I wish the SMH would check the research before publishing platitudes!

This article is from the December 22 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit http://smh.com.au/digitaledition.

US and China are investing heavily.

WHEN high school students were asked recently why they didn’t choose biology, chemistry or physics in their senior years many replied that they found it hard to imagine themselves as scientists, presumably wearing a white coat and huddled over test tubes in the lab. The response reveals a wide misunderstanding about the role of science education.

Studying science equips students with “scientific literacy” . While that may eventually lead to individual careers in any number of scientific disciplines, a general understanding of the scientific and technological foundations of the world we live in is just as relevant to almost any other job, and to daily life. This makes particularly worrying the newly reported decline in the study of the sciences at senior high school level, from 94 per cent of students taking a science subject in 1992 to 51 per cent in 2010.

We know there is a link between education and innovation, and between innovation and economic prosperity. It’s no surprise that the world’s most competitive economies, including the US and China, are investing heavily in education and training. In Australia, we are aiming to increase the number of 25 to 34-yearolds holding bachelors degree-level qualifications from 32 to 40 per cent by 2025. At the same time the federal government is pursuing an innovation agenda to “transform” existing industries and secure quality jobs for the future.

Innovation relies largely on investment in research and development. But the decline at the very earliest stages of scientific education is reverberating through the higher education sector, interrupting the path from school classroom to university lecture hall and on to industrial or university research team. The consultancy Access Economics warns that Australia’s innovation and productivity goals are at risk due to an emerging shortage of research skills.

The answer may be found in our schools. Students say they are interested in science. But almost 50 per cent perceive science as “hard” , a third were bored, a quarter disliked science lessons and most knew little about the range of science-related jobs on offer. Australia needs to do a lot more to make science education relevant, accessible and fun.

Copyright © 2011 The Sydney Morning Herald