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Science flops in class

Schoolchildren want to be scientists, but do not like the way science is taught, according to a survey published today, writes Tom Wilkie.

The study of 500 children aged between nine and 13 revealed that science-based jobs - such as computer programmer, vet and doctor - were among their favourite choices for eventual careers (although being a sportsman rated most highly with the boys). Mathematics - 'the queen of the sciences' - was the children's favourite subject in school. But only 7 per cent put science itself as their favourite lesson: maths, art, English, PE, computers and drama all rated more highly.

However, the children are confirmed consumers of science on televison: more than half regularly watch Tomorrow's World.

Despite efforts by enlightened members of the scientific community to persuade more women to take up a career in science, the traditional sexual stereotyping seems to persist in the next generation. Science is still seen as a male stronghold.

Girls showed a marked preference for biology - one of the few scientific disciplines that women do traditionally enter - and a reluctance to get into physics.

The children's career choices also showed sexual stereotyping, with boys wanting to pursue careers as sportsmen or computer programmers, followed by policemen, mechanics and engineers; while girls favoured becoming teachers, nurses, vets, and doctors.

The attitudes were reinforced by their parents, the survey found. They saw their sons as future computer programmers or engineers while their daughters were to be teachers or secretaries.

The survey was published as the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science opens in Southampton today. Appropriately, the first day of the week-long 'Science Festival 92' is given over entirely to a programme of popular science particularly to interest parents and children. Over the next week, the meeting is expected to attract up to 6,000 people.

The survey of children's attitudes was commissioned for the launch, at the meeting, of a national schools science competition, 'Science Challenge', devised by the Association for Science Education and the BAAS. The competition is sponsored by Nuclear Electric, the state-owned company which runs English and Welsh nuclear power stations.