Nova, the financial newspaper Il Sole24ore’s supplement on research and innovation discussed some results of a recent survey realized by Observa Science in Society Monitor, about the attitude of the Italian youth towards studying science. According to such survey, Italian youth attitudes towards studying science appears to be characterised by a nearly schizophrenic ambivalence: they can easily learn to use brand new mobile phones or music download software, they attend science festivals and watch regularly TV programmes about science; but when it comes decide whether to study science subjects at university, they hesitate.
This invites to consider the issue of perception, namely of what ‘studying science’ means for the youth. Observa-Science in Society collected data from a representative sample of young people aged 16-20 years old, i.e. in a phase which is crucial for their decisions about future study and career prospects.
Among those who express their intention to attend university, slightly one out of five (18%) is already sure that he/she will enrol in a university science curricula; more than one out of four is considering to do so (29%). One out of two (50%) excludes this possibility.
If we have a look at the motivations given by those having already decided not to study science, we can find the confirmation that neither worries about career perspectives for science graduates, nor disincentives from family and friends (and not even logistic problems, e.g. the distance and cost of attending a university course in science) seem to play a significant role. For the majority of these interviewees (72%), in fact, the crucial point is that science appears to them too difficult and boring. On the other hand, if we look at the motivations of those that already decided to study science, the result is clear: most of them they are going to study science because “scientific studies are fascinating” (81%) and only marginally because they help to find a better job.
Although intended as a preliminary enquiry in view of more in depth studies, the data inspire interesting reflections about possible policy answers. These have so far focused on the cultural side, attempting to revitalise science image in the eyes of youth. If this is undoubtedly important, equally important appears to be to not underestimate the role of the school framework, since it is very likely that it is within such framework that a perception of science as “difficult” and “boring” takes shape. For instance, more than 75% of the interviewees think that the real difficulty in studying mathematics is due to the fact that “the majority of teachers are not able to explain it clearly”. Slightly one student out of three, moreover, had the chance to use a science lab – the great majority of those having had this opportunity considering it very useful for his/her background. The importance of benefits and practical support such as aid grants, work placement assistance should also not be underestimated the).
The Science in Society Monitor has been created in order to furnish a solid knowledge base for discussion among researchers, citizens and policy-makers and it is the very first effort to monitor trends in Italian public opinion concerning technological research and innovation.
It is an initiative by the research center Observa – Science in Society, realized thanks to the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo.
The research supervisors of the Monitor are Massimiano Bucchi (University of Trento), Federico Neresini and Giuseppe Pellegrini (University of Padua), in association with Valeria Arzenton.
The survey was conducted by means of CATI-method telephone interviews with a sample of 449 subjects, representing the Italian population aged 16 – 20 years old.