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Scientists look into microscopes in a lab
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The BulletinJuly 6, 2023

Curriculum changes under the microscope

Scientists look into microscopes in a lab
Photo: Getty Images

A ‘fast draft’ of the new science curriculum has prompted enormous debate among educators as the clock ticks down on finalising the new level 1 NCEA curriculum, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Context cart before a basics horse?

My last interaction with a high school science curriculum was in 1996 as a sixth-form chemistry student. The only successful hypothesis I proved was that I was a distraction to others in class. At the time, and perhaps unfortunately for me and an entire generation, there was a common perception that you’d only study all the sciences — chemistry, physics and biology — at sixth and seventh form level if you were aiming to get into medical school. Back in the ancient times (the late 90s), the idea that science was an essential knowledge system through which to understand the world seemed as foreign as taking typing, a subject that was still stigmatised as being for young ladies who wanted to join the steno pool. Knowledge as context seemed to be the preserve of the humanities. As someone with no pedagogical background, the current debate about the leaked ‘fast draft’ of the science curriculum seems to be rooted in whether a holistic and contextual cart is being put before the basics horse.

‘Where is the science?’

As reported by RNZ’s John Gerrtisen above, the draft (and it’s worth noting it is indeed a draft) was sent to a few teachers for their feedback ahead of its release for consultation next month, but some were so worried by the content they leaked it to their peers. Some science educators have been left wondering “where the science” is in the new curriculum with no mention of physics, chemistry or biology. It was also leaked to Dr Michael Johnston, a senior fellow at the New Zealand Initiative and former associate dean at Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Education. In an opinion piece, Johnston writes that “calling this document a science curriculum is far too generous. It is a blueprint for accelerating the decline of science in New Zealand.” He echoes sentiments expressed by Dr Andrew Rogers, the head of the chemistry at St Peter’s College in Auckland in an opinion piece for the Herald published in June (paywalled) and another, published yesterday (paywalled).

Curriculum writer rubbishes suggestions key subjects would not be taught

The draft proposes that science be taught through five contexts – the earth system, biodiversity, food, energy and water, infectious diseases and “at the cutting edge”. One of the curriculum writers from the University of Waikato, Cathy Buntting, rubbished suggestions key areas like physics and chemistry would not be taught. Speaking to RNZ’s Morning Report yesterday, she said teachers “will be teaching the chemistry and the physics that you need to engage with – the big issues of our time – and in order to engage with the excitement of science and the possibilities that science offers.” As a relevant aside, Newsroom’s Marc Daalder has a report this morning (paywalled) on new polling that shows New Zealanders don’t understand how to fight climate change.

Just ‘parts of’ new curriculum for the new NCEA Level finalised

The latest debate over the science curriculum comes amid questions about the timing of the rollout of a new NCEA Level 1 curriculum and a number of schools opting out of offering it. Education minister Jan Tinetti confirmed on Q&A over the weekend that just “parts of” the new NCEA Level 1 curriculum have been finalised but that there was still a commitment to rolling it out next year. NCEA is optional in Year 11 (the old fifth form for anyone that doesn’t have kids and did School C). A number of schools have opted out of offering it including Rangitoto College and St Cuthberts. Hobsonville Point Secondary School ditched NCEA Level 1 in its traditional form when it opened around 2015. It’s a fascinating school and if you’re interested, The Detail has a great episode profiling its approach to education. The school’s principal Maurie Abraham, also joined an assistant principal from Christ’s College to discuss why schools were pulling out of offering NCEA Level 1 in June on RNZ’s Nine to Noon.

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