It’s time Australia places science and technology at the forefront of our children’s classrooms.

It’s time Australia places science and technology at the forefront of our children’s classrooms.

As a preservice science teacher I believe science is at the core of Australian society and is one of the largest influences within the global market. It is vital for social progression to understand the natural world, the constructed world, human biology and the influence of physics and maths in our modern lives. Positive experiences within science and more broadly STEM (science, technologies, engineering and mathematics) is critical in supporting individuals to build the skill base needed to provide continual innovation and create a stronger Australia within a competitive economy. I believe secondary science education should be focusing on a cross-disciplinary approach to facilitate STEM qualified students in navigating an unstable, complex future. Yet it is dictated and severely restricted by the South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) framework. 

I developed a passion for science early on in life without even realising. I was fascinated with space, the ocean and experiments but at the time I didn’t know that these interests were all firmly rooted in science. As I got older and began to experience science in a school setting and my interests changed and developed, I went through phases of loving different areas of science all the way from chemistry to marine biology to cognitive neuroscience. For me it wasn’t so much the kind of science I loved but the underlying nature of science that is always asking questions, changing, pushing students to develop modern skills.

When I was a middle school student science was my favourite subject. I loved that it was interactive, exciting and relevant to the world around me. The science labs were a flexible space that supported a positive constructivist approach to learning and allowed for exploration in topics that were relevant to our interests and the world around us. My science teachers were actively involved in the teaching process and embodied successful constructivist teaching by creating a community of active learners where they themselves were an integral and dynamic component. In short, I loved and greatly benefited from my experience of the ideal science learning environment in the middle years.

In senior school there was a shift from this structure to a content and outcomes-based approach where tests are common and learning becomes segregated, something very common in SACE subjects. This shift comes from a school focus on being competitive in a global market and upholding their reputation in producing high results across all subject areas. This focus on content learning and the expectation of high results comes from the increased competitive nature of schools where schools have to compete for student fees, government funding and to be the “best school”. 

The push for students to perform exceptionally well within the SACE changes science education fundamentally. While the SACE guidelines do not specify the exact teaching methods to be used, they do not allow for integrated learning, student led exploration or differential assessment. The SACE guidelines provide a one size fits all, standardised look into the specific areas of science that they have decided are important while ignoring the integrated nature of science and the influence of the contemporary world.   

The SACE isn’t alone in its standardised approach, renowned Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has called for a universal overhaul of how we teach science,

‘It’s taught as “learn this,” and then you get a test and that is science, and you come home and say “oh I know what a DNA molecule is, or I know what an engine is” and we think thats science.’

Now as a preservice teacher we are explicitly taught to recognise this shift. We are taught how we would teach in the ideal world and how schools and the SACE will require us to teach. Within my teaching degree I have completed whole courses that breakdown and explain the overwhelming sense of pressure SACE and the marketisation of school’s places on teachers. This pressure is seen disproportionately in emerging science teachers who, like me, are heading into their careers knowing the amazing integrated learning environments they can establish for students and the benefit this brings to their educations, but are also very aware of the roadblocks they will face in trying to bring this ideal way of teaching into classrooms. 

The future of science in education is changing and the future of education as a whole is undefined. Education should no longer impose unwavering obedience and compliance but rather produce individuals who are able to self-regulate, self-motivate and act as informed citizens to produce the innovation required to participate in the global market. As demand for STEM education increases non integrated, outcome based science will become ineffective and demand we change the way science is viewed taught and applied.  

deGrasse suggests that the solution is the time delay of fixing the education system, ‘if you learn that science is learning the way the world works rather than a satchel of facts, then you’re open to new ideas and you’re not thinking “These are the facts, therefore anything different from these fact’s can’t be right.”

Using an integrated STEM approach to learning can offer explicit opportunities to identify and consolidate connections between learning areas, deliver content from STEM disciplines throughout the life of an authentic project, have direct links to students future careers, build global skills and capabilities, thus providing rich content for learning and development. STEM learning provides opportunities for students to connect to their learning and build a passion in a developing industry that integrates science into everyday living. STEM places science at the forefront of education and demands change in curriculum to better equip secondary students for life after school.

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