The question posed by this project is not necessarily an easy one to answer. For a start, we could get into all sorts of complicated philosophical discussions about what “important” means. Or what “science” means. However, I’m always disappointed when I hear other science teachers saying trite things like “it’s important to teach science because science is everywhere”.
Science isn’t everywhere. If you look inside your fridge, you won’t find science. You might need science to understand how a fridge works and science may be responsible for the increased energy efficiency of your fridge, but science is not in your fridge.
A variation on the “science is everywhere” answer is “because we live in a technological world”. But you don’t need science to use your shiny new iphone. You don’t need science to use your satnav. In fact, the more lovely these gadgets get, the less science the person using them needs to know. Back when I was a young geek, building my own stereo, a little scientific knowledge was useful. Now when my ipod dies I can’t even open the thing to take a look. It is a mistake to think that people need to know about science to live in a technologically advanced society. Yes, we need scientists to help us make ever-smaller gadgets with ever-increasing functions, but the rest of the population does not need to understand science to use the technology or to appreciate it.
Another poor answer to this question, perhaps the one that winds me up the most, is “because there are lots of jobs that need science”. This is the possibly the most unimaginative response I have heard…and I’ve heard it from far too many teachers. Maybe it’s not their fault, perhaps they’ve been brainwashed by poster campaigns like this one:
It is depressing. Physicists worked out how to put people on the moon, they unlocked the secret to what makes the stars shine and they have just built a machine that will recreate the conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the big bang…and yet the people responsible for promoting Physics to our students come up with stuff like this. I know it’s a “careers” poster, but even so, I can’t help but think there are better ways to make a child stop and think that Physics might be worth studying.
I know that I am going to antagonise some of my colleagues in the profession by writing this…but the fact is that I have been deeply unimpressed by the responses from some teachers to the question “why is science important?” and that worries me. Because if science teachers themselves do not have a convincing answer to the question, it is hardly surprising if our students leave school without one.