Science Syllabus Overloaded With Facts

“The General Certificate of Education syllabus makes me sick when I contemplate it,” “It is necessary to change completely the content of the school physics courses”, . . . . “extremely dull”. . . . . “pointless” . . . . . desiccated”. These are some of the comments which have been applied to present day science teaching here and in Europe.

So, 58 years ago, started a story in Electronics Weekly’s edition of October 19th 1960.

The story continues:

In the USA, a programme to revolutionise the teaching o physics is now becoming established, thanks to the work of a committee initiated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The committee first prepared a syllabus demonstrating that physics is an instrument of contemporary science and not just sterile facts and figures. In the course of doing this, a great deal of the traditional school syllabus was jettisoned.

In the new syllabus the students are encouraged to think rather than just substitute figures in a formula. Teaching aids such as films and television are widely used.

These changes enable so much time to be saved that a one-year course given between the ages of 15 and 17 should be enough for an elementary understanding of physics, not only to those whose future interests will lie elsewhere, but also to future specialists.

In this country there has been some thought on similar lines. The Science Masters Association has strongly recommended a complete reappraisal of the whole structure of science teaching from the age of 11.

The Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools has strongly advocated more science teaching in preparatory schools.

School inspectors have recom mended to the Ministry of Education the introduction of more science in primary schools.

Now we have the Report of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy 1959/1960 also suggesting the same thing.

This too points out that science syllabuses are overloaded with facts and are unimaginative, partly because new material is added without removing the old.

“It has been suggested,” the Report says, “that up to 20 to 25 per cent of the content of the curricula in physics, chemistry and biology could be removed without any harm and indeed with benefit. Mathematics curricula are equally in need of review.

There is a warning that specialisation in schools has been carried too far due to the requirements of scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge . Schools and universities must get together quickly to avoid this, the Report adds.



  1. I agree with you, the syllabus should be changed and it should be more practical. Physics can be understand practically well then understanding it with theoretical books.

  2. Valves?

    Stone me, after SI all the way through to GCE, A levels were firmly set in 1948 with MKS, CGS, and dear old Imperial units.

    And at sunny(?) Luffbra, I was introduced to that finest of all units, the slug.

    One is interested to find that there’s even a metric slug.

    Now there’s a thing.

    You just can’t beat doing field theory in cgs.

  3. And to their credit, the schools and education department took note of this report and the Nuffield syllabusses were introduced in 1962. Nuffield Chemistry was by far the most successful, and contributed to a major increase in our output of world class chemists and bio-chemists after years of decline. Physics was a little slower to adapt, leading to pupils learning about valves long after transistors had dominated the field of electronics.

    Schools across the Commonwealth also copied these new syllabusses with great success.

    But then many of the best people moved to California because although the education system was modern, British companies were still stuck in Victorian times.

    • Also note that Silicon Valley is sunny while England is gloomy and wet …

      America is more than happy to take these well educated people … because in the land of opportunity, the education opportunities leave a lot to be desired …

      Then again poaching smart people with a proven track record is a much more profitable approach than spending lots of money on giving everybody a good education, hoping that some of them turn out to be really smart … the capitalists leave that sort of thing to the socialist countries …

      So basically education wise America is a parasite …

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