In the UK we have four different education systems thanks to the UK being made up of four different nations. In Scotland we have always had an education system different to that of the rest of the UK. For example, our school leaving examinations, “Highers”, were first examined in 1888 and although they have evolved and widened over time they are still the main qualification for gaining university entrance over 125 years later. I suspect in Scotland we may have the longest lasting continuous public examination system in the world. Since devolved Assemblies with responsibility for education have been set up in Wales and Northern Ireland the education systems there have started to diverge further from that of England. As England is by far the largest of the four UK nations, with 85% of the population, many of the articles or information written about “UK education” only describe practice in England without reference to the different practices elsewhere in the UK.
In Scotland we are coming to the end of a major set of curriculum changes which began in 2004, and which goes under the banner title of “Curriculum for Excellence”. These changes have been implemented upwards through the education system with the final changes to the courses in the final year of secondary school coming into force this coming school year, 2015-2016. The changes have allowed for an updating and modernisation of content, a reduction in the prescription of content and a greater emphasis on skills than before.
However, although the structures and procedures within different education systems may vary, I find the content is often largely the same. Science in still science no matter where we live. This was once again emphasised to me at the Science on Stage Festival 2015 which took place in London on 17-20 June. I returned home enthused from this vibrant event where I was able to discuss science education with teachers from across Europe and Canada as well as with a few visitors from elsewhere. We all have much in common and are often dealing with similar issues and problems. In the week that has followed I have been contacted by teachers looking to collaborate, including writing an article for teachers in the Netherlands, sharing resources with teachers in Canada and Italy as well as having another Canadian teacher visit me and my school. Science is truly an international language.
I have been fortunate during my career to have had opportunities to travel to major science education conferences and professional development activities across several continents. Being a teacher in a small nation to the north of a much larger neighbour which has a different set of science education jargon terms has perhaps prepared me well to interpret and see how ideas can be transferred from one education system to another. I have always been able to come away from these events with ideas that could impact on my own practice in my own setting.
The Science on Stage Festival strapline is “from teachers for teachers” and as a result of having hundreds of classroom teachers present with displays of their work there were good ideas to be seen or projects to hear about, even for a seasoned veteran such as myself. It was also good to hear about some of the original research being done by school students, with the guidance of an enthusiastic teacher of course. This included investigating how dolphins produce bubble rings from a school in France and a wide range of research activities by students at the Simon Langton School in the UK. It was also good to see good science being done with kindergarten children in the Czech Republic and how STEM and entrepreneur skills were bringing disaffected older students back into education in Portugal.
I would strongly advocate attending events, including those by Scientix, and speaking with fellow teachers about the learning and teaching of science to help rejuvenate, enthuse and motivate.
Article written by: Stuart Farmer, Scientix Deputy Ambassador