Saving New Zealand Science | 15 November, 2008

On-going concerns about the teaching and assessment of science in New Zealand have prompted a discussion forum at this weeks New Zealand Microbiology Society (NZMS) conference in Christchurch.

One area of interest is whether the in-coming National Government will do better than the out-going administration when it comes to fixing NCEA.

Teacher, microbiologist and examination marker Michael Fenton explains:

"A NZMS review panel, which included teachers and scientists, examined commonly used school texts and found errors in the microbiology which were attributed by the publishers as coming from New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) assessments."

This appears similar to the situation in United Kingdom, as reported by the Guardian newspaper in December last year, where one author of a science textbook was reportedly told to write a factually incorrect answer because the mistake had been made in the curriculum and the book had to match.

The society is concerned about the "parrot-learning" to get pupils through exams at the sacrifice of wider critical thinking and accurate science. Students also view science and mathematics as too hard and are opting to choose other "softer" options.

But alI is not doom and gloom.

Education Forum chair Christine Fenton is looking for solutions, not just problems.

"The whole point of being willing to recognise deficiencies in any system is to remedy the situation. We know of teachers and scientists who are keen to assist with getting this right. This forum is to look at these opportunities."

The education session is the first that the professional society of scientists has held. There is no charge to encourage teachers to attend and participate in the discussion. This has been advertised to over 200 High Schools but so far only 2 teachers have indicated that they will be attending.

The education session will be held at the University of Canterbury on the 20th of November starting at 2 pm with an address by Dr Jack Heinemann from the University of Canterbury in lecture theatre C1. Keynote speaker Martin Hanson of Auckland, author of 12 science textbooks, follows at 3.15 pm. Other speakers include Dr Mary Jane Sneyd of Otago University, Dr Chris Eames of Waikato University, Christine Fenton from WITT and Frances Wall from CPIT.

Topics for discussion will include:

  • What unique challenges exist for microbiology educators?
  • Microbiology's low priority in school compared to the high profile and interest in the media (ie AIDS, Bird Flu, MRSA, Noravirus)
  • Why microbiology in particular is prone to basic errors of fact in secondary school science
  • Why teachers carry out high risk practical work in contrary to Ministry of Education guidelines
  • Are the academic standards of NZ secondary school science failing our young people?
  • The impact of NCEA on science education; will the new curriculum provide improved opportunities for microbiology?
  • Are students being adequately prepared for a career in the scientific workforce?
  • What impact has the perceived high cost of practical science education had in the tertiary sector?



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