Jennifer: AccessNano was officially launched in WA last Saturday by Francesca Calati at CONSTAWA (the Science Teachers Association of Western Australia Conference). During her visit to Perth, Francesca and I had the opportunity to meet with two influential figures in tertiary nanotechnology education from Curtin University of Technology– Professor Eric Bakker, Director of the Nanochemistry Research Institute, and Dr Bill Richmond, course coordinator of Curtin’s Bachelor of Science in Nanotechnology.
Bill, Eric, Francesca and I discussed at length the falling numbers of Australian students studying science. According to a CSIRO submission of December last year, Australia is facing decreasing numbers of students studying the physical sciences in senior secondary school, and the consequent shortage of these students going on to university. The report suggests that many students in schools don’t see a career path in science and technology.
Bill confirmed that tertiary enrolment in science has dwindled. The decline has occurred against a massive growth in higher education that began in the late 1990s. According to Bill, even the trendier disciplines such as forensic science are attracting fewer students. As a result, universities are under administrative pressure to roll science degrees into one general course, including the Bachelor of Science (Nanotechnology). A report commissioned by the Australian Council of Deans of Science recognises Australia’s need for a technologically-skilled workforce, and states that we face a skills crisis.
This gloomy outlook is countered by the enthusiastic response AccessNano has received, both in Northam last weekend and at Teacher Professional Developments across the country. When adopted by secondary school teachers, this innovative resource will be instrumental in increasing interest and participation in science by young Australians. Nanotechnology is not a new discipline, but it is a new vehicle for science education.