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Science curriculum 'boring', says industry minister

Margaret Hodge has called on industry to make science and technology more 'exciting' for schoolchildren, and claimed the government is improving R&D investment in the UK
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The minister of state for industry and the regions has said that the key to attracting more young people into science and technology is to make the curriculum less "boring".

Speaking on Wednesday at a symposium on IT and healthcare, Margaret Hodge told ZDNet UK that "encouraging enough people to follow science subjects is an enormous challenge", and that it was proving difficult to attract suitable teachers and "make the curriculum inspiring".

Hodge also referred to a her recent conversation with engineering students, who had chosen to enter the field following work-experience placements during their gap years. Prior to that they had been put off by the "boredom of [engineering] courses in university", she explained.

The minister was responding to a request to justify her comments at the symposium, in which she praised UK research and development (R&D) and innovation, against a backdrop of prevailing dissatisfaction within industry over technological R&D and education in the country.

Referring to the current state of R&D, Hodge said that the country had "gone from an incredibly low place [to being] very successful at increasing investment on research". She pointed to a tax credit system, established two years ago by the government, aimed at providing incentive to the private sector, but claimed that such systems take at least five years to "bed down".

"We are having to run fast to catch up," said Hodge, who then exhorted the audience — largely made up of figures from the technology and healthcare industries — to demonstrate "the excitement of a career in science and technology and all associated industries" to schoolchildren.

The state of scientific and technological education in the UK was recently attacked by Gordon Graylish, European general manager for Intel, a company which last year shut down its R&D labs in Cambridge.

Speaking in November, Graylish suggested to ZDNet UK that there was "an almost deliberate streaming by the schools out of mathematics and sciences, based on the fact that those are harder subjects" and would therefore have a negative effect on schools' league tables.

The London Telemedicine Symposium, a joint venture between the NHS, the Department for Trade and Industry and the Continua Alliance (a technology industry body), took place in London on Wednesday. The aim of the meeting was to discuss and further the field of "assisted living", or self-administered home-based care for the elderly and those with long-term illnesses.

Europeans are at least twice as likely to die through medical error than road accidents, according to EC Commissioner Viviane Reding's head of cabinet, Rudolph Strohmeier.

Strohmeier said ICT had to take a leading role in developing the "eHealth" industry, which is a major beneficiary-in-waiting of funds recently earmarked by the EU.

Strohmeier also claimed at the event that the continent's rapidly growing broadband infrastructure would enable "better prevention and prediction" of illness, as well as "greater personalisation of healthcare processes". Another member of Commissioner Reding's team, Paul Timmers of the ICT for Inclusion unit, said that a range of new technologies from sensors to "intelligent analysis systems" would prove crucial to the initiative.

Hodge also maintained that people now feel comfortable with the Internet and that "new technologies can reassure those who are anxious about their conditions but are in fact well", thus keeping them out of doctors' surgeries and hospitals.

However, a GP in the audience later suggested that most patients would rather be treated by doctors in a hospital than via the Internet at home.

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