My friend and colleague Alom Shaha drew my attention to a document written at the start of the current attack on GCSE Physics. The document was called Beyond 2000: Science Education for the Future: A report with recommendations (31 page pdf document) . The document has apparently been very influential and as one reads it there is a great deal to agree with. However, there are a few critical areas in which, with the benefit of hindsight it is possible to see how failings in the report have been translated in catastrophic failings in our exam system.
I hope to comment more on this in future weeks but one quote is central to two profound failures of our currents system:
FOR THE MAJORITY OF YOUNG PEOPLE, the 5–16 science curriculum will be an end-in-itself,which must provide both a good basis for lifelong learning and a preparation for life in a modern democracy. Its content and structure must be justified in these terms, and not as a preparation for further, more advanced study.
To say this is not, however, to disregard the needs of those young people who choose to pursue the formal study of science beyond age 16. The curriculum needs to cater for this choice, as it does for other personal and socially valuable choices and interests.
RECOMMENDATION ONE The science curriculum from 5 to 16 should be seen primarily as a course to enhance general ‘scientific literacy’.
One can see how this concept of education for scientific literacy is the central hub of modern GCSEs. However, it is a task at which the exams and the courses fail dramatically. And additionally they profoundly disregard the needs of those young people who wish to pursue the formal study of science beyond the age of 16. Summarising, this well meaning report has been badly implemented.
Later in the report there is talk about the importance of narrative. And this is something with which I profoundly agree. The difficulty is that the real narrative of science – which is powerful and compelling – has been replaced with a series of tales barely more coherent than the ‘Just So stories‘. Real narrative has been replaced by Fairy Stories which provide no coherent framework for understanding science.
I will try to provide more commentary on this in the coming weeks. But for the moment I invite to read the report. And weep.