Education Talks: Science takes centre stage

Festivals and workshops, policy and continuity, lessons and resources – Jean-Luc Richter talked all things science when we interviewed him at the Education Summit. As vice president of Science on Stage France (a branch of Science on Stage) and Physics and Chemistry teacher at Lycée Jean-Baptiste Schwilgué, he has been able to examine science education from more than one angle.

What are some of the challenges faced by science teachers?

If you want to make science interesting, you have to be fun with the students, but at the same time, don't lose sight of the science that is behind it and that is not always so easy to explain – so not oversimplify it. And at the same time, it is sometimes difficult because you don't have time to set up experiments. In some countries, for example in Germany, they are alone – teachers – they don't have help to set up experiments. And when you only have 5 minutes between two lessons to set up an experiment for the students to have a hands-on, it is very difficult to do. So teachers need time and they need time to train, because you have to keep up to date with all the discoveries made in science.

What is Science on Stage?

So, Science on Stage is a network. We have for the moment 32 countries: mostly Europe plus Canada, and we exist for more than a decade. In every country, they choose the best projects; this project then goes to the European festival. There, we have of course a little competition, but it is not about the competition, it is about sharing. The teachers share the experiments among each other and then, when they come back, they can do follow-up activities, they can meet again and develop new projects. They can do workshops – we had, for example, in the last two years, 170 workshops almost. We produce teaching materials which we compile in booklets that you can download, and that we distribute as well to the teachers who come to the workshops.

How do you promote continuity between primary and secondary science education?

One thing that we have to do – and we do it for example in our last coding project that we are promoting now – is to have primary and secondary school teachers working together on common subjects, and this way, they can learn from each other. In our festivals, we have teachers from all the levels who work together on this festival, so a secondary teacher can see what primaries do and primaries can see what secondary or higher-level teachers do. And we have university people coming and making conferences so anybody can look at what is new in science.

What can be done on a policy level to improve science education?

The teacher is really the base, so you have to train teachers well, you have to give them time for training, and you have to give them the opportunity to go to workshops. For example, when we organise teacher trainings somewhere, we have sometimes this problem where the headmaster says: ‘No, you have one hour to teach, so you don't go to the whole day of workshop.’ So I think that is very important: give the teacher time to train, to get the best experiments, the best experience from other teachers, and keep in mind that you can't just cut down the costs. Education is not costs; it is really an investment for the future.