Like every industry grounded in science and technology, those of us in the plastics manufacturing business understand that the key to our success lies in a well-educated, highly skilled and trained workforce.
Yet, disturbing news comes from the National Science Board that the country is facing a critical science pipeline problem. The U.S. is simply not producing the number of scientists and engineers it needs to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Creating a healthy science pipeline begins in kindergarten. And, it's as much about teachers as it is about students. After all, how can we expect our students to achieve in science when their teachers aren't expected to?
That is the central question asked in a new Bayer MaterialScience survey. In the Bayer Facts of Science Education X: Are the Nation's Colleges and Universities Adequately Preparing Elementary Schoolteachers of Tomorrow to Teach Science? we put that question to deans of the nation's schools of education who are responsible for training America's teachers and the newest generation of elementary teachers themselves.
What we found is that for an enterprise as important as science is to the United States, it is still treated as a second-tier subject in elementary school. The survey reveals a troubling, yet consistent phenomenon that begins in college training programs and is subsequently carried over into the classroom.
In college, for example, the new teachers report that science received less emphasis than English and math in their teaching methods courses, a finding with which the deans concur. And, many more new teachers and deans gave “A” grades to their English and math teaching preparation than to their science teaching prep courses.
Unfortunately, this failure to make science the fourth “R” has a clear impact in today's elementary school classrooms, where most teachers say that, unlike other core subjects, they do not teach science every day. That's disappointing. Further, fewer new teachers say they feel “very qualified” to teach science compared to the other basics.
That's both disappointing and unacceptable. Because elementary school is when we get the best first opportunity to grab students' attention and keep them engaged. And, that's when students, if taught science in a hands-on inquiry-based manner, begin to develop important lifelong science literacy skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking and team working.
Here's where we in the plastics industry can help. We can get involved as partners in innovative college programs that are rewriting the rules of elementary science teacher training. I'm proud to say that Bayer, through its Making Science Make Sense initiative, is part of this revolution. These programs provide models for other companies interested in getting involved in similar college-corporate partnerships. For their part, the deans widely support such partnership programs. They want and need the expertise and knowledge our scientists and engineers can share and since we are among the ultimate beneficiaries, I believe we have a responsibility here.
Put it this way, helping to train tomorrow's science teachers should be elementary for business.
Gregory S. Babe is head of the NAFTA region for Bayer MaterialScience, and president & chief executive officer of Bayer MaterialScience LLC.