Terry Lyons from the University of New England, Australia has looked at studies of secondary students' attitudes towards science in Australia, Sweden and England to find out what makes school science boring and if this is just a UK phenomenon or exists in other countries.1

A science teacher droning to a bored student

Source: Aleutie/Shutterstock

Each of the studies was prompted by declining applications to university science degree courses. The data from each country were gathered through student interviews, which covered the same issues and were done with comparable groups of students.  

Lyons' analysis of the data showed that the experiences of students in the three countries were remarkably similar. He identified three major themes that contribute to their discontentment with science. The first is the method of teaching, which the studies showed to be predominantly submissive with students listening to the teacher and filling in gaps in workbooks. Questioning tended to concentrate on remembering facts, rather than probing understanding or developing an argument. The comparison showed that, unlike other subjects, little time was put aside for discussion and there were few opportunities for pupils to use their imagination and creativity.  

The second theme relates to the content of the lessons, which was sometimes seen as irrelevant by students. In some cases teachers were failing to explain the value of the work but in others it was clear that the syllabus needed to be updated. Students recognised that science was important but many were unable to see how it affected them.  

The final theme is that science courses, and the physical sciences in particular, are difficult relative to most other courses. One of the reasons cited for this was the scientific language and terminology used. Students wanted teachers to be clearer in their explanations of scientific phenomena and to give them the opportunity to think things through for themselves.