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Sunday, March 6, 2011

The U.K. about to shut down engineering and science?

This just in from the BBC:

"Several universities have warned they may be forced to close science and engineering courses if the government limits visas for foreign students.

Sixteen university vice-chancellors have written a joint letter to The Observer saying the plans would have a profound effect on university income."

I really like the honesty expressed here. The reason universities want foreign students is so they can make money from running courses that those students want to attend. The interesting part here is that the issue is science and engineering courses.

I have been noting of late, the U.S. President's obsession about teaching science and math. Although this story is from the U.K. the lesson is the same. Either American and British students simply don't like science and engineering, or else their universities have produced far too many science and engineering degree programs.

It doesn't matter which of these is the case really. It is clear either way, that the reason President Obama is saying science and math nonstop is that he is getting pressure from many quarters, especially universities.

Now as a long time professor of Computer Science, I am well aware that the vast majority of students in U.S. masters programs in computer science are from India and China. This is true of engineering as well. If the supply of Indians and Chinese were limited in the U.S. most university graduate programs would shut down.

Now, I have no stake in this whatsoever, but I do have a point of view, that the British and American authorities might want to listen to. The math and science programs in high school (and college too) are so awful that they put off most prospective students. The Indians and Chinese persevere in their country's version of those programs because they know that that is their ticket out. The U.S. and U.K. students have no such motivation.

We might consider building curricula that cause children to get excited about science and engineering, if that is indeed so important to do, by making some compelling programs. I am building a first grade engineering curriculum at the moment, not because I care about what happens in graduate school but simply because I know little boys like to build things and I think it would be fun for them.

In order to make a change in who applies to graduate school, you will need to change high school. But high school has been the same since the nineteenth century.

Get rid of the nonsense that is high school math and science and teach kids how to reason scientifically and how to build things and we will see a change.

Why isn't this avenue the one that is being taken? Simply -- because it would take longer to do that than any politician's term will take. No politician ever proposes a long term strategy. High test scores and more testing is a short term strategy that will never achieve any result at all.

Make it interesting and they will come.


Paul Miller said...

What do you tell your grandchildren when they bring up their school experience? Seems like a slippery slope of sorts since if they have the majority school experience they are to be graded via tests soon on the assembly line.

Paul Miller said...

Roger is spot on when he talks about education but can we afford to re-tool in this budget year? I used spot on because it is so annoying when others use it I wanted to be part of the crowd.

Roger Schank said...

I always told my children that grades weren't important and that they didn't have to do everything the teacher said if they found it to be silly. But I added that they still had to get good grades anyhow. This helped them think about school more rationally. But, today school is worse than it was then. Now I am simply trying to build an alternative