Frankly Newton, We Don't Give A Fig
About a month ago, the British Government set up a new science curriculum with the snappy name Twenty-First Century Science GCSE. The idea was to fix a serious problem: courses like physics, chemistry and biology are not fun; they can actually be hard work. In addition, some of the people who teach these courses are not exactly the most exciting members of faculty. A lot of them could talk a hole in the side of nuclear reactor containment building. It’s tough to get young Nigel or Sophie or almost any teen-ager to sign up for courses like Physics or Chemistry.
So, instead of forcing students to study boring science stuff, the new classes are based on discussions of ‘science in the news’. Organic Farming, Global Warming and Mobile Phone Technology are a few of the catchy new topics. You and Your Genes is sure to be a hit, Radiation and Life will come in very handy in case of a nuclear attack, and The Uses of Cannabis is expected to attract 73% of the population of Britain between the ages of 13 and 55 (a huge spur to continuing education).
Quite what all this excitement has to do with training future scientists is not clear. However, if the future of global competitiveness is based on having highly trained organic farmers who can send a text message to a bird who glows in the dark while stoned out of their minds, Britain is on to a real winner here.
Of course, (as is always the case) there are a few spoil sports who think that dumping poor old Newton and his scientific heirs is out of order. David Perks, head of physics at Graveney School, London, describes the changes as a "dumbing down" science. In a particularly small minded attack, Baroness Mary Warnock says, "Far too much teaching at school has already degenerated into this kind of debate, more suitable for the pub than the school room."
H I’s Education Editor, Montagu Bothersby, based at the Pig & Whistle, North London, reports that the comments of the Baroness have deeply offended the regulars. Barman Sid Frost said, “If darts ain’t about calculus, and having a flutter on the horses ain’t about probability, and makin’ sure I pump one square pint every time ain’t about physics, then I’m a monkey’s.”
So, as the Government proceeds to tell Mr Newton to get stuffed, there may be a back-up plan. If global competitiveness turns out to be based on who can pass a friendly evening hitting the bulls-eye, winning a few quid on the ponies, and consistently making accurate liquid measurements while getting slowly pissed, there will always be an England.