Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How school kills the scientific spirit.

Albert Einstein said it best "imagination is more important than knowledge" Here he comments on the importance of wonder in the search for knowledge. Einstein is famous for a few things. Firstly he proposed relativity as a theory, secondly for writing US President FDR about the possibility of a nuclear bomb in German hands and third for flunking his PhD exams twice. Einstein is the icon of the flunking student in school; primary, secondary or grad school!

Geologist Henry N Pollack wrote a book entitled "Uncertain Science, Uncertain World" which aims to reach non-scientists and the public at large about how scientists work and how science is done. It is about the problem of uncertainty of conclusions in science. But one chapter has an important commentary on science education. The reason why the public has a difficulty understanding science is because of inadequacies in science education.

Pollack writes "Children are born as natural scientists. They emerge in a strange world and are curious about everythiung surrounding them. They look, they touch, they listen, smell and taste. They make observations of this new world, and they processs and evaluate the stream of information coming at them from every direction. They explore, experiment,and learn from their mistakes".

Then comes the punchline...

"Then they go to school."

What ever happens in school anyway?

School introduces a new method of scientific inquiry. Science becomes not as a source of curiosity but as a recitation of accomplishment as Pollack writes. Students memorize facts. Knowledge of facts are tested. Gone is the childlike wonder of asking questions.

This continues on to high school and university. By the time the student gets to grad school, they have been so used to give answers rather than to ask questions. Thus they have a hard time doing independent research in which they HAVE TO ask the questions.

Profs are supposed to undo this but we have our own research and if we have to support research students they must partially work to answers the questions we have asked.

For the general public, people pass their last science exam puzzled. Science illiteracy has its day.

School according to Pollack kills a child's inherent curiosity. If this is the case, parents may have to provide supplementary learning and hobbies to stimulate curiosity. I think keeping an aquarium is a good way to go.

As my little boy would say. What's that? I have to be curious as he is at the end of a long day.


Dhon Jason said...

a very good point. =)

blackshama said...

Dhon Jason

Science teaching is always a challenge but it has its moments.