Putting science in the ‘too hard’ basket

By Elf Eldridge 23/09/2013

A friend put me onto this article that appeared on Stuff this morning. It deals with a warning that the Ministry of education has received from Secondary Principals’ Association about being force to drop Year 11 science as a compulsory subject as students are struggling to achieve NCEA Level 1 by including it.

I particularly enjoy the opening line “Scientists are alarmed…“, personally I find that a little bit of an understatement! Whilst I understand that school funding is linked to students success rates – the idea that you simply drop something as integral as science because students struggle to pass utterly confounds me.

Lets imagine if a similar situation arose with English, where students were struggling to pass. Would we then drop English from the curriculum? One would certainly hope not, as some knowledge of english is central to the participation of a future citizen in New Zealand society. After all – isn’t this why we choose to teach these subjects? So why are we treating science any different? Are we implicitly saying that a basic understanding of how reality actually works, how humans grow and develop, and how to critically evaluate information are not useful tools in modern society?

Now there is every chance that this is simply a storm in a teacup because there may just be an issue with the achievement standards that need to be improved (but as neither an educational professional or curriculum expert I’m not able to comment on this), but if it isn’t then I have to agree with Sir Peter Gluckman’s stance:

“It just seems to me that they are not doing the right thing by young people. To exclude them so early from studying science, you’re affecting their future”

So for any principals, teachers, parents or students out there reading this – please don’t let this happen at your school. If it has already happened – complain. If it’s about to happen – protest. If you want to learn how to improve science teaching join a group like the Capital City science Educators who can support you. Get a speaker to enthuse and excite your students via FutureinTech. If none of these work get in touch with me directly and I’ll do my best to help you find the people and resources you need to sort this. But please PLEASE don’t let you college/school give up on science as a Year 11 subject – your children or students have too much to lose!

UPDATE: There is also an Op Ed piece from the Dominion Post about this here.


0 Responses to “Putting science in the ‘too hard’ basket”

  • I think it’s really important that people know that science is not just a body of knowledge to be learned, but that it’s a way of thinking critically and understanding how the world (universe!) around you works.

    Not understanding these basic principles creates vulnerabilities that can be exploited by pseudoscience (eg magnetic bracelets, amber teething beads, homeopathy & anti-vaccination misunderstanding for starters), but also when you lose an understanding of how things fit together; then also a sense place and interrelations.

    Anyway, it seems to me the fundamental issue is not necessarily that science is hard, more that students aren’t enjoying science. And that’s the biggest shame, because every kid I have ever come across has been driven to understand their environment. What is happening that they lose that sense of wonder? How can it be taught in a more appealing way?