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Careers in science: painting a picture.

In this issue of ACCN, we focus on careers in science and, with the declining interest in science and careers in science among the students of today, we ask the question: What can the professions of science do to promote science in Canada?

This issue will highlight some of the areas where scientists are very much involved in promoting interest in science across Canada.

Everywhere we turn, reports and statistics tell us, time and time again, that our educational system is not able to adequately prepare students and, to further compound the problem, that fewer and fewer students are interested in studying science.

It becomes even more clear to me how important our contributions can be to the educational system, as we are continually exposed to all of this doom and gloom. There is a real value which we should all place on promoting increased educational interface and improving linkages between education and the "real world", especially in the areas of science and technology.

The problem, as described in the recently issued report A Lot to Learn - Education and Training in Canada - A Statement by the Economic Council of Canada 1992, is systematic; we have not responded to change effectively.

The drop-out rate from secondary school is alarmingly high, with approximately one-third of those who enter high school never finishing. Of those who do graduate from secondary school, Statistics Canada finds that approximately one-third of them have difficulty reading and, in addition, they cannot perform simple sequences of numerical operations that would enable them to meet everyday demands.

The Economic Council of Canada's (ECC) statement indicates that given such numbers from those who do graduate, what can we possibly expect from those who have dropped out and do not complete secondary schooling? In the foreword to her committee's report, Judith Maxwell, former chair of the ECC, states that early setbacks are hard to correct. She goes on to say that Canadian students "cannot see clear pathways from school to work and, therefore, follow a path of trial and error."

For science and math, Canadian children generally receive a good start, but from the age of 13 or 14, they begin to gradually fall behind children in other countries. For Canada as a whole, enrolments in engineering and applied sciences fell by 25% between 1983 and 1989. Although the Council advises that recent figures suggest that the trend may have bottomed out, they indicate that we still need to ask two important questions:

* Is the quality of scientific and technological education offered to students sufficiently high enough to attract their attention?

* Why are girls not attracted to these fields?

The Council's report indicates that, overall, Canada seems to be accepting mediocrity as the norm, when it has the potential to achieve excellence and that the imbalance between education, the labor-market, and economic performance indicates that Canada is not living up to its potential.

Underneath this depressing cloud cover, how can any educational system be effective? There are many aspects which are crucial to educational achievement, but a paramount condition is the notion of motivation. Who has the capacity to motivate students? Most certainly the teachers must, before all else, be highly motivated in order to motivate their students. Parents, who are educationally-conscious, regardless of their socio-economic status, can also have a major positive effect on the achievement of their children. However, the professions can also help by creating a better balance between education, the labor-market, and economic performance.

Scientists have the ability to make significant contributions to support the study of science. Active learning and active teaching are dynamics found in schools with high levels of education achievement. Through co-operative arrangements between scientists and schools, we can provide encouragement and motivation to teachers, as well as assist with valuable "hands-on" learning about science. In addition, the "opportunity to learn" can be increased via exposure to a richer curricula, one which should include interactions with the community and partnerships with the labor-market.

Of course, it is easy to say that it is the teacher's job to teach and that parents should be more involved in the education of their children. But, it isn't always someone else's job to become involved. It is my opinion that scientists need to be educationally-conscious as well, interested in reaching out to communicate the excitement and challenges of science. This means that we should promote partnerships, expand opportunities for co-operative education programs and help strengthen career counselling, especially with regard to science-related careers.

There are many opportunities for personal involvement in our educational system which will contribute to improving the quality of education and student interest in science. This "Careers in Science" issue of ACCN will highlight just a few of the many opportunities for involvement already in place across Canada. In the following pages, we will have an inside look on the Canadian Chemistry Olympiad, an opportunity to learn about some educational initiatives taken on by industry, and a glimpse of some highlights from the Youth Science Foundation and the Conseil de developpement du loisir scientifique. We will explore how university programs are promoting science ad find out more about some of the real champions of science education.

If you are concerned about the quality of education and the lack of student interest in science and math, perhaps some of these features will reinforce your commitment or, perhaps, give you some ideas as to how you can become more involved with those who are the future of Canada. Even if the students touched by programs like these choose not to consider a career in science, they will, at the very least, have been given an opportunity to become advocates of science, in whatever career direction their lives may follow. After all, science needs advocates as teachers, lawyers, business leaders or politicians, but most especially as parents, encouraging their children to discover for themselves the excitement of learning and the joy of science.

Naomi Yergey, M.A., is employed as an Information Specialist/Vocational Counselor with the Merck Frosst Centre for Therapeutic Research, Kirkland, Quebec. ACCN is indebted to her for her efforts as guest editor for this issue's theme and for her hard work in soliciting articles for the theme. Yergey acknowledges the support and vision of Dr. Cecil Picett, vice-president, research, and the contributions of Dr. Sandu Goldstein, FCIC, a member of the ACCN management committee who suggested this theme.
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Author:Yergey, Naomi S.
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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