Sept. 15, 2009 | UW Bioengineering
Discoveries in math and science will likely hold the answer to some of our most pressing social challenges: energy shortage, global warming, health and health-care distribution. Yet precollege students ― those kids we see on neighborhood sidewalks carrying textbook-heavy backpacks — may be ill prepared to bring science to the workbench in tackling the problems they’ll face as adults.
Of the world’s 30 richest countries, U.S. students rank mediocre to poor in their ability to apply math and science in real-life contexts. The Program for International Student Assessment ranks U.S. 15-year-olds 17th in science and 24th in math out of the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Since the 2006 scores were announced, concern about the future of U.S. competitiveness in engineering, science and medicine has been a hot topic among educators and industry leadership. The PISA 2009 national and international reports will be released early December 2010.
How to raise those scores and keep the United States competitive has been the topic of much debate and will be at the heart of Eric Chudler’s participation in a public forum sponsored by the Council for American Medical Innovation’s Best and Brightest Forum on Medical Innovation. The forum, led by Richard Gephardt, former Democratic Majority Leader and council chairman, will be 10-11:30 am Monday, Sept. 21 at 123 Administration Building, South Lake Union campus. Chudler, a UW Bioengineering research associate professor is among the forum’s six panelists; others are from Seattle-area biomedical industries and medical associations.
“U.S. students are exposed to a breadth of science and math topics, but not much depth,” Chudler says. “Many elementary teachers have little, science background; most high school science teachers have more. And, there is little reward for researchers to work with teachers and in classrooms.”
More money for university outreach programs would help, Chudler argues, but a cultural shift is also necessary.
“Getting researchers into elementary and high school classrooms describing their work and inspiring students would do a lot to support teachers and boost science education,” Chudler says.
But funding agencies and universities don’t offer researchers incentives for classroom work or for interacting with teachers. On large federal research grants a university can capture more than 50 percent of the award for overhead costs; on educational grants they get about 8 percent. “This shows how little value agencies put on funding educational programs,” he said.
More researchers in classrooms and more funds for outreach probably are only two options in what Chudler considers to be a multi-faceted problem. Finland ranks the highest on the PISA test. As a small, homogenous country they may have advantages not available in a society like the United States. The higher ranking countries have national standards, longer school days, and a longer school year.
The Seattle forum is one of several the Council for American Medical Innovation is holding around the country to raise awareness and encourage national policies that will advance medical innovation. Similar meetings have been held in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. Their goal is to preserve U.S. leadership in medical breakthroughs, create jobs and increase investment in the life sciences.
The forum is free, but seating is limited. To register.