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Maintaining Interest in Science

Why do people lose interest in science? We all start off, in a sense, with a scientific bent. Babies exploring their world for the first time are observing, acting and reacting to stimuli, and learning in the process. Anyone who has dealt with small children is well aware of their apparently endless store of questions about how the world works.

Somewhere along the way, many people lose that desire to know, to broaden their horizons. Sadly, I have often heard that this loss occurs somewhere in the early years of secondary school. A long-time teacher recently commented to me that children get switched off science when they start to ask those questions which are beyond the scope or training of their teacher. Apparently simple questions such as "why does this light work?" and "what makes clouds float?" reveal the questioning nature of a potential scientist and -- all too often -- the adult's lack of knowledge.

I believe that our tendency to compartmentalise subjects also makes science a less approachable subject. Learning about Antoine Lavoisier's discovery of oxygen becomes much more interesting for knowing that he married a tax collector's daughter and got his head chopped off during the French Revolution. It's a means of of humanising science and giving it a place in one's everyday life.

But in order for our education system to have a hope of producing those educated, scientifically literate citizens so desired, society as a whole has to play a part. We're starting to see this development with the blossoming of science centres around the country. I hope that they, and the well-stocked fascinations of their science shops, will help draw whole families back into discussions and arguments about how the world works.

We've had readers ask for information on how to get and keep their children, both toddlers and teenagers, interested in science. The new Discovery feature in this issue is our answer. It'll grow in future. Another means is to watch Oi!, the excellent children's science show I previewed and praised last June. It's got funding from NZ On Air and Beyond 2000, so I hope that its future is assured. Do watch it -- you'll learn something.

Vicki Hyde is the editor of New Zealand Science Monthly.