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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special Issue - August 2003   
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 TABLE OF CONTENTS
 EDITORIAL
 'Let’s be proud of our researchers'
 Research: a vocation
 Choosing a mentor
 Momentum to move
 Drawn to the USA
 Everyday life in Japan
 Balancing the gender equation
 University challenge
 Migrating to the private sphere
 The incorruptible Marie
 National associations of students, PhDs and researchers

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EDUCATION
Title  A boost for science

Young people are becoming increasingly disenchanted with science. They no longer view scientific studies and careers as attractive.   Yet science can be fascinating and is crucially important in an increasingly technical world. So what can be done about it? Scientists, teachers and science museum curators have decided to act. Informal education, interactive Internet sites, continuous training and a more active approach to science teaching are just some of the methods they are using to spark renewed interest. 

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'I was far from being a good pupil, but I had a maths and physics teacher who inspired me to work. I did experiments at home, I watched science programmes on television, and sometimes I knew the subject matter even before the lesson began. After that, it was plain sailing.' All the way to Munich's Ludiw-Maximilians University in fact, where Florian Berberich did a degree in physics. This was followed by a doctorate at the Rossendorf Research Centre (DE), which finally led to a research post at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble. 

A lack of imagination
In science, as in many other subjects, school is crucial in arousing an initial interest. But teaching approaches too often seem to lack imagination and there is growing concern at the way young people are becoming disenchanted with science and technology (S&T). Two recent surveys on the attitudes of Europeans towards S&T(1) proved revealing. In candidate countries, the majority of respondents – 52%, compared with 40% for the EU – cited earnings and job prospects as the main reason why students are not studying science. In the EU, 67.3% of the young people interviewed attributed their lack of interest to the boring nature of science lessons and 58.7% said they were too difficult.

'The reasons for this lack of enthusiasm for science are complex,’ explains physicist and teacher Antonella del Rosso, head of education at the EU’s particle physics laboratory CERN (see box ‘Retraining at CERN’). 'Science classes are generally seen as being very hard. If they are optional, they are avoided. If compulsory, many students do not really follow and try to just scrape through as best they can.' 

As a result, the numbers choosing science subjects at university are declining dramatically. In France, for example, the numbers are down from 133 000 in 1996 to just 98 000 in 2001-2002. The European report Strata-Etan(2) states that the number of students choosing the basic sciences (chemistry, physics, maths) have declined by a third in recent years in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Some consolation can be found, however, in the fact that figures are remaining steady – or even increasing – for the more recent disciplines, such as biology, information technology, as well as earth and environmental sciences.  

Informal education
New initiatives are being launched all over Europe to encourage more active and inventive teaching methods as a means of giving a much-needed boost to science education. These range from science games for the youngest children to continuous training for teachers. Museums are giving free rein to their imagination, travelling exhibitions are taking to the road, competitions are being launched, and new ideas are flowing freely. The organisers are convinced of the benefits of this 'informal education' as a vital alternative ways of boosting interest in science and, hopefully, in scientific careers. 

Of course, museums can only play a part if pupils can actually reach them – which is not always the case for rural schools – and if teachers are able to find a slot in the school timetable for such extra curricular visits. There is always the Internet, of course, which enables teachers and pupils to download documents, join clubs, enter virtual competitions, and generally find excellent ideas for making science more appealing.

The stakes could scarcely be higher. 'Science is part of a civilisation's general culture,' stresses del Rosso. 'Especially [as] technology is so much a part of our everyday lives, and there can be no technology without research. There is a real danger of people disconnecting from the world of science, if we do not train future generations in the scientific developments which are all around us.'  

(1) Europeans, science and technology – Eurobarometer 55.2 December 2001 (survey carried out in the Member States) and Eurobarometer – Candidate countries 2003

(2) Benchmarking National R&D Policies, Human Resources in RTD, Strata-Etan expert working group, Final report, 21.08.02


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  Teachers: passing the baton



There are approximately 4.5 million teachers in the EU, which is about 3% of the active population. In Germany, the figure is 2% and, in Belgium, 5%. On average, 60% of teachers are aged over 40.  In primary education, this proportion ...
 
  Retraining at CERN



CERN runs two kinds of teaching programmes. Since 1998, the HST (High School Teachers at CERN) programme has been held during the first three weeks of July and is attended by teachers from all over the world. More recently, the new, shorter ...
 


   
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  Teachers: passing the baton



There are approximately 4.5 million teachers in the EU, which is about 3% of the active population. In Germany, the figure is 2% and, in Belgium, 5%. On average, 60% of teachers are aged over 40.  In primary education, this proportion soars to 78% in Germany and 74% in Sweden.

At secondary level, it is in Italy that ageing is most apparent (91% of teachers are aged over 40 at lower secondary level, and 82% at upper secondary level). In France, 16 000 teachers will be retiring between 2002 and 2006. Ireland is having problems recruiting science and maths teachers. The Norwegian Teachers’ Union estimates that an extra 20 000 teachers will be needed between now and the year 2005. 

The Strata-Etan report cites a number of examples of good practices. The Netherlands, for example, is offering retraining for engineers and researchers in the private sector to fill vacant teaching posts. Sweden and the United Kingdom are looking at ways of improving teacher status. The German Foundation for Science has launched a six-year programme to support a number of initiatives to improve the quality of science and maths education, in particular through multidisciplinary projects, which also include courses in pedagogy and sociology. 

  Retraining at CERN



CERN runs two kinds of teaching programmes. Since 1998, the HST (High School Teachers at CERN) programme has been held during the first three weeks of July and is attended by teachers from all over the world. More recently, the new, shorter PhT (physicsteachers @cern) is a three-day course which ends with the launch of a competition to find the best teaching project supported by particle physics laboratory. This aims to encourage direct contact between teachers and 'science in action', and to provide teachers with information they can use in their lessons. The programme dates are published on the CERN website. 

CERN funds the HST programme in full and teachers pay nothing. For the PhT courses, teachers only have to pay their travelling expenses. There is growing demand for both courses and teachers are selected on the basis of their CV and motivations.  

'The HST programme offers teachers a very intense human and personal experience. An important element – also included in the PhT programme – is the direct interaction, without intermediaries, with the scientists. The two programmes enable teachers to recharge their batteries,' explains Antonella del Rosso of the education and communication group.  

This positive effect continues as teachers who have completed the programme are encouraged to maintain links with CERN. 'Teachers [contact] us for teaching material and they participate in other initiatives, in particular other European programmes, such as “Physics on Stage”. They also help us to develop teaching material and in popularising science.' 

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