Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Science and the education system.

For a while now, people have been talking about why there aren't many girls taking the sciences at A-level, especially physics. I sometimes think that I regret not taking physics at A-level as it's a subject I really enjoy now and it would have helped me hugely during my first year of University. However, the more I think about it, I realise that I didn't choose physics because physics A-level looks extremely boring. I'm not saying that physics is boring; I find it fascinating, especially learning about the origin of the planets and why we're here but at the time of choosing my A-levels, I couldn't think of a more mind-numbing course. I think this opinion can be extended to the majority of the sciences at A-level, as to pass the exams you don't even need to understand key concepts, simply memorise them, throw in some key words and BAM, you've got full marks. Well done you.

Chemistry is obviously my favourite subject, but even I didn't find the syllabus or the way of "learning" during A-level chemistry inspiring at all. Instead of focusing on why certain complexes produce gelatinous precipitates and the chemistry behind this, you simply had to remember to write down the word 'gelatinous' in the exam and you would be fine. I knew this wasn't learning. Okay, there's always going to be key concepts and words that you need to remember because they're important, but the idea behind science qualifications like this isn't understanding, it's memorisation and that's not what science is about. How are young people and especially girls supposed to pick these A-levels when there are no real-life applications behind them? Simply saying 'This is this, accept it. Oh and remember to write this word in your answer.' is not representative of the problem-solving and creative thinking that many scientists use on a day to day basis. This is why I didn't choose physics at A-level. I really didn't enjoy it as a subject at school because I couldn't relate to it. The only part of physics I enjoyed at school was learning about nuclear fission and radioactive decay as we were given actual examples of this. I think when it comes to science, the way you learn is by hands-on experience, not sitting and memorising. Thankfully, I had a brilliant teacher who actually studied chemistry at Uni (a rarity these days) and hence was really enthusiastic about the subject and always throwing in anecdotes and random facts related to what we were learning. I don't hesitate to say that if it wasn't for him, my love for chemistry probably wouldn't have developed as much as it did.

The way A-levels are taught kind of sets you up for failure when you reach University. All of a sudden you have vast amounts of information thrown at you and you quickly realise that memorising it all will be impossible and that's where I suddenly realised that I didn't know how to learn. Thankfully, there are a lot more practical sessions at Uni and these are what most helped me learn the concepts we were introduced to in lectures. My scores in my lab sessions have been consistently high throughout both semesters, simply because I enjoy them and I get to 'do stuff' whether it be carrying out a recrystallisation or playing around with chlorine gas (I use the word 'playing' loosely. Please don't play with chlorine gas.). All in all, the way A-levels and even GCSEs are taught makes science seem like very boring fields, when actually they are amazing and I can't imagine doing anything other than a science degree.
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