15 April 2011

“Follow the yellow brick road!” “WHAT ROAD?!”

Averil Macdonald has an interesting take on science education from Physics World in 2006 that I just discovered.

It is a myth that students avoid difficult subjects - if they did, then veterinary science and medicine would not be oversubscribed, nor have more female applicants than male. ... Students flock to difficult subjects because they are difficult yet seem to offer the promise of prestige, status and money. ... until you can show them what they can get out of science - the jobs and the business opportunities - they will not see that it has anything to offer.

Bingo.

There is a second problem besides that students don’t see the job opportunities. Even if a student does get that there are jobs for scientists, they have almost no clear idea how to get to them.

Let’s say that you are excited by WordLens, an app that came out last year for smartphones that translates signs from one language to another. It’s the sort of technology that not too long ago, I wouldn’t have believed I would see in my lifetime. You want to get a job working on creating a real-time audio translation device (a la Star Trek’s universal translator). One person could speak into it and you would hear a translation slightly later, for all major languages.

Man, even I barely have an idea of how to start on that sort of career path... and I’m a professional educator and scientist. What hope does a high school student have in figuring out how to navigate that career path?

In contrast, high school students see a very clear pathway to other professions. Bachelor’s degree with good GPA, then medical school. At the end of it, you are a physician who can either work for others in a hospital, work for yourself. All the health professions have this advantage over other most science careers: a completely unambiguous career path.

This matter is relevant to the many who keep saying we need to improve science education, including business types. It’s not going to matter how many “technical jobs” are out there if each one is so dramatically different the road to each one is obscure.

Hat tip to Karen James.

Alos, now that I’ve reached the end of this post, I wonder if this is just a very long way of saying, “I agree with Drugmonkey”?


Photo by unsure shot on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

Karen James said...

"...the many who keep saying we need to improve science education, including business types."

These types are always infuriating me with their unsupported assumptions that a) there aren't enough scientists and b) scientific careers are lucrative (for the scientists).

I would prefer a focus on science education and appreciation for all, regardless of career path. Science is a way of life, a world view, even when it isn't a career.

That said, you are spot on about the path being far too hazy!