For reasons too complicated to go into, I’ve been loaned some current Russian Science text books. Even for a language dunce like myself, they make for fascinating reading (I can read Cyrillic but my Russian vocabulary consists of no more than about 40 words). What interests me is comparing them to the Science text books for our teenagers, it is a depressing comparison.
Firstly, nowhere in the Russian books are there pictures of children. Science is allowed to speak for itself, it isn’t incessantly related to “my body”, “my food” or “my trip to the supermarket”.
Secondly, there is sumptuous detail. There seems to be a real sense that it is in the detail that that scientific method can be found. The books even make botany look interesting (believe me for a physicist to admit to this is unusual). I can’t understand enough of the Russian, but in reading them like a child who can barely read, I’m fascinated and want to learn more.
Thirdly they are applied to the “real world”, there are constant links to geology, astronomy, manufacturing and chemical engineering in detail. A real world that exists beyond the narrow confines of the life of a teenager, a grown-up real world.
Fourthly, they are proud of their scientific heritage and the pages are brimming with historical context and pictures on men with sumptuous beards who were responsible for this or that discovery. In the UK we shy away from this, it is believed it will put pupils off science.
I don’t know anything about the education system in Russia, I don’t even know how successful it is, but I just find it refreshing that there are still countries that don’t patronise their young by presenting them with text books that have all the depth and brash sensitivity of Kids TV..
I’m grumpy. Today I was doing a moderately good job of trying to instill in my 12 year olds the wonders of biological cells, their infinite variety and specialisms. Then the darned text book goes and introduces, quite unnecessarily CANCER. Young people in panic mode, wanting to tell anecdotes about dying or dead relatives, asking questions that most doctors would struggle with, teacher wanting to scream “I’m a physicist, get me out of here”, teacher desperately trying to protect the feelings of one pupil whose mother died of cancer last year (but the other pupils don’t know), all beauty and fascination in the subject lost.
Trust me, to actually try to use a text book to teach from…mustn’t do that again, well not in the UK.