Change the mindset, not the curriculum

Professor Louise Archer, King’s College, London and BSA Vice-President for Education

To make science a more fundamental part of society, science needs to be more accessible and meaningful for all – and young people are key to this endeavour. Most young people’s views of science and scientists are shaped by narrow, elitist representations and practices that abound within school science and the media (e.g. reinforcing science as ‘brainy’ and ‘hard’). Many good initiatives are trying to challenge this, but we need to reach all young people.

My idea means giving school science a comprehensive make-over. How? At King’s College London we have been working with teachers as part of the Enterprising Science project to develop a teaching approach to enable students – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – to connect with science. Teachers work with what young people themselves know and value – linking their experiences and identities with science – as part of normal classroom teaching to build ‘science capital’.

It is a change in mind-set, not curriculum. Initial findings are positive, showing increased student understanding and connection with science, but more importantly, more students are finding a voice in science and are seeing science as something that is a part of, not separate from, their everyday lives. As one 14-year-old boy explained: “We actually use it in our lives – other teachers just tell us and that’s it, we move on. Whereas [now] we actually learn from it and implement it in our lives”.

Louise is a Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s College, London. She has researched and written extensively on young people’s aspirations, particularly in relation to gender, ethnicity and social class including the 5 year ASPIRES study.

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