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November 01, 2017 Wednesday 10:11:35 AM IST

“Newton Did Not Have a Mobile Phone!”

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Is technology the only answer to GenNext success? An emphatic “No,” is the answer from Gareth Price, teacher, curriculum developer, writer and educational researcher. A Senior Research Fellow of Science Foundation and Faculty of Development and Society, Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, Mr. Price is deeply interested in inquiry and creativity in school science lessons.


Talking to Rajagiri Media, he elaborates on how education in its true sense would be an ideal combination of core human values and technology. “We cannot have technology OR things like resilience and synergy, we must have BOTH or neither will work.”


How would you instil in young children a love and curiosity for science?


I’m not sure we need to instil “a love and curiosity for science” in young kids -- perhaps we just need to stop crushing the love and curiosity that is already there! I know my own kids were intensely curious about the world. I’m sure yours are always asking questions and wanting to know “why” (it drives us mad as parents sometimes!) and I think this is a natural and healthy curiosity. Science is a way to help us understand the universe -- how can kids not love it?


I sometimes fear that our obsession with exams and grades and passes can take this very exciting activity (finding out about the world) and make it into something else (a chase for exams where only the “right” answer is valued). Teachers and schools are often controlled by government targets and the desires of parents to deliver “passes” and “qualifications” not “interest” and “ability”. This is not unique to India; in fact it is common amongst schools in the UK and in many countries across the world where I have talked to teachers.


How do students qualify for university in the UK? Are their scholastic skills assessed as per the grades

given or marks scored in exams? How university ready are today’s school kids?


In the UK students enter university based on their exam results and their personal statements. The exams will be similar to exams in India. They take them typically at 18 and most students will start at university before they reach 19. The personal statements describe some of the things they do outside their normal lessons. They may belong to a science club, or have a part time job which shows they can turn up on time and work hard, or be good musicians or be members of clubs or show a love for the subject they want to study.


UK universities tend to look for what we call “well rounded students” which means students that have enough qualifications but also the kinds of characters that show they will be able to cope when things get tough at college and also will make a contribution beyond just their lessons. If your son or daughter has a passion for something (science or music or even cricket!) encourage them to pursue this passion as well as their exam studies! It’s not

just about exams; it’s also about following your dreams.


How is aptitude measured?

Are there fool-proof scientific tools with which we measure aptitude or leaning toward a special subject? How does science education influence the attitude of students?


I do not think there is a “foolproof scientific tool” to measure aptitude or ability although many systems can help to give us some idea. I also think that the best teachers can tell if a student has a natural interest and aptitude for a subject – although they might not be able to say how they know. I’m also not sure what an “aptitude” for a subject means. Are we saying some people are born as mathematicians or born as scientists? I think it is much more likely that early experiences at home and school, their friends and interests encourage them in particular ways and because they are interested and engaged so they do better at school  in that area and so become more encouraged and so on.


Students typically have either a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.” In a fixed mindset students tend to think they know what they know because they are clever. Their cleverness is something that is fixed and they cannot do anything about it.


Students with a “growth mindset” believe their ability is something they can change. They believe that if they do not know something it is not because they are stupid, it’s because they haven’t learnt it yet. So, they approach failure by finding ways forward, perhaps asking friends, looking in textbooks or online, talking to their teachers or working harder.


My mother was told when I was 9 years old that I was mentally retarded and would never learn anything. Two years later I won a scholarship to the local private school, went on to university and now work as a researcher at university. If my mother had believed what she was told I would never have been encouraged and may not now be the person I am. Science education is important (it is the field I choose to work in) and can help students to succeed. However, other things are important too.


What sort of training and skill development does the system in the UK give to those who don’t qualify for university?


I believe that the UK has a very good university system. This is also shown by objective evidence of the research output of UK universities at every level -- up to and including Nobel prizes. However, we do not have quite such a good system for students who do not go to university (I think). Some colleges and employers provide very good “on the job” training and opportunities to develop (and maybe go on o university) but others do not. It varies.


How important is a STEM-based education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)?


I do not worry very much about what students are taught. I worry much more about how they are taught. The advantage of teaching STEM is that it allows students to see that, in the real world, problems are solved when scientists, engineers and so on work together. It is only in schools and colleges that the subjects are clearly split -- and that, I believe, is more to do with the convenience of teaching and assessment. So, if students are linking together ideas and skills from different subjects to get a better understanding and develop more skills that work well. Adding art to the mix is not a problem.


Is technology the only answer to GenNext success? Can we afford to neglect fundamental human core competencies like peace, synergy or resilience from the education process?


Technology is not the only answer. It is only one part of the answer, and not, I believe, the most important part. Most of our science has developed without modern technology. Newton did not have a mobile phone. Einstein didn’t own an iPad. Galileo never took a selfie or posted on Facebook.


However, technology can help if it makes students think. The web is a useful source of information (and a source of error so we have to use our brains when we search and find stuff!) and can be used by students and teachers


Your comment about “fundamental human core-competencies like peace, synergy or resilience” seems to suggest that using technology or focussing only on technology means we do not consider these other things. I think someone who likes and truly understands technology should also have an awareness of the needs of others and a desire for peace and be resilient etc. If they do not have these things I don’t think they will become good technologies -- or

happy and healthy human beings! We cannot have technology OR things like resilience and synergy, we must have BOTH or neither will work.


One of my lecturers when I did my first degree (many many years ago!) wrote a quote on the blackboard:“Science without conscience is but the death of the soul.’’ I often think of that when I think of the kinds of students I want to help schools produce -- not just scientists or technologists but varying, thoughtful, healthy human beings who also happen to enjoy technology and be good at it.