According to a survey of more than 1,400 junior cycle students, this sums up prevailing attitudes towards science in the classroom: “I find science extremely hard and I really would drop the subject if I was allowed but I have to do it. I hate science — I’m not any good at the subject at all.”
The responses from 1,427 students from 10 secondary schools in Munster, alongside the views of 77 teachers, shows that while the majority of those questioned believe science is an important subject in general, getting people to engage with it as a subject continues to be a challenge.
The research, conducted by Beulah McManus and submitted to the University of Limerick, suggests that various factors play a role in whether or not a student engages with science as a subject — from the role of teachers and parents, to whether or not any introduction to science at primary level has primed children for the subject at second level.
It also said: “Teachers and students agree that the junior cycle science course ‘is so outdated’, with a high proportion of comments from students and teachers referring to the science course as “lacking relevance to [students’] everyday lives.”
According to the research: “It appears that, in the main, students do find science at school interesting but do not necessarily look forward to science class or want to study as much science as possible in school.
“It appears that students generally have an extreme view on it, either ‘loving’ it or ‘hating’ it.”
It also suggested that many of the students who reported enjoying science stated that they have done so ever since they were a child.
While 83.5% of students surveyed agreed “science is important for helping us to understand the world”, the responses showed that this did not translate into the number of people wanting to continue studying it.
According to the study: “The perception of science in school as a difficult subject was ubiquitous in the data.
“Despite students’ general belief that science is a difficult subject, the majority of those surveyed (58.4%) would like to study a science subject for their Leaving Certificate, with just less than a quarter (22.0%) stating that they would not like to further their studies of science for the Leaving Certificate.”
However, very few students would like “to become a scientist” or “would like to work with people who make discoveries in science”, even though many believed science “has opened their eyes to new and exciting jobs”.
While two-thirds of third years agreed that “science in school is interesting”, 76.4% claimed they “don’t understand the point of studying science in school”.
The study also noted how transcripts from students’ focus groups indicated that “science is not ‘done’ or studied to a great extent in primary school, despite its introduction in the primary school curriculum in 2003”.
Teachers also suggested the primary school introduction to science and open days may lead to “false expectations”. One teacher referred to pressure “to put on ‘flash/bang’ magic shows and students think all classes will be like this”.
The study’s recommendations include looking at the interactions between students and science teachers as students progress through junior cycle.
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