The British Interplanetary Society Leads Space A-Level Initiative

With all the recent talk of the UK’s urgent requirement for more scientist and engineers, one organisation is not sitting idly by waiting for something to happen.  Working with a team of space experts and educators from around the UK, the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) has already commenced work on a study for the Department for Education on a “Space Science and Technology” course targeted primarily at 16-18 year-old students. This six month study aims to define the syllabus and the teaching materials that will be required for a formally accredited academic course.

The recently published Innovation and Growth Strategy for space sets some ambitious targets for the UK Space industry, including securing 10% of the world’s space budget, (a share worth approximately £40 billion), by 2030.

Encouragingly, the industry has already received sterling support from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in the form of investment in the Space Applications Catapult Centre at Harwell and satellite projects such as TechDemoSat-1.

But in order to achieve such long-term targets, the UK will need not only financial investment, but also a cadre of about 100,000 appropriately trained scientists and engineers to do the work. Hence there is a pressing need to encourage more students to follow careers in STEM subjects, and specifically, to choose a career path that includes “space”.

That career path currently has a pothole in it. Whilst it is currently possible to study astronomy at GCSE, and courses in astrophysics and other space-related topics at degree and post-graduate level, there is, at present, no course with a focus on space that is specifically aimed at the 16-18 age group.

In a most welcome example of joined-up-thinking across Government, the Secretary of State of Education, Michael Gove has recently approved a study proposal to define the syllabus for a course in “Space Science and Technology” which aims to fill that void.

Michael Gove said: ‘Universities and businesses urgently need more people trained with the hard skills required for space science and technology. This innovative project could fill a hole in 16-18 education and complement all we are doing to strengthen maths and physics. There are many fascinating experiments with online courses to help teach great content in ways that are measurably effective, and it will be interesting to see how the space community deals with this challenge.’

The proposal team, coordinated by the BIS Education and Outreach Committee, includes a number of individuals from different areas of the space community, all of whom have a strong background in space education and outreach activities.

One of the primary aims of this study is to define the most appropriate delivery mechanism for the syllabus. It may be that a traditional “A-level” approach is recommended, but another exciting possibility, as recognised by the Minister, is delivering the material via the internet as  MOOCs – Massive Open On-line Courses.

The study report will be available in March 2014, and if approved, the target is to have the materials prepared and the course accredited for the academic year that commences in 2016.

For further information please contact:
Dr Stuart Eves
Chairman, Education and Outreach Committee
The British Interplanetary Society
Mob: 0752 898 4320

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