Friday, August 12, 2005

andy thomas

andy thomas
Originally uploaded by Bill Kerr.
Astronaut Andy Thomas has been in the news again lately, good on him!

Last year in an Adelaide Advertiser article he drew attention to the extreme importance of maintaining and furthering maths and science skills in Australia:
... the sobering reality is that the number of people graduating with advanced degrees in maths and science, and who are fluent in the language of science and technology, has shrunk by about 25 percent during the past 20 years.

Similarly, fewer and fewer young people are attracted to the idea of studying maths and science at high school. This is undeniably of extreme concern, and one might ask why this is happening.

Perhaps it is because maths and science is not considered very cool by today's youth. It holds no attraction to young people. Partly, my generation may be to blame because of the way it is packaged in our education system...

But sadly there is another reason for the decline in standards across Australia. University academics today are asked to endure longer hours, larger classes, bigger workloads and less funding for research and development. And they face huge obstacles to getting their research sponsored.

I have seen bureaucrats, chartered with administering the government's research dollars, argue insistently that there should be blunt, obvious and immediate results from any sponsored scientific research. Sadly, that philosophy is usually reversed to mean that any research that does not produce a tangible, immediate and marketable result has no value.

There is a failure to appreciate that it is the skills generated by scientific endeavours that can be just as important as the research itself. In Australia, this heavy handed approach has caused some academics to move to the US and elsewhere in dismay.

The long term consequence is a real danger that we are dumbing down our community ...


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