Many Swedish students are bored in science class. File photo: Maja Suslin/Scanpix
Teaching methods in secondary school

Science teachers fail to spur kids' interest

"We had to do these... experiments"
2:56 min

The government is spending millions to improve the teaching of natural science subjects in Swedish schools. Still, only about a fifth of high school studnets choose to specialise in science subjects.

Stella Lindström left secondary school a few years ago. And she has few fond memories from science class.

"We had to do these experiments," she says. "But we rarely atually knew what we were doing. All we knew was that we could absolutely not mix two substances, because that would be dangerous, but if we mixed these other substances, it would work. But understanding why that happens was not a part of it."

New research indicates what many might already take for a fact: kids in science class are bored.

Magnus Oskarsson, a researcher in didactics at Mid Sweden University, has found that schools here are unable to spur young teenagers' interest in the natural sciences.

"It's a rigid teaching culture. New curricula have tried to bring forth other perspectives, but we can see that it does not always results in a change. Teaching has its own logic," Oskarsson says.

Now, just because Sweden's secondary schoolers are bored in science class, it doesn't mean the government wants them to be.

Last week, the Education Ministry announced that it will spend over 20 million dollars on improving science teaching over the next five years. Natural sciences and technology will be "crucial" to the Swedish economy's development, said Education Minister Jan Björklund.

Despite that and many other science-oriented education initiatives since the centre-right government came to power over six years ago, only 20 percent of middle schoolers are choosing to specialize in a science subject in high school, a number that hasn't changed much in recent years.

So is what the government sees as the future of the Swedish economy simply that boring, or can things turn around for science subjects?

Magnus Oskarsson believes teachers must start at the other end; not by preaching facts to teenagers, but explaining the wider application of areas of science.

He found that a minority of the students surveyed were unable to explain how, say, antibiotics work, and he believes it's because many teachers are stuck in abstraction.

"If you start with the students' questions, and more concrete examples, then you can trace your way back and see how many facts you actually need to know," he says.

By Sven Hultberg Carlsson

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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