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It's really boring
Students relegate physics to bottom of learning league, as science boffs demand more funds and tougher exams - 12 Mar 10
 
Year of Einstein bulletin for science pupils


Unless you live on the planet Zog, you will have probably struggled with physics.

Even I ducked physics at A level, prefering the creativity of chemisty and biology. I had a narrow escape - my friends who pursued life at Imperial College with the S papers and double maths were, at times, just a little bit scary.

They not only understood the codes of Einstein, they debated them with our lecturers. They just saw life, the universe and everything as the number 42. However, I now understand how physics is life, the universe and everything.

I do sympathise with the GCSE students in the bulletin I filmed who found physics "really boring". I lost the will to live in many classes where I had to measure velocity with ticker-tape - over and over and over again.

But scientists have come out of the labs and broken the egg-head stereotypes to deliver engaging (and understandable) TV programmes on some hardcore stuff like string theory. I'm on the edge of my seat waiting to see if the Large Hadron Collider at CERN will reveal the Higgs Boson particle.

But, five years on from filming the bored pupils who saw no application of physics to their mobile phones, the latest news is that they are still finding science a massive turn-off. Despite many schools amalgamating the traditional three sciences of biology, chemistry and physics into "science" (because we'd do that with French and German and call it "language", wouldn't we?) and making the assessments and exams so easy even my mother, who left school at 15, could pass them, the crops of our future engineers and innovators are dwindling.

Small wonder that physics gets a bum deal because there are fewer and fewer teachers who actually studied it to degree level. And those who go on about the pupils of today performing better than generations before them - because we were obviously stupid and Stephen Hawking and Tim Berners-Lee were just lucky in their exams - should take a look at the O level chemistry paper of yesteryear with all it millimol concentration calculations and the multiple choice question about whether the sun orbits the earth, the earth orbits the sun, or satellites orbit Mars. It's not rocket science to detect that perhaps the one is easier than the other - a lot easier.

Having witnessed first hand the abysmal knowledge of chemistry that first-year pharmacy students have - and having spent many hours in tutorials convincing them that, yes, they do need to know how to calculate millimol dilutions if they are going to be a safe pharmacist - I'd say that standards have fallen and science curricula are decaying faster than radioactive Beryllium.

So, Barack Obama has promised a hefty multi-billion investment in science in the hope that research will yield the technology for reversing climate change and Gordon Brown has ring-fenced money for UK science to protect it from the recession. But their efforts will be wasted unless the next generation of scientists can be enticed into a career that withe promise that pushing the envelope on innovation and exploration is not really boring.