Enhancing botany education in Britain

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr J Mitchley  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Plants are a vital element of the biosphere and without plants there is no animal life. An understanding of plant diversity and the ability to identify, name and understand plants in their habitats (field botany) is essential to underpin ecology, conservation and sustainable development sciences. Despite this, the 21st century sees botany at the bottom of education curricula at school and university, in the UK and more widely. BSc botany degrees are all but extinct and plant science degrees that remain are often highly technical, molecular and laboratory focused. University courses which teach the field and herbarium skills required to identify our global plant resources, and to feed into conservation and sustainable utilisation of global plant resources, are rare in the extreme. In our schools, where we might expect to begin nurturing the next generation of botanists, plants feature to a variable extent. In primary school plants may feature well enough, students are expected to be able to identify common plants in their local environment, and to think about concepts of classification of diversity, and forays to local nature areas still feature. At secondary level the story seems very different. Plants are covered maybe in the topic of photosynthesis, in the study of tropisms and maybe in conservation and sustainable development issues, probably as broad vegetation types: grassland, woodland etc rather than as individual species. Any focus on living plants or visits into the field to observe and study are relegated to science clubs which, admittedly, may flourish in certain schools where the staff are particularly enthused and motivated. At Reading in 2019 we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of botany masters teaching and the year culminates with a symposium on the state of botany teaching in the UK, bringing a range of botanical educational actors together to debate the most effective ways to encourage and train the next generation of botanists and to feed into practical and pragmatic ideas for school and university curriculum development.  This PhD aims to take this initial discussion further, to widen the discussion to include a wide range of organisations and institutions and to collect and evaluate data on the past and present educational situation and to consider the most effective ways to encourage curriculum development and botanical teaching suited both for teachers and for their students. The outputs planned include a tool box for curriculum evaluation and development and best practice guidance for botany teaching in our schools and universities.
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