Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by EDU-LAB Ltd



  We at EDU-LAB believe that it is not possible to learn—and therefore teach—science unless the student can be given the opportunity to "do science". Practical work is probably the most important part of teaching the subject: it is the defining characteristic of science learning. It involves the student in what is going on, arouses his interest and keeps his attention and, because it is totally relevant to every aspect of everyday life, can stimulate a wide ranging desire to experiment further.

  We would like to propose that consideration be given to a solution using a unique system of Microscience equipment with curriculum linked worksheets and guides. It involves a revolutionary approach which changes practical work to neat, compact and efficient procedures.

  A recent study carried out by UNESCO revealed that most schools do not do anywhere near the amount of practical work that they should. Reports of concern continue to illustrate that the number of science qualifications is reducing. This is found at all levels in education systems around the world.


  Some of the hindrances that face teachers at both Secondary and Primary levels are:

    —  lack of suitable laboratory facilities

    —  lack of specialist training

    —  safety risks pertaining to personal and environmental issues

    —  length of time needed for practical work

    —  lack of time

    —  insufficient worksheet material

    —  lack of teacher support.

  These hindrances are aggravated by factors such as:

    —  costs

    —  old fashioned experimental techniques

    —  dated equipment

    —  negative perceptions caused by demonstration of experiments.


  Microscience techniques alleviate all of these challenges to effective delivery of practical science. EDU-LAB has been driving and co-ordinating the microscience approach for the last 12 years, and are pleased to have had some real success in bringing practical science experience to large numbers of children. Alongside the benefits to the students, microscience techniques and equipment overcome the problems of cost, lack of facilities, time and safety, and the worksheets bring fresh, new, relevant topics to the students. Teacher guidance and support are also available. With microscience, practical science is coming back into our schools.

We would like this process to be speeded up to meet the compelling needs of the 21st century.

  In order to increase momentum on this initiative, we are now at a stage where support from an influential body like the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology would prove beneficial. We give examples below on how this might be achieved.


The Global Picture

  Microscience is being adopted throughout the world as a method both to allow effective practical science in schools and universities and to enable industry to meet the challenge of increasing difficulties with safety and environmental protection.

  Industry has given a clear lead in its approach to laboratory work and is perhaps the best source of inspiration. Broadly speaking, by "going small"—using minute volumes of chemicals and reagents—industry has created new opportunities for practical work at a lower running cost. The huge strides made by the medical and research laboratory fraternity have been fuelled by:

    —  the HIV crisis

    —  great strides in medical diagnostics

    —  rapid development of DNA research and diagnosis

    —  advancement of forensics investigation techniques

    —  greater understanding of molecular biology and biotechnology techniques in general.

  Clearly this new direction for science needs to be more formally embodied in the science learning process if we are going to excite and enthuse potential scientists. Taking this into account, a project was conceived and instigated in 1994 which involved bringing these techniques into practical science teaching. This project has involved hundreds of academics and research institutions worldwide, in which several million students have participated.

The UK Perspective

  Microscience has been strongly supported by the most prestigious bodies in science education, including the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Association for Science Education. The "Whodunit Event" in 2003 organised by Planet Science in conjunction with the DfES brought these techniques to around 30,000 schools in the UK.

  It is a simple system which nevertheless has the sophistication needed to meet most of the requirements of examination specifications to AS and A levels as well as exciting students at KS2, KS3 and KS4. Of greatest significance is the potential of microscience to enthuse students, allowing each one to have meaningful hands-on experience.

  Experience shows that school students find microscience to be both refreshing and a real aid to understanding. Teachers who have used it are excited by its potential to revolutionise teaching and learning and to free up precious time by greatly reducing the time required for practicals. Senior Managers are interested in the reduced need for laboratories and substantial savings in costs and storage. Where technicians are in short supply, microscience can overcome the often consequential limit to practical work as preparation and clean-up require very little time.

  Microscience is continually being refined and expanded.

  Schools using the new video-conferencing route to teach AS and A chemistry and physics will have microscale practicals built into the course and materials supplied as part of the package.

  Now, for the first time, microscience techniques are being included in the Schemes of Work, textbooks, and In-Service training programmes. Groups such as QCA, OCR, Edexcel and AQA, as well as the Welsh and Scottish education authorities, are taking up microscience as an excellent option for practical work in science. Science Learning Centres and some Universities are also involved in the programme. The programme uses items of equipment that are used in the real world, and comprises the following key elements:

    —  microscience equipment items

    —  microscience kits of equipment

    —  worksheets geared to the national curriculum

    —  guides for teachers

    —  teacher training programmes.


  Some of the benefits at both primary and secondary level are listed below:

    —  Accuracy of results

    —  Safety—in use and in waste disposal

    —  Systematic lab procedure

    —  Since the quantities are so small, they make minimal demands on technician time, even at A Level

    —  Chemical reagents are available in volumes and concentrations needed, making a substantial difference to preparation time

    —  Experiments are far less time-consuming and avoid large amounts of waste

    —  Washing-up is simple and storage space is a fraction of that required for traditional practicals

    —  Low cost—savings on apparatus and chemical costs

    —  User friendliness

    —  Children quickly learn the techniques needed to work in small scale, they have often much greater manual dexterity than adults and enjoy the clarity of results, uncluttered by normal laboratory paraphernalia

    —  Rapid procedures

    —  Individual ownership

    —  Increased motivation for both students and teachers

    —  At primary level there are both general and topic-specific kits, including worksheets, which considerably reduce teacher preparation time.

  We are also attaching a summary of the Advantages of Microscience drawn up by Dr Mike Wooster based on his personal experience in the secondary school teaching environment.


  Based on the success of the microscience project in hundreds of education systems worldwide, we feel it needs to receive attention in the following forms:

    1.  Awareness of this approach should be created within the Science education system.

    2.  A study should be commissioned to determine the best way forward to implement microscience practicals throughout the UK education system without delay.

    3.  Funding should be considered to enable schools to have access to these new techniques.

  We believe that this has the potential to significantly assist the reversal of current trends away from science learning.


  Should we be invited to give evidence, we would provide a brief insight to the microscience system by demonstrating it in use.


    1.  Example of an Edexcel Worksheet (Photosynthesis)

    2.   Advantages of Microscience by Dr M J Wooster.

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