This worrying draft for the Schools Science Curriculum is a blueprint for accelerating the decline of Science in New Zealand.” –Dr Michael Johnson, Senior Fellow at The New Zealand Initiative

by Roger Childs

It’s the experience with the History Curriculum all over again

Here we go again with an advance version of a “fast draft” Science Curriculum. In 2023 the new History Curriculum is being taught for the first time and years 1-10 students are getting a prescription with huge gaps and puzzling omissions, and one which is full of Maori content and understandings.

It took a Royal Society Expert Panel to encourage the developers to provide some improvements to the initial draft, but a lack of full coverage, accuracy and balance remains. The Royal Society’s assistance will be needed again, this time in their specialist area – Science.

The proposed contexts and the yawning omissions

The suggested Science Curriculum contexts are:

  • The Earth system – with emphasis on climate change (of course)
  • Biodiversity
  • Food, energy and water
  • Infectious diseases.
Is traditional science too pakeha for this racist government?

Many readers will recall learning General Science at secondary school with coverage of material related to Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and more recently, Earth Sciences [Geology, Geography]. These four fundamental components of Science worldwide are not named in the initial draft of the Education Ministry’s “refreshed” Science Curriculum.

Aspects of these four branches of Science will be touched on, but major elements and fundamental understandings are missing from the advance version.

Central concepts in physics are absent. There is no mention of gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, mass or motion. Chemistry is likewise missing in action. There is nothing about atomic structure, the periodic table of the elements, compounds or molecular bonding. –Dr Michael Johnson.

The purpose statement
It has been observed that this Science Curriculum initial draft reads as if it was written by bureaucrats, and not teachers and professors. I haven’t read the full draft document, but one suspects that matauranga Maori features strongly.

There is an initial purpose statement which sets out three principles that will underpin student learning.

  • Science is developed by people being curious about, observing and investigating the natural world.
  • (students will) develop place-based knowledge of the natural world and experience of the local area in which they live.
  • … bring knowledge from the past for acting now and in the immediate future.

The first principle is fair enough, but the key element of experimentation is not specifically stated. So much of what makes up science today has come from individuals exploring and experimenting so that their theories have been rejected, or become accepted on the basis of evidence. Often there have been plenty of accidental discoveries, trials and errors before the outcomes have been proven.

The second principle emphasises the local areas where learners live. This is too limited as the majority of students will ultimately leave their immediate communities and move around the nation and the world. The final general principle is more relevant to the study of history.

A major rethink needed
It will be interesting to see the reactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand. The organisation accepts giving matauranga the same weight as World science. Scientist Dr Bob Brockie spells out why this conclusion is flawed:

“Science deals with the natural world but matauranga is rooted in the supernatural. Science has plenty of evidence that humanity evolved from apes [or at least, humans and apes had a common ancestor —Eds] by Darwinian natural selection. Maori traditional belief is that the god Tane created people.

“Science aims to make universal laws, such as Newton’s laws of motion and gravity, Ohm’s laws of electricity, and Hubble’s law of cosmic expansion. These laws apply in New Zealand as they do on distant galaxies. Matauranga is limited to local situations and local events, and has produced no universal laws.”

The advance version of the Science Curriculum will undoubtedly generate plenty of debate which will hopefully result in a major rethink about what our young people will learn about world science in the future.

The Ministry of Education has announced that a full draft curriculum for consultation will be available in August.