Science Education for the Future

The BES Policy Team this afternoon attended a meeting of Education Policy Lunchbox, a new network for those working in education policy which has arisen from the successful Policy Lunchbox series of meetings. Policy Lunchbox and Education Policy Lunchbox are organised by the British Ecological Society and Biochemical Society.

Hannah Baker, Education Policy Team at the Wellcome Trust, delivered a presentation on ‘Science Education for the Future’, the topic of a new report being prepared by the Trust and due out in June. The report will take a holistic view across the science education sector, to age 19, examining the curriculum, qualifications, assessment, continuing professional development and teacher training, amongst other matters. Attendees, from a variety of organisations across the education sector, were invited to provide comments and feedback on initial plans; full consultation with stakeholders will take place after the report is launched.

Questions raised in discussion covered how the sector could define what a scientifically literate population would comprise; educating young people to understand not only scientific concepts but to see science as a cultural activity and to understand how science works; and a possible tension between engendering scientific literacy and teaching the scientists and engineers of the future. A main issue for the Wellcome Trust, Hannah suggested, was whether students pursuing current educational routes were emerging with the right skills, demanded by employers. Are the routes through a science education at present what society ideally needs or should there be amendments to these?

The Wellcome Trust is also interested in improving science education research: What are the priorities for science education research in the short and medium term? How can we gain a stronger evidence base than currently, building on this to improve science education? These and other questions around improving the interface between science education research, policy and practice will be explored in the final report.

One very interesting point to emerge from discussion concerned the Wellcome Monitor, the results of the third round of which were published last week. This longitudinal study aims to analyse changing public attitudes to science and is published every three years. The most recent results imply that the notion that students find school science ‘boring’ is outdated; in fact, young people are interested and engaged with school science. Attendees expressed suprise at the findings, but colleagues from the Wellcome Trust attested to the reliability of the data on which the findings are based, with the Trust checking and re-checking the robustness of the methods and analysis. This positive message concluded an interesting and wide-ranging session.

The next Education Policy Lunchbox will be held on 20th April. More information is available from the Biochemical Society’s website.