Earlier in the week I attended the New Zealand Association of Scientists conference in Wellington. The theme of the conference was “The Future for Scientists in New Zealand”. It was a very interesting conference with a diverse range of thoughtful and thought-provoking talks.
During the conference the idea that young children are natural scientists was mentioned several times – an idea that bothered me a bit at the time but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Children are certainly very curious, in the same way many researchers are curious – about how and why things work.
It later occurred to me that the answer is obvious; science is more than curiosity – it imposes specific frameworks on what we observe around us so that we can make better sense of what we are seeing – so that we can find sensible answers to our questions. So we understand the difference between correlation and causation, and are able to connect new observations with reliable observations that have already been made.
And perhaps this is where some students start to lose interest in science (at least as a career)? When it becomes obvious that there is work involved as well as fun.
Of course similar claims can and have been made about children and other subjects – e.g. all children are natural dancers/athletes etc (For which I was and am the perfect example that neither of these is true).
The suggestion that children are natural ………(insert type of scientist here) is often used as a critique of the education system, but it is seldom accompanied by any reasonable solutions on how all these “natural” interests can be encouraged and maintained into their teenage years and beyond. In my opinion it overlooks the variety of interests and talents that children have. In my opinion the best way to serve children is to give them the opportunity to experience as many interests and activities as possible and to support them when they find what they are interested in whether it is science or sports, the arts or something else – wherever their curiosity takes them.
Featured image: CC flickr Philippe Put