Harder to learn about science with modern technology – Astronomer Royal

5 June 2020, 17:44

Lord Rees
Professor Stephen Hawking memorial service. Picture: PA

Lord Rees cited the early interests of Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein.

Modern technology is making it harder for young people to learn about science, according to a leading astrophysicist.

Lord Martin Rees said it was difficult to take a smartphone apart in the same way as dismantling a clock or an engine.

Many children now have access to tablets and smartphones before they learn to walk and talk, and technology is regularly used in schools to aid learning.

The Astronomer Royal and former master of Trinity College, Cambridge said that many young people had lost their enthusiasm for science by the time they reached secondary school age.

He said that many famous scientists, such as Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, had been able to learn about science as children from experimentation.

“I think paradoxically our high-tech environments may actually be an impediment to sustaining useful enthusiasm in science,” Lord Rees said.

“It’s OK saying that technology, computers and the web especially offer huge benefits to today’s young generation.

“But I think people as ancient as me had one advantage. When we were young you could take apart a clock, a radio set or a motorbike, figure out how it works then reassemble it.

“That’s how many of us got hooked on science and engineering.”

Lord Rees, who was speaking at an event at the digital Cheltenham Science Festival, said smartphones were “baffling black boxes” if you took them apart.

“Young Isaac Newton made model windmills and clocks, Darwin collected fossils and beetles, Einstein was fascinated by the electric motors in his father’s factory,” he said.

“But it’s different today. The gadgets that now pervade our lives, smartphones and such like, are baffling black boxes and pure magic to most people.

“If you take them apart you find few clues to intricate miniaturise mechanisms and you certainly can’t put them together again.

“So, the extreme sophistication of modern technology, wonderful though those benefits are, is ironically an impediment to engaging young people in the basics, with learning how things work.”

By Press Association

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