A recent report published in the US suggests that the UK Government’s plans to boost science and engineering may be undermined by its muddled policies on measurement units.
The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) announced on 30 September a £400 million boost for science and engineering teaching at English universities. The Universities and Science Minister also said that only 6% of the engineering workforce in the UK is female, so this package of support would also have a particular focus on encouraging women into these subjects. The announcement precedes “Tomorrow’s Engineers Week” which will take place from 4 to 8 November.
The full press release may be found at:
However, the attention of Metric Views has been drawn to recent research in the USA which suggests that the UK’s measurement muddle could undermine the government’s intentions.
The US study* was entitled, “Changing pre-service elementary teachers’ perceptions of teaching and learning the metric system.” Yes. Oh dear!
But among the authors’ observations and suggestions is the following:
“the customary system, with its wide use in everyday life, suppresses any meaningful development of cognition in metric measurements in American children.”
In the UK, we have proceeded further with the metric changeover than have the Americans, but there are still many instances where imperial measurements (known as ‘customary’ in the US) are still used, thereby reinforcing the disconnection between science, engineering and everyday life. Examples include measurement of body weight and height, advertisements for homes and offices, reporting in newspapers and on TV, and of course our road traffic signs.
The US study concludes by saying:
“Metric conversion is not only good for international trade and commerce and for science and business, but also for … children’s learning of mathematics.” To which, MV would add, “and for their perception of the relevance of science and engineering to everyday life”.
Incidentally, would not that £400 million cover any reasonable estimate of the cost of converting the UK’s distance and speed road traffic signs to show metric measures?
* The study was published in the June 2013 issue of the US “Journal of mathematics education” and is available on line at educationforatoz.com/images/Fuchang_Liu_-_1.pdf (16 pages).