Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Perth High Pupils argue the case for geology at Scottish Parliament

On Thursday 16 May Dr Joyce Gilbert, Education Officer at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, arranged for the Higher Geology class at Perth High School to visit the Scottish Parliament to give a presentation to MSPs about what they had enjoyed about their year of studying Higher Geology. Their enthusiastic presentation provoked a fascinating discussion amongst the audience about the value of Geology (and Earth Sciences) in the Scottish curriculum, and raised concerns about the Scottish Qualification’s decision to remove the qualification from 2015. 

Perth High School pupils and their teacher Miss Hay outside the Scottish Parliament building.

The parliamentary visit was hosted by local MSP Liz Smith. The pupils were supported by  Dr Ruth Robinson, senior lecturer in Earth Sciences from St. Andrews University, Prof. Stuart Monro, Scientific Director at Our Dynamic Earth, their teacher Miss Hay, and, by video link, the RSGS’ President Prof. Iain Stewart, a geologist known for his presenting work on the BBC programmes Men Of Rock, How to Grow a Planet and Volcano Live.

Here is what some of the pupils said about their day: 
‘Having the opportunity to have our voices heard was great. The thought of not only speaking to MSPs, but trying to show them how great geology is was daunting. But with the support of two Doctors and two Professors, the day felt really professional!’
(Brooke Morran)
‘It was very beneficial to be able to interact with MSPs and to share our experiences of studying geology. I hope our presentation made as much impact on them today as studying geology has made on me this year.’ (Craig Davidson)
‘I greatly enjoyed visiting the Scottish parliament and experiencing First Ministers Question Time for myself. I was proud to be part of a group to speak in front of MSPs to fight for geology to be kept in the school curriculum.’ (Merlin Hillyer)
 ‘A very enjoyable day where the presentation was a great success. I enjoyed speaking and the ensuing discussion was very thought-provoking. A great end to a geological filled year!’ (Fraser Todd)
The students argued the case for ensuring that geology continues to be represented in the new Scottish curriculum to seven MSPs from across the parties. Attending were Liberal Democrat Wllie Rennie,  the SNP's Marco Biagi, Annabelle Ewing and Clare Adamson, Scottish Conservatives Nanette Milne and Liz Smith, and independent MSP Jean Urquart.

Geology has been dropped as an examinable subject within the shake up under Curriculum for Excellence, but this is not so much a lack of take up as arguably a lack of teacher training - there has been no geology in teacher training since 1985.  The replacement qualification Environmental Science does not have much Earth Science content. 

Brooke and Craig join the round table discussion with MSPs.
Scotland is one of the most geodiverse regions on the planet, and geologists are involved in work in petroleum, water resources, natural hazards, environmental problems and climate change.   Also, this decision comes at a time when other countries, including England, Japan, Norway and Australia are actually increasing the provision of Geology and Earth Science education.

The RSGS chief executive, Mike Robinson, has called on ministers to ensure that geology had a future in Scottish schools. “We are determined not to see this subject disappear from our schools, or be sliced and diced until there's nothing left,” he said. 

“There is a danger that this country, which has led the world in geology and geography, is turning its back on these practical and vital modern sciences through a simple lack of understanding.”

Liz Smith, Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife said:  “I was delighted to welcome pupils and teachers from Perth High School to the Scottish Parliament and to watch their first class presentation. It was clear from the pupils experiences that they had really enjoyed the their geology studies and had been able to visit a number of sites in Scotland as part of their project.   
 “Scotland is one of the most geodiverse countries in the world and is regarded by many as the cradle of modern geological thinking. “
Concerns have been expressed that the Scottish Qualifications Authority is to close Higher Geology as a subject for examination particularly given the importance of geology to earth sciences and the emerging industries in Scotland.”

Pupils show rock samples to Liz Smith, MSP.