Why do some people want to become scientists, while others avoid science subjects in school at all costs?
Laura Brennan and Megan Oliver, Transition Year students at Dominican College Drumcondra, north Dublin, sought some answers to these important questions.
Both Laura and Megan are keen on science, and come from a school that is keen on science, judging by the number of projects at the BT Show in January this year from Dominican College. They are also at a crucial juncture in education, as they are about to enter the Leaving Cert cycle and need to make subject choices that will influence their careers.
The girls are ideally placed to judge what it is they like about science, what it is that others don’t like about science, and how can science be made a more attractive option for students at secondary level. The government should pay attention to their findings.
The first thing they are keen to ‘put to bed’ is the notion that teenagers are turned off science because of the perception that it is ‘nerdy’ and not something for the ‘cool’ set. They found, in their survey of their peers, that 80 per cent plus were not in the least put off by the perception of science as nerdy. One urban myth shattered then.
The reasons that science is not attractive to many, they believe, have more to do with the perception among some students that science is not relevant to their daily lives. For example, the students said, the group of students disaffected with science, don’t see why an understanding of the atom and its parts, has any relevance to their lives.
Another problem is that science is perceived as being hard, and that it is hard to get into university to study science subjects. This perception doesn’t stand up, said Laura and Megan, and they compared journalism and science at DCU. In 2010, they said, it took about 375 points to get in to study on a science course, while the journalism course was far more difficult to get into with, as it required 445 points. If people knew that it wasn’t so hard to get in to science in college, more might aim for it they said.
It was once the case that girls’ schools didn’t do science subjects, or perhaps only biology, and while things have changed in recent years, things are still not ideal for girls interested in science. They said there was not technology or technical graphics on offer at their school, while both were available at the boys’ school up the road. A lot more girls would be interested in technology than home economics, they said.
Ireland can learn from other countries in the teaching of science, the girls believe. For example, in Sweden, students have 800 hours of taught science per year, whereas Irish students do 600 hours. That extra exposure makes a big difference, the girls believe.
It is vital, the girls believe, that greater effort is made to spark an interest in science, and how the world works generally in students at a young age, before secondary school. For example, they said, people like to know how things work, so perhaps one way for primary teachers to ignite an interest in science would be to take things apart, such as a clock, and demonstrate how the pieces interact to make the clock tell time.
Also, it is important that students are taken out of the classroom situation more, and shown how science is relevant to their lives. For example, a trip to a science museum, or some other place could demonstrate the importance of science to all of us, they say.
The girls have some specific suggestions to increase the numbers of people taking science subjects at second level, as well as wanting to do science as a career.
Some suggestions from the students to encourage more people to aim for a career in science:
- Science should be mandatory up to the Junior Certificate. At the moment it is possible for students to pass through secondary school without doing any science whatsoever.
- There should be less Biology and more Physics and Chemistry on the Junior Certificate curriculum to encourage more interest in the latter two subjects.
- There should be at least one 40 minute class per week dedicated to understanding the mathematics behind a scientific concept, and vice versa.
- There should be less emphasis on rote learning and more on understanding.
- Girls should be encouraged to take science subjects, and especially honours maths as many might still not be confident enough to sign up for these subjects.