How technology rekindles kids' interest in science

April 8, 2003

Brussels, 07 Apr 2003

Fewer and fewer young Europeans are choosing to study science. Exploiting the 'wired generation's' intuitive feel for technology could spark their interest in the science behind it.

Children learn intuitively about science and technology

In most European countries the number of young people choosing to study science subjects has shrunk steadily in recent years, according to a Eurobarometer survey last year. The reasons offered for this include unappealing and difficult subject matter, poor salaries in science careers and simply that science at school is not attractive enough.

This is a worrying trend. Funding for science education has been dropping in most European countries since the 1960s. This has led to a drop in science class time in schools. In an interview with RTD info (November 2001), Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin commented on the problem.

"Perhaps as a result of the shortage of funds, the teaching has become too theoretical, too mathematical in a way, and we must now make an effort to include an intuitive dimension," said Mr Busquin. "To do this, pupils must be able to spend a lot of time in the laboratory."

Teenage 'wired generation'

The European Commission has invested a great deal of effort to address this and other science and society issues facing Europe. What's more, Mr Busquin has spoken on frequent occasions about the media's role in communicating the value of European science and technology (S&T) – showing how young scientists are also "crucial to our economic prosperity" in the future.

But the question remains: do policy-makers and educators really understand what the teenage 'wired generation' wants? Participants in last week's 2003 New Media Conference in California, USA, 'Connecting with the wired generation: young people, digital technology and the media' had some useful tips.

The general message from the conference is not to insult children's intelligence by trying to "dumb down" the lessons. Children are especially intuitive about technology. "If you give kids something simple, you get four minutes of contact time. If you give them something challenging, they'll spend months working on it," said University of Texas professor, James Bower.

Another panellist, Tim Levell of BBC Newsround, was criticised by young people in the audience for saying his website appealed to kids mostly because of its bright colours and graphics, which perhaps undervalues the site's content, with its educational features on topics such as the discovery of salamander fossils and how parents can track their children using mobile phones.

But, importantly, it also has interactive and fun elements, such as message boards, fact files, quizzes and audio articles. 'Kid Scoops', on TIME's Kids website has similar child-focused news content – 15 young journalists from around the USA cover all sorts of stories, by children for children. One example is 11-year-old journalist Noah Sneider's interview with James Watson, Nobel Prize winner for his discovery of DNA.

Source: EU sources, Online Journalism, Berkeley University

Contact: research@cec.eu.int

More information on this subject:

Berkeley Conference: Young people, digital technology and the media

Children's BBC News: Sci/Tech

'Kid Scoops' on TIME for Kids: Interview with James Watson

RTD info Improving science's image

Fact: 75.7% of Japanese students 12 years and older own a mobile phone (ppt)

DG Research
http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/research/i ndex_en.html

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