Thoughts from the front-line
What's happening to biology teaching?


by Anne Bruce

The biology teacher's role seems to have become one of interminable form filler and fact provider. Deadlines and curricular demands have to be met, at the expense of children receiving an understanding of the subject and its enormous importance and potential in their lives.

 Biology is of such intrinsic significance that is disappointing that the courses that are offered in schools at the moment are only touching on its importance. Some time ago I came across a newspaper article which stated that what is going on in a biological cell is more complex than the science of the universe. A statement perhaps open to contention, (not least from astronomers!), nevertheless I feel that the article put biology's importance into some sort of perspective. I'm not sure this is always reflected in the science and biology courses that are offered to pupils.

 Curricular and exam demands place high work loads on staff and pupils alike. As a result, the potential for an involved interest has deteriorated. This is not so much through lack of enthusiasm on the teacher's part, more on the pressures of completing a course that at best can only give a taste of what the subject is all about and at worst merely provides a means to an exam result end.

 What chance is there for a pupil to develop an interest in a subject that demands a practical approach, when time and financial constraints prevent many of the practical activities? It seems to be the norm now for practical work to be demonstrated, or even worse, read about in a book. Hardly conducive to the development of an enquiring mind!

 The demise of many of the practicals in biology either through health and safety or ethical reasons has also contributed. The financial climate is such that adequate substitutes for these practicals have not been properly researched and developed. So we are left with pupils carrying out mechanical tasks under the "practical" umbrella. Often the pupil is more concerned with the necessary tick in the checkbox that indicates another step completed on the exam treadmill than an understanding of the relevance of the task.

 We need to be able to inspire children so they enjoy biology. This will not be achieved by courses that comprise long lists of facts to be learnt. Facts in isolation without a means of fitting them into a broader picture result in an incomplete understanding. A more rewarding and meaningful course should encourage an interest in and an awareness of the world round about and provide opportunities to discover the importance of current issues involving biology.

Comments to the author sent via our contacts page quoting page url plus : ('abruce','')">Anne Bruce

 Editor's note: Do you have any thoughts on biology teaching, and what can be done to address Anne's concerns above? Anne or the Micscape Editor (Email below) would be particularly delighted to hear from people outside the UK on how biology and science teaching fares in their country. Micscape Magazine is an ideal forum for a constructive debate on these important issues.

Read an article on 'Why Microscopy' which discusses why the Microscopy UK / Micscape Web site is encouraging young and old to look at the world in close-up

 

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