Science or Sciences? - Emily Seeber

Posted on 11th January 2018

The traditional title of ‘head of science’ is inaccurate and detrimental to learning, argues Emily Seeber in a recent article for TES. Instead, she suggests, ‘head of sciences’ would better reflect the distinctive content, approaches and processes of physics, chemistry and biology, with benefits for students. 

The understanding of ‘science’ as a single entity can be traced to the Victorian era. Efforts to justify the addition of sciences to school curricula provoked attacks from the establishment. This prompted the educational reformer HE Armstrong to focus on the common method of the sciences, with the pro-science lobby emphasising the importance of scientific processes to independent thought.

Today, however, there is a philosophical consensus that the differences between the sciences are huge. Not only do they differ in their content, explains Emily, but also in their approaches and processes. What is more, in a technologically advanced society, there is no longer any need to justify their inclusion in school curricula, and so no need for them to be subsumed under a single title.

Recasting the sciences as distinctive subjects would bring various benefits to students, Emily believes. She says: “Students require a different set of skills to succeed in each science.  Representing them as a single entity makes it more likely a student will write themselves off as not being good at ‘science’ when they are struggling in physics, even if they shine in biology or chemistry. Or that they will dismiss all sciences because they abhor biology.”

She concludes: “The term ‘sciences’ functions more like ‘humanities’. There are strong links between the humanities, but students recognise that they might struggle in history, even though they excel in philosophy, or that they can enjoy politics even if they dislike classics. In stark contrast to ‘science’, I have never heard a student protest that they are bad at ‘humanities’”. 

The full article is available on the TES website (subscription may be required).

TES | Emily Seeber | Bedales Science film