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Learning About The World Is What Science Is - More Children Should Be Encouraged To See It As A Career

31/01/2017 10:21 | Updated 31 January 2017
Wall to Wall/ Stephen Perry

Like most children I was a chatty kid growing up. I asked lots of questions, I wanted to know how everything worked and I tasted a lot of ants on my kitchen floor while I was still crawling. Thanks to a small wood at the back of our house in France I was often knee deep in dirt, surrounded by spiders, hedgehogs and snakes - conjuring up all sorts of adventures with my sister and our two dogs, building moats and running around until we collapsed, exhausted, in a heap. I would spend hours watching birds, fascinated by how their eyes moved in their sockets , wondering what their tiny beating hearts were connected to - how it all worked, so wonderfully, on such a small scale.

So naturally I loved biology at school. But I wanted to know more - how all living things worked down to the chemical elements that made them up - so I also found chemistry fascinating and it made sense to study Biochemistry at University. Looking back, immersing myself in nature and the support of my teachers, as well as that of my parents, played a big part in this progression.

I'm very grateful that I get to work at something that I'm passionate about and I'm the first to say that whatever your passion is you should pursue it, no matter what it is. But to me science isn't really like everything else. If you're curious about the world, if you want to know how something works, you are already a scientist. Science simply gives you the means to understand what you are curious about. I think that's why young children have a natural aptitude for it, why they like it so much and do so well at it. Their inherent inquisitiveness is still in overdrive. Society hasn't knocked it out of them yet. They get to wonder, play and ask why, and in the right environment they are encouraged to keep doing so.

Research has shown that children in the UK are very good at science at an early age, but once they reach the age of around ten they can become disengaged with it. A lot of time and effort has been spent on trying to figure out why, particularly since we have a worrying deficit of STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Maths) graduates in this country - a shortfall of 40,000 each year in fact. This has detrimental repercussions for industry and the economy, but perhaps even more detrimental is the fact that children are losing their inquisitiveness and passion for the natural world. To me it's one of the most special things about being human. The more you look around, ask questions and find answers, the more astonishing and awe-inspiring the planet, and the Universe it is suspended in, reveals itself to be. And the more you want to protect it.

The challenges to overcome this problem are many - schools, parents and society as a whole have a part to play in finding ways to encourage children to stay curious, not to feel they aren't clever enough for science or that science isn't cool, and to help them discover just how many fantastic career paths there are out there - that whatever they are interested in, there is a STEM related job perfectly suited to them. At a science event recently an 11 year boy told me he wanted to become a teacher - a commendable choice - and that as a hobby, because this is what he loves, he wanted to be involved with marine wildlife and travel the world. When I told him about the marine biologists I've met who go on adventures all around the world, explore the depths of our oceans in submarines and teach in Universities, his eyes nearly popped out of his head and he burst into the widest grin at the prospect of being able to do what he loves as a job.

Children also need to be encouraged to get their hands dirty. My most memorable experiences in science always involve the practical - dissecting my first frog, pouring super cooled water onto an ice cube that transformed into a tower of ice in front of my very eyes, running around in the fog trying to count wallabies, collecting tiger scats and pulling out the hairs to find out what tigers were eating. That's what learning about the world around us is all about. That's what being a scientist is all about.

BBC Learning's Terrific Scientific campaign is bringing practical, hands on science to thousands of schools and homes around the country. It's providing teachers and parents with the resources and expertise needed to support their children. And that makes me excited. Kids get to be creative, experiment, discover, share ideas, compare their results with other schools and contribute to research in Universities across the nation. It's an ambitious and encouraging step towards reminding them how incredible the natural world is and a very positive step towards doing right by our children, for our future.

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