Oct 27, 2009

A long-term fix for science education

In Wall Street Journal three experts share their thoughts on how to improve math and science education in the US (Why we are failing math and science, Oct 26 2009). In short, they suggest:

  • recruit better teachers
  • spend more money to attract talent and reward excellence
  • use technology
  • scare people that if they don't compete with Chinese and Indians in education, they will fall behind
  • make K-12 education more competitive and bring business to education

Fear and business are certainly not good strategies, but these suggestions also ignore students as an active component of the system. Students need to value knowledge and education to succeed. So far science has been valued for its capabilities to drive business, medicine, technology, etc. "You see, science and math are very useful, because they can help you to become rich and successful. And they can help our country become richer and more powerful." This is a weak motivation to study math and science because a) connections are not that obvious, especially for children at a young age, b) there are other ways to become rich and successful.

Science and math are an essential part of overall learning that every person has to do. It's just part of everybody's life in contemporary society. Growing up includes learning to talk, count, read, think, do math, get some knowledge about how the world works. It is certainly not "fun" to learn and study, because it requires effort and perseverance. Yet one should study, not because there are great material and financial rewards for that, but because there is no other way. Knowledge and striving for knowledge are essential not as a means to something but as an end (a non-ending end). Unless this attitude is adopted, no money, genius teachers, or technology can fix any education system.