What is the role of science?
Science plays a key role in helping us to understand and find ways to respond to many of the world’s problems – and that is particularly the case now.
The world is caught up in a pandemic. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. It’s not the first pandemic to affect the world and it’s unlikely to be the last. We regularly see an influenza pandemic when a new influenza virus emerges and spreads around the world. So what’s different if anything about this virus?
Most people recover from COVID-19 without needing specialist care. But the disease is having a more serious and worrying impact on the health of older people, and those with underlying medical problems.
COVID-19 creates unusual and significant challenges for children. There are some who experience the symptoms of COVID-19 themselves and fall unwell. For the vast majority, what they are experiencing are changes to their lives due to policies designed to reduce the transmission of the virus in the population and (increasingly) the impacts of social restrictions to try to protect older people.
A nation of Problem-Solvers
For those of us in teaching, we have an unprecedented role and opportunity to help children to understand these changes and to empower them with the insights they need to spot and solve some of the problems.
For a moment, let’s think about what we would like a child to understand about COVID-19, through the lens of biology. Consider for example that children are being asked to wash their hands more often – so what’s the science behind this advice? Biologists have investigated how viruses behave and how they are spread from person to person. This virus is one of many that can survive outside the body – on a surface – for a period of time. If you touch a surface that has also been touched by someone with the virus – you might pick up the virus on your hands and then transfer it to your mouth or eyes or nose – where it can infect you. And if you now have the virus, you might then give it to someone else.
Regular hand-washing is one way that we can all help to reduce the spread of the virus. There are other strategies too – but not all of them are recommended to parents and teachers as appropriate for children. And once we start to plan what we say to each individual child, there are likely to be more factors we want to take into account.
Does this mean that biology is the only discipline that we need to help us to make sense of the guidelines and the changes we are experiencing? Far from it!
Each of our subjects gives us a window onto the world. They don’t just teach us answers. They teach us how to be investigators, explorers and researchers.
School helps us to become more scholarly. Children learn how to ask and investigate questions through the questions, methods and norms of thought of different scholarly disciplines
Let’s turn next to geography, or history (you choose!) how can these disciplines shed some light on what we are currently experiencing?
Here are some questions we could ask in history or come up with your own: How did people first find out about the ways that diseases can spread and realise that viruses exist? And have we tried this strategy of asking people to stay at home when we encounter a global and infectious disease before and what happened then?
In geography we ask questions about the population density in different parts of the world. Can this discipline help us to understand why experts were worried that hospitals in London and other big cities might struggle with the number of people needing their help?