Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Science Education Underdone in New Zealand


ERO's Dr Graham Stoop's revelation that science is underdone in primary schools is no surprise to the profession. The huge focus on reading, writing and mathematics over the last few years and the introduction of National Standards effectively shifted the emphasis away from science. The wiping of all advisory services not directly supporting National Standards also removed the valuable professional support for science that I found hugely useful earlier in my career.

The decline in science knowledge and achievement has been known for a number of years. The National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) identified a drop in achievement in the younger age groups and noted in a 2007 report:

"The significant declines for year 4 students in the physical and material world strands, which on average included tasks that were very popular with students, may be related to the evidence from the 2007 science survey that year 4 students were sensing a lack of science activities at school, and particularly a lack of “really good things” such as experiments and research/projects. This may reflect, in particular, diminished time spent on science related to the physical and material worlds."


The new National Curriculum implementation was going to address the gaps identified in the teaching of science and technology, however the introduction of National Standards put an immediate stop to that. Any amount of professional concerns regarding the damage that would be done to wider learning by focussing so heavily on a narrowed curriculum was ignored . A 2011 report on science education, led by the Prime Minister's science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, revealed that the majority of year five students experienced only an hour each week of science education. He called for greater professional support for teachers in this area and encouraged raising the subject's importance.


By ignoring the advice of the profession and academics and pursuing their ideological agenda, the National Government is doing huge damage to our potential as a country at the cutting edge of scientific and technological development. I have stated before that, if writing and mathematics are going to dominate education, we are just going to end up with huge numbers of accountants and report writers. On the positive side, we will be able to track and describe our economic decline with some accuracy.