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6 comments   Listen   Print   article:316458:17::0
In the Media

article imageOp-Ed: Idiots In Charge as usual — Australian students abandon science

By Paul Wallis
Dec 20, 2011 in Science
Sydney - A new study by the Australian Academy of Science has confirmed that Australian science is hitting a generational gap as fewer students take up the sciences. They’re not even doing science in high school any more. Science is now an "elective".
ABC Australia
Twenty years ago, 94 per cent of year 11 and 12 students were enrolled in science subjects, but last year the figure dropped to 51 per cent.
The figures come from the Federal Education Department and have been examined in a study by the academy.
This is an ongoing trend. In the past, the sciences were compulsory. Now, you can even see the effect on forums where people make it absolutely clear they’ve had no science training at all, when discussing social and environmental issues. As with most Western countries, it’s Ignorance Uber Alles.
Well, who's surprised? This was always going to happen. Australia has as usual glued itself onto the pseudo culture of America, another country rapidly going backwards to far lower standards of living in just about every possible way. Meanwhile it has simultaneously promoted the Conspicuous Ignoramus modes of management and “social leadership”, that ultimate description of failure.
Unlike the US version of this situation, our corporates have little or no training or interest in science, and our politicians, equally untrained, don't know how to fit it into their endless forays with one-liners from their PR minders. Nor do either of these groups of park pigeons have any comprehension of the value of patents and other IP.
The fact that they’re true mediocrities themselves doesn’t help much, either. The result is that people who by definition are themselves unsuccessful non-achievers are in a position to affect the development of whole generations.
A typical business conversation between an Australian scientist and a corporate goes something like this:
"Want to make a few billion, mate?"
"No thanks mate, I have to do a talk show/pick my nose, commit fraud, etc".
Meanwhile male students are being allowed to underperform on a generational basis, gutting a former primary source of local scientists. Science used to be compulsory, when the level of technology was much lower than it is today. It should be now, so people can't get away with the incredible levels of ignorance of just about all scientific issues we see on a daily basis. Australia can be as dumb as it's prepared to pay to be, but the result is likely to be yet another case of do nothing/go nowhere for Australian talent, product and ideas.
The cultural problem
Globally, science is now really Big Science, and apparently it's too big to understand or too scary for the morons running education as well. In the case of science, a few Canberra rednecks, in combination with the insular academic plodders who’ve done so much to make tertiary education not only more expensive but more dysfunctional and poorly focused, have done the damage.
The trouble with this country in terms of ideas and innovation isn’t the laid back stereotype. It’s that everybody routinely thinks small and suburban, like so many Western countries. This country runs in Safe Mode. “New” may mean “trouble” and departure from the safe little do-nothing-at-great-expense hardwiring.
There are plenty of ideas, but nobody to develop them or turn them into working commercial products. Nor do the people running things usually know how to promote products or services, so even a good idea with great market share potential doesn’t get pushed properly.
There’s no real excuse for this situation. These highly “educated” idiots running the disaster area are trained to do management work. That means their understanding of entrepreneurial business is practically non-existent. Creating, developing and promoting new products requires more than a semi-conscious understanding of cost centers and a pro forma idea of how business is supposed to operate. Usually, a business which doesn’t come up with new product goes straight downhill, as many do-nothing tech companies in the US and their stockholders are now discovering.
Look at it this way-
The big tech-based commercial cash cows at the moment are-
1. Tablets and other devices
2. Gaming
3. Software
4. Apps
5. Materials
6. CAD engineering
7. Biological sciences
8. Chemistry
9. Medicine
10. Space science
These are all multi-billion dollar areas of commercial science, and that’s not even an extensive list, just a generic range. If you go to a lab anywhere in the world, you’ll trip over a few Aussies who went overseas to do work which wouldn’t or couldn’t get off the ground back home. In China, there’s a guy wanted to set up solar panel production in Australia. Nobody wanted to know. The guy went back to China and now operates the company supplying Germany and Europe with commercial solar panels, worth a few billion a year.
Did anyone see the commercial potential? Nope. Did anyone consider a future market? Nope. Did it cost Australia a lot in terms of jobs, corporate revenue, tax revenue and market share? Yep, and will continue to do so. There are literally endless examples of this situation, including in particular our holy mining and energy industries, to whom research and development are new ideas and new products are rarer than lottery wins.
The credibility killer is this- Just about every big commercial boom in the last 40 years has been a result of technology. It is unbelievable that our “business” people can be unaware of that fact, but that’s apparently the case. After all, what are people buying all our coal and metals for? Whether they're bought for construction or whatever, the technology goes with the industrial uses. It's a gold mine, and nobody's paying the slightest bit of attention.
The moral of the story is this- Think small, you become small. The Australian office boys and girls, like their US counterparts, don’t have a clue. Nor do the PR minders and other hangers-on. Why are they even being asked for opinions in matters of national education policy? This culture has failed, utterly. That’s likely to be expensive in future.
Fortunately, Australia’s real scientists are finding ways of getting their products out. Somebody just sold a shopping app to Wal Mart, and Happy Feet was done in a garage. Australian science will survive, but in its usual unnecessarily under supported, ignored mode.
Maybe Australian science should create a working commercial association and generate enough income to help promote the sciences. Because I don’t see this pack of corporate and political illiterates getting off their backsides any time soon.
In this time in history, people shouldn’t be allowed out of primary school without some sort of working understanding of science. We can already see all too well what happens if you don’t enforce education standards- This is just the added insult.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
article:316458:17::0
More about Australian science education, value of science in commerce, innovation and education policies, Australian Academy of Science, Professor Ian Chubb
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