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How To Make Science Attractive Again

September 12, 2004

Many recent reports have documented American students' declining interest and abilities in the sciences. Much less has been written about what we should do about it, and even less action has been taken to reverse this trend.

The common misperception of too many American youths and adults is that science is "too difficult" and "not exciting." Science is not too difficult if you start studying it early (preschool), have inspiring teachers and have opportunities, in school and out, to experiment and be creative. Yes, the study of the sciences requires perseverance and curiosity - but success in any field requires these. Furthermore, what could be more exciting than these: Finding the cures to human illnesses? Discovering new ways to save the planet Earth? Visiting another planet? Solving crimes through forensics? Building something never seen before?

We all share in the responsibility for making science interesting, as individuals, families, institutions, groups, employers - everyone. "Doing" science is the key, and it can be very exciting.

Schools and colleges must identify the barriers to studying the sciences and take action. The University of Hartford has done this at the higher education level. At each level of education, a goal of raising the proportion of our young people studying the sciences must be established. We know what to do - start earlier, make science more engaging, give students the experience of success, use real-life situations, teach and reward creativity and exploration, and reduce the fear of failure.

Corporations, labor unions and employers of all sizes have an obligation to take their daily science into classrooms, homes and other institutions. Providing job-shadowing and internship opportunities for students are documented successes.

Families should have more science books, magazines and toys at home and access to the Internet. They should also visit science museums and work with their schools to provide more wow! moments of discovery.

The media must also step up to the plate. TV, radio, newspapers and magazines are not giving the sciences enough regular ink and airtime. There is great wonder and excitement in the daily development of new knowledge in the sciences. New scientific knowledge will advance the social and economic prosperity of the world, but not if we do not invest in the promise of science to solve problems.

Local, state and federal governments must be willing to do what some other nations have done - establish the growth of science and technology as a public policy and adopt strategies that contribute to that goal. No quick fixes should be expected. What is needed is a comprehensive and long-term policy, with all of us held accountable.

The economic development and the quality of life in Connecticut and America in the next 100 years will be highly dependent on what we do today to demonstrate to our youth that science and technology are exciting.

Theodore S. Sergi is president and CEO of the Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.

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