School Science Education In 21st Century Australia
Date Posted:19 January 2017
In an increasingly technologically complicated world, it has never been more important to provide children of all ages with a comprehensive science education.
In an increasingly technologically complicated world, it has never been more important to provide children of all ages with a comprehensive science education. Unfortunately, the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) report has revealed that Australia science education results have not improved significantly over the past two decades. The report found no significant improvement in Year 4 and Year 8 results since 1995, and a handful of countries including the United States, Canada and England now outperform us where previously we were ahead.
The findings are troubling for Australian educators at every level, painting a picture of a country with a stagnant and increasingly irrelevant science education curriculum. Diagnosing the cause is difficult, and a number of factors could be said to contribute to this poor showing.
Far from the easiest subject to teach
Developing, deploying and assessing a robust science syllabus is extremely difficult. Every subject demands specialised knowledge, but the level of training and the academic background that the ideal science teacher would have is unfortunately well beyond that of most teachers providing primary and secondary instruction in the subject. Only around 50 per cent of teachers providing science instruction had received training in teaching methods for science, and it has been described as a low-confidence subject for many primary teachers.
Additionally, there is little institutional incentive to change this. The lack of a NAPLAN assessment for science means that poor results and low participation rates do not receive the kind of public attention – and thus policy response – that similar figures in English or mathematics would draw.
Laying the foundation for tomorrow’s scientists
Chief Scientist for Australia Alan Finkel identified several potential policy responses that could help to arrest and reverse Australia’s flagging science education standards. The loss of maths and science prerequisites for some relevant university courses removes downward pressure on secondary schools to have strong, well-funded maths and science programs. Additionally, there needs to be a cultural change with regards to who teaches science and maths; teachers should be expected to be experts in the field, allowing them to provide the kind of ad hoc support that students need to see science and maths as evolving and dynamic fields, rather than as a box to tick before tertiary education.
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 Thomson, S., Wernert, N., O'Grady, E. and Rodrigues, S. (n.d.). TIMSS 2015. 1st ed. Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd, p. v.
 Crook, S. and Wilson, R. (2015). Five challenges for science in Australian primary schools. [online] The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/five-challenges-for-science-in-australian-primary-schools-42413 [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].
 Australian Science Teachers Association, (2014). Primary School Science Teaching Survey Report June 2014. [online] p.15. Available at: http://asta.edu.au/programs/assist
 Finkel, A. (2016). Australia is very average when it comes to maths and science performance – here's what needs to change. [online] The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/australia-is-very-average-when-it-comes-to-maths-and-science-performance-heres-what-needs-to-change-69782 [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].
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