Hands-off, turn-off?

April 26, 2002

Your coverage of the Roberts report's finding that there is a looming shortage of high-level maths, physics, chemistry and engineering skills in this country ( THES , April 19) rightly emphasises the need to improve the quality of teaching in the classroom.

But we should not neglect the role of the informal education sector in supporting teaching in the classroom. At a time when fewer students are apparently choosing to study science and engineering at school and university, attendances at science and discovery centres across the country have never been higher. We need to understand better why the science in science and discovery centres is such a turn-on, whereas the science in classrooms is often such a turn-off. Is it a question of hands-on, turn-on; hands-off, turn-off?

This country has witnessed unprecedented growth in the number of science-related visitor attractions. We need to find ways of harnessing the pleasure that students experience in hands-on science and discovery centres to the business of learning about science and technology.

More than 90 per cent of the British public live within a comfortable journey time of their nearest science and discovery centre. As a result, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to effect a step change in the quality of science and technology education nationally.

John Durant
Chief executive

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