Pit astronomy heich up in the Scots education system
We can read this Thursday in The National that Scotland could be the place for the rapplin space industry by the wey o Tom Walkinshaw o technology firm Alba Orbital. We can read an-aw that space technology firms fae Scotland is developpin new technology, wi Alba Orbital developpin the lichtest, cheapest, and peeriest sattelite aroond. Anither newins tae dae wi the Scots space industry, the possibility o a spaceport, wis proponed an-aw, bi Commonspace. This idea wis descreived as ‘science fiction’ bi Adam Tomkins, Tory MSP. But this is in maugre o the first spaceport bein biggit in Kazakhstan in 1957 (on lease tae Roushie syne Kazakhstan’s wanthirldom in 1991) and twa new anes biggit juist last year, in Roushie and China. Sae it’s mair tae be science fact. And Scotland awready haes its ain space industry, becomin sonsier and sonsier, as Commonspace pynts oot.
And Scotland investin in its space industry wad be a braw idea, in ma view, for a hantle reasons. The investment wad forder a industry that, forrit and ayont, could be crucial for the hale o Jock Tamson’s bairns. It wad create jobs that fowk could actually be greeshochie anent an-aw. And, on tap o that, it wad pit Scotland at the forebreist o innovation, as it’s afttimes been.
But whit can be daen for tae forder this industry?
Och, the state o the economy is relevant: a economy that isnae diverse eneuch, a economy that isnae even biggin the components for caurs, willnae can produce a major space industry. Anither relevant element is the financial and infrastructure investment fae the government. And the encouragement or discouragement hings on whaur individuals and firms is makkin their efforts an-aw: whiles, in ony domain, ye juist need the ane-twa eydent buddies for awthing tae gang fae naething till something.
But hou can thae eydent buddies even hae their ideas, gif they dinnae learn anent them? Och, it’s possible that they can gang awa theirsels and learn things aw bi theirsels. And that comes o some fowk. Some fowk juist learn things on their ain. And that is a rare thing. This kin o willint naitur can and should be upsteert. But awbody isnae sic a aiver learner. And, even for the fowk that learns on their lanesome like that, they dinnae necessarly finn the swecht for tae resairch their favourite topic on their ain: they foond the topic throu fowk shawin it tae them, wis interestit in learnin mair aboot it, and than gaun awa and learnt aboot it.
Hou can we git fae wir present knawledge o an interest in astronomy in Scotland tae a generation wi mony buddin astronomers?
Ma idea is tae pit astronomy heich up in the curriculum. The idea that astronomy should hae a place in the curriculum is supportit bi the journal airticle Teaching Astronomy: Why and How?
Afore leukin at alternatives, we’ll see whit astronomy lessons is like in Scotland awready. Thir days, the’re a fair differ atweesh astronomy in Scots heicher education and education afore that: scuils pit astronomy as pairt o physics, while universities gie it its ain place. This is true in general; ootthrou different kintras, there is mair availability o astronomy at university level than at scuil level. At the moment, there isnae a National Qualification for astronomy though the’re a physics unit that is anent astronomy, and it is guid that there is something.
Obviously, we can say astronomy is pairt o physics. But astrophysics is in fact juist the ae subdiscipline o astronomy; there is forby ither owerlaps wi ither subjects: astrobiology, astrochemistry, even archeoastronomy, as weel as ither domains ’ithin astronomy, like celestial mechanics, physical cosmology and planetary science.
Turnin tae ither times and places, we can see that there wis or is mair astronomy lessons. In auncient Greek scuils, astronomy wis gien date and gree amang scuil subjects. In the Pythagorean scuil, for insaumple, it wis ane o the major subjects.
Nou that we recognise the importance o space traivel and the propines it can bring us, it should be mair important, no less. Thir propines can range fae the space traivel itsel (for tae hae the potential tae can stairt colonies on ither planets some day) tae technology developpit bi NASA, and than transfert tae Earth uiss, like artificial limbs amang ither innovations. Sae we should, by wey o it, be mair interestit in space than the auncient Greeks war.
Nou tae leuk at anither kintra, in pairts o whilk astronomy is awready heich placed in the curriculum. That kintra is East Germany, whaur there wis obligator astronomy clesses fae 1959 on. This is true yet in fower o the five Eastern Länder (states): Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen-Anhalt, Thüringen and in Brandenburg. Famous astronomers like Martin Fiedler, Jens Kandler, Maik Meyer, André Knöfel, Lutz D. Schmadel and, maist notably, Thomas Henning, wha wirks as director at the Max Planck Astronomy Institute (Max-Planck-Institut für astronomy) is aw astronomers that haes been throu the East German system wi astronomy lessons. The situation in Eastern Germany wad obviously no be replicate like for like in Scots scuils, wi the wey Scots scuils is mair intae chyce, but we could offer mair aften the chyce tae learn the astronomy.
In Scotland, whit we could dae is eik astronomy intae Scots scuils as a separate subject, leastweys at Higher level. Obviously, we cannae gang straucht fae nae teachers speicialisin in astronomy tae aw the scuils haein them. There wad need tae be a hauflin process throu whilk things wad temporarily gang.
On tap o that, anither thing we need tae think on is the wey in whilk fowk learn. This is important an-aw: we wad aye want tae teach it richt, and in a wey that forders a gey wheen o the pupils tae continue in the field. As Neil deGrasse Tyson says:
“I would teach how science works as much as I would teach what science knows. I would assert (given that essentially, everyone will learn to read) that science literacy is the most important kind of literacy they can take into the 21st century. I would undervalue grades based on knowing things and find ways to reward curiosity. In the end, it’s the people who are curious who change the world.”
Sae we can see that the feelin o wonder for the warld, and the promuivin o whilk, is fundamental tae the forderin o society.
Anither quote o his is the follaein:
“I am trying to convince people—not only the public, but lawmakers and people in power—that investing in the frontier of science, however remote it may seem in its relevance to what you’re doing today, is a way of stockpiling the seed corns of future harvests of this nation.”
Och, he’s talkin anent the Unitit States in yon statement, but it isnae less true for Scotland or ony ither place.
Sae, aw in aw, astronomy wad be beneficial gin it’s for the futur o humanity or for the futur o Scotland’s space industry, or Scotland’s economy mair generally, or the potential inventions, or ony ither reason. And that’s hou I wad think that it wad be braw gif we could see astronomy pit heicher up in Scots scuils. And teach in it in a wey that fowk can be inspired by.