Concern Over Science in the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum statement was released on Monday 1st March 2010. A number of commentators have made claims and suggestions. Here are a few of my thoughts based on the experience of over 30 years teaching including a strong role in science education. Firstly, I would like to make a couple of points based on the following extract from the ‘Cross Curriculum Dimensions’.

Curriculum content that relates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and contexts is represented implicitly in the content descriptions, and explicitly in the content elaborations. Specific knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is incorporated where it relates to science and relevant phenomena,

particularly knowledge and understanding of nature and of sustainable practices. For example, systematic observations by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures over many generations of the sequence of various natural events contribute to our scientific understanding of seasons in Australia. Such examples of important knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are incorporated in the content elaborations as they relate and contribute to specific Science understanding content. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural perspectives on science and on related phenomena are incorporated within the content elaborations for the Science as a human endeavour strand. The elaborations in this strand emphasise both contemporary and historical examples of content that relates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and contexts. The cross-curriculum dimension of Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia provides engaging and rich contexts for science learning. Some specific examples from Asia are incorporated in the content elaborations for the Science understanding and Science as a human endeavour strands.

1.       Firstly, as claimed in at least one newspaper, I have a strong belief that the science education community is not going to accept Chinese medicines, natural therapies etc as part of the science curriculum. It’s just not going to happen. I see some concerns in the statement above, but it comes down to the interpretation of these very general guidelines. In my view they are possibly a vague attempt at politically addressing a rather broader public issue of looking beyond our singularly Anglo-focused heritage and recognising two other significant cultures within the new and forward-looking Australia. They have little to do with the teaching of Science within the curriculum.

2.       Newspaper journalists for the most part struggle to understand either educational curriculum or science. I doubt that The Australian Education Writer Justine Ferrari has fully comprehended the document and its implications. Flying a controversial kite such as ‘School students will learn about Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, Chinese medicine and natural therapies but not meet the periodic table of elements until Year 10 under the new national science curriculum’ is alarmist and designed to sell newspapers. Aboriginal Dreamtime IS currently taught in Primary Schools, but has no relation to the study of Science. I was a Chemistry teacher and any serious understanding of the periodic table is beyond the typical Year 10 student.

3.       This emphasises the point I have made that has echoed the thoughts of many Skeptics, that the Skeptics nationally or the Victorian branch needs a public voice on such important issues. We must act.

4.       I DON’T see material that is of major concern in this document: Science in the bible, teaching creationism as an alternative, faith healing for beginners etc.
I DO see the words we want to see e.g.

Thinking skills are embedded in a range of skills taught in science, including the ability to pose questions, make predictions, speculate, solve problems through investigation, make evidence-based decisions, analyse and evaluate evidence from their own and others’ work and summarise information. Students will be encouraged to develop their own understanding of concepts based on active inquiry.

Ignoring the debate as to whether we need a national curriculum or not, I am not initially concerned, but I would recommend that we take a serious interest and contribute to the feedback sought. I suspect that we might find our friends at the Science Teacher’s Association of Victoria an invaluable resource and support in this matter, but we need to contribute our particular perspective.

Don Hyatt

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