subjects] as a specialism for the highly motivated, like classics or medicine. I would want no army of sullen recruits telling the world that my subject was "boring". Science should claw back its 19th-century glamour. The new syllabus does that, accepting that mass science has shot its bolt. It returns this challenging subject to what, for the majority, should be its proper place, the land of curiosity and wonder.

Should science become just be a 'gee-whiz' phenomenon for the majority, a platform from which to discuss current events? Or should all kids have some idea how the world around them works? Interesting decision.

You can read the rest of the article here, where a comments debate still rages.