Science educators raise concerns about neglect
Teachers are worried science may be neglected in the rush to halt the decline in students' maths scores.
The Ministry of Education is convening experts, asked the Royal Society to investigate, and has spent $40 million on teacher training to improve maths results.
But science marks are also dropping and there are warnings of dire consequences if something is not done.
Maths and science scores have been falling for years - in December 13 year olds recorded their worst-ever results in a major international maths and science test.
Just 20 per cent of primary and intermediate aged children are reaching expectations in science - with that subject the worst of any in the curriculum for Year 8s.
Science educator House of Science chief executive Chris Duggan, from Tauranga, says there are too few specialist primary school science teachers, and not enough resources.
An Education Review Office report showed 73 per cent of primary schools did not have an effective science programme, she says.
"Walk into most primary schools in the country and ask to see their science resources and there'll be one little bookshelf dedicated to science stuff, which will usually consist of a box of random magnets, some electronic stuff and maybe some broken glassware.
"And nobody uses it, because they don't know what to do with it."
Chris says if nothing is done, the cost to society will be "astronomical", harming people's ability to distinguish facts from lies and fuelling irrational beliefs such as the anti-vax movement.
"With the power of social media now, it's so easy for people to put semi-truths or false truths out there.
"And if we have lost the ability to be a little bit cynical and to question things then we're in deep trouble."
Chris did not know why the MoE is not doing more to stop the decline.
Association of Primary Science Educators national coordinator Sandy Jackson says she will love to see science getting the attention and resources now going into maths.
Teachers are being asked to do too much in too little time, and science got pushed to the side by teachers who were not confident they knew what they were supposed to be teaching, Sandy says.
"Not being too prescriptive but at least giving some guidance to teachers to know where they're actually trying to take the children to: What are they aiming for?
"That's not there."
Principals' Federation president Perry Rush says while schools did not want to lose the ability to set their science programmes, the MoE needed to lay out more clearly what was expected in the curriculum.
"The job for the ministry is to be working with the profession, to bring a conversation to how we build clear understandings about what science is, and what learning is most important in the science curriculum," Perry says.
A crisis was approaching and the MoE needed to act fast, he says.
"It's absolutely appropriate that we draw a line in the sand and say 'we must move quickly now and we must take this very seriously'.
"We need to be an economy that is competitive in the world."
The MoE says in a statement it provided quality online resources and support to help schools teach science.
It had spent about $30m in the past four years on teacher training in science.