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Why we teach science in school

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Probably, being able to add and subtract is important in our daily lives. We need to calculate taxes, or be sure the bill of the supermarket makes sense. Learning how to calculate the area of a rectangle is important when we are about to buy or rent a house. But, honestly, how much more math do we use on our daily lives?

One widespread opinion is that science education is utilitaristic, meaning that what we learn in school is what we are going to need to work. This leads to the discussion of replacing analysis with statistics, for example. However, the open question is what tools should school give their students that enable them to work?

If education is content based, we risk having outdated systems in very short times. The content people need today is not the same as they needed 20 years ago, nor will need 20 years from now. Focusing on content could have been useful 150 years ago, when school systems started to become massive. But it may be time to review that (see: incremental change leads to unsustainable educational paradigms).

Is science education should be method-oriented, we strengthen the idea of a meta-knowledge that can be transmitted. We don't give tools to work, we teach how to work. We create a habit of thinking, reflecting, building upon. I do think this can be achieved through curiosity-driven education.

However, there is another dimension to the discussion. Should science education be related to work environment or to the natural world. Perhaps focusing the scientific education on the potential employment of a person is too narrow. Science education could focus on understanding the world around people, even if it is not related to our direct job. Understanding the impact of building a dam, or a power station. Understanding how a vaccine works, what do the statistics they present us mean.

One of the biggest challenges, in my opinion, is that science education in schools should only be the staring point of a person's journey. Later in life, when people question the reality they live in, they should have the tools to follow those journeys. For example, who searches online symptoms in order to self-diagnose, and potentially even medicate? This is a clear example of curiosity-driven research in which a lot of people engages. Why don't we leverage that at many different levels, then?


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Aquiles Carattino
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