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Nature Physics on “educate to innovate”

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Will Sesame Street, video games and robots get school children interested in science, asks Nature Physics in an editorial this month (6, 1; 2010)? From the Editorial:

“We will restore science to its rightful place.” President Barack Obama’s explicit nod during his inauguration was eagerly welcomed by scientists. Now fresh applause has greeted the ‘educate to innovate’ campaign, launched by the president last month. A nationwide effort “to move American students to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade”, the programme brings together businesses and non-profit groups to invest in the education of middle- and high-school students.

The purse holds over US$260 million in total, including a commitment of US$100 million from Time Warner Cable to produce shows that promote science and technology. Children’s favourite Sesame Street will have a two-year focus on science; Discovery Communications will deliver science content to 60,000 schools, reaching 35 million pupils; and electronics giant Sony will support a challenge to design free, science-based video games.

Further initiatives such as ‘Connect a million minds’ aim to encourage youngsters to explore science in a playful way after school, for example through robotics competitions. And National Lab Day, to be held during the first week of May 2010, will be the highlight of a project aimed at fostering collaboration between volunteers, students and educators. “Students will launch rockets, construct miniature windmills, and get their hands dirty. They’ll have the chance to build and create — and maybe destroy just a little bit — to see the promise of being the makers of things, and not just the consumers of things”, said Obama at the ‘educate to innovate’ launch event in Washington DC. The White House will also host an annual science fair.

‘Educate to innovate’ is an exciting, landmark programme. According to Obama: “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.” But the challenge is in sustaining the effort, providing well-educated teachers and job prospects for those youngsters who do decide to pursue a career in science. The goal has to be greater than simply seeing US students excel in tests.

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