Too hard for whom? Sir Peter Gluckman on science education concerns

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman has written a hard-hitting blog post in response to schools considering dropping science as a compulsory subject in year 11.

The issue generated headlines last month when the Ministry of Education established an advisory group to look into the issue.

Sir Peter writes:

“If Year 11 Science seems to be getting the better of some students, then let’s find more appropriate ways for them to learn it, not abandon it. Let’s help them be more prepared for it by ensuring that, from the earliest years in the school system, science is taught in an engaging and accessible way, and is assessed in accord with appropriate objectives. The need for all young people to have some basic scientific concepts and awareness is compelling. For a school to prematurely loosen its requirements in science not only sends the worst possible message to our young people, but it may also fail to prepare them adequately for the kind of future they are already facing.

“Every advanced country is striving to enhance its population’s understanding of science and technology. In part this is because economic health increasingly depends on a workforce more competent to develop and use advanced technologies. But there are other important reasons as well. Environmental protection and societal health also depend on our ever-deepening understanding of technology – whether to improve our lives with it, or, in some cases, to be able to make appropriate choices about limiting its application.”

He concludes:

“Schools do a disservice to their students, their communities and to New Zealand if they prematurely loosen their commitment to science in the curriculum because it is perceived as ‘too hard’. There are clearly challenges; issues of relevancy, content, mode of delivery and mode of assessment should all be critically addressed. This requires the pedagogical researchers, science teachers, school administrators and parents to look to new models, to think about which students need what kind of exposure and about how to take advantage of the digital classroom. In short it would be far more productive to work towards nation-wide, multi-level progress on such matters rather than individual schools and their Boards making decisions that will potentially disadvantage cadres of young people.”

Read Sir Peter’s blog post in full here.