Science curricula in need of reform

Media release

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Friday, 11 Aug 2006

MEDIA RELEASE For immediate release Friday 11 August 2006 Science curricula in need of reform School science curricula are in urgent need of reform. This is a clear theme emerging from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) 11th annual conference entitled Boosting Science Learning: What will it take? to be opened by Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, Julie Bishop at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra on Monday. Speaking ahead of the conference opening, ACER chief executive Professor Geoff Masters said there was an urgent need for new approaches to the teaching of science that were less focused on the memorisation of facts, that provided an understanding of the processes and human face of science, and that did a better job of connecting science to the lives of the majority of students. “Australians of the future will need to make informed decisions about a wide range of scientific issues including climate change, genetic engineering, cloning, radiation, stem cell research, pandemics, water conservation, salinity and nuclear energy. Effective citizenship will depend on a level of scientific literacy,” Professor Masters said. At the same time, future economic growth would depend on an ongoing supply of world-class scientists. “If Australia is to be a significant producer, and not merely a consumer, of technology, then we must work to increase the number of young people wanting to pursue science as a career,” Professor Masters said. The conference will be told that the numbers of students studying senior secondary biology, chemistry and physics declined substantially since the 1970s. Research shows that many students perceive school science to be uninteresting, irrelevant to their lives, too focused on the memorisation of facts, and difficult to learn. “The paradox is that the very courses we have designed as a rigorous foundation for future science study appear to turn many students off science. Not only are these courses not meeting the needs of the majority of students, they also are not producing significant numbers of students wanting to pursue science as a career.” Professor Masters said it was also time to question the wisdom of developing seven parallel senior syllabuses and their associated examinations and assessments in a subject such as Physics. “Rather than states developing essentially the same syllabus seven times, a little national sharing might free up limited resources for the development of science courses more relevant to the majority of students’ lives.” At a time when conservative forces were calling for a return to school curricula of the past, at least in science, curriculum approaches of the past were no longer serving us well, Professor Masters said. The conference concludes on Tuesday. ****************ENDS*************