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When the centenary of Einsteins E=mc2 was being marked last year, 2005, it was also reported that physics in Britain is in crisis. Profound problems face science education, said the Royal Society, while the Institute of Physics said that the shortage of physics teachers [is] worse than ever.
The reports were prompted by the Centre for Education and Employment Research (CEER) at the University of Buckingham, which in November published the results of a national survey into the current state of physics education for 14-18 year-olds in England and Wales.
They summarised their findings, based on a survey of 432 schools and colleges, as follows:
The Royal society also noted, While, compared to 1991, the overall numbers of A-level entries in 2005 were 12.1 per cent higher, entries in physics were 35.2 per cent lower, entries in mathematics were 21.5 per cent lower, and entries in chemistry were 12.6 per cent lower.
Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society, said: The profound problems facing science at A-level extend well beyond physics. We have consistently highlighted the general downward trend of students studying the sciences apart from biology and maths at A-level. If we fail to address this then we risk losing the ability to train the next generation of scientists, technologists and engineers.
The Government, and particularly the Department for Education and Skills, needs to wake up to the problems facing science education. It does not have a detailed strategy for tackling the problems in science and maths education and the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State did not even acknowledge that there are any problems in their speeches on education last week. These trends in science simply cannot be allowed to continue if the Government is to meet its own targets as set out in the Science and Innovation Framework published last year.
The Institute of Physics commented, This report confirms the anecdotal evidence that, although the problem was identified more than 10 years ago, government initiatives have had little impact on the number of physicists entering teaching and as a consequence physics in schools is heading for a crisis that will have major ramifications for the UKs economy.
What is happening in schools and colleges is not isolated. A crisis is also ongoing in the universities. There has been a trend in recent years for universities to restructure their science sections towards industry, engineering and technology (genetics and biotechnology in particular), while physics and chemistry departments have been under attack. In many cases, they have been shut down altogether.
So one might ask, what do young would-be physicists have to aspire to? And with a dwindling number of physics departments, where will new teachers be educated? Science is losing its prestige as society continues its decline.
Increasingly, the educational institutions at all levels are becoming what in capitalist jargon is called demand-led. Even the argument that physics education should be more attractive to students is a part of this, as well as passing the buck to the schools and letting the government off the hook. Demand is the means by which market forces are being introduced into schools, colleges and universities.
The government has a social responsibility to defend science. But while the ruling ideology of New Labour is pragmatism, that truth is what works, the development of modern science and education is held back even further. Arbitrariness becomes the determining factor in putting everything into the service of the monopolies. The right of the monopolies to compete in the global market is determining the direction of education, as well as of research and science as a whole. Science is being replaced by technology and education by training.
Society is in need of renovation, and a modern society is inconceivable without science; science is crucial to human development. It is extremely important for the future of society that science is defended. This will involve serious discussion of the way forward and opposition to the prevailing ideology, so that the youth and students are equipped with an enlightened outlook, and the future of a society fit for human beings is safeguarded.
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