Australia's top scientists want to drag the school science curriculum into the 21st century with an evidence-based program in the hope of fixing a dire shortage of STEM skills.
University of Western Australia's Emeritus Professor David Blair and the Australian National University's Distinguished Professor Susan Scott want all 9500 schools across the country to adopt a new way of teaching science through the Einstein-First program.
The program, which is used in 38 Western Australian schools, allows students to dive into Einsteinian physics through hands-on, interactive activities.
"The problem is that the kids both believe and actually are being taught old science. So it's really 19th century science and earlier mostly and yet their lives going forward are completely underpinned by modern science and technology," Professor Scott said.
"Most seven-year-olds have heard of a black hole ... and they don't get to learn about it and they are dying to know about these things.
"Time warps, time travel, artificial intelligence, all of these things are really key. The quantum world is another big thing, but they just don't get to hear about that at school."
Professor Blair said the strong belief that students needed to learn Newtonian physics first was starting to change.
"This is ridiculous. Why do we have to force all kids to go through the historical process of discovering the truth? Why can't we tell them the truth of what we know now?" Professor Blair said.
The Einstein-First program started in two Western Australian schools more than 10 years ago but industry leaders, especially in mining, pushed for it to be expanded to more schools.
The University of Western Australia is now offering free microcredential courses for primary and secondary teachers to learn how to teach Einsteinian physics.
Professor Scott said the program involved innovative teaching techniques, incorporating inexpensive models and toys.
"We find that the teachers actually love it. They go in not very enthusiastic and some of them said, 'I hate teaching physics'. But they come out of it and say, 'now, that's the thing I most love teaching', because the kids are so engaged."
Canberra students got a taste of these hands-on activities at the official launch at the Shine Dome on Tuesday. They even got to explore the galaxies with virtual reality sets.
Evaluations of the Einstein-First program have shown that girls particularly benefit, with a significant lift in their attitude towards physics after the program.
This finding helped launch a second initiative called Quantum Girls, which aims to train 200 female teachers to be able to teach quantum science and quantum computing to girls aged 11 to 15.
Proponents want the government to assist with rolling the programs out to every school in Australia.
"I spent 40 years trying to discover gravitational waves and finally got the Prime Minister's Science Prize for it," Professor Blair said.
"But I say to people, changing the curriculum is harder than detecting gravitational waves."
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