Science not scientific any more

Is science teaching not to be scientific any more?

Proposals for NCEA science risk taking our curriculum down a rabbit hole at a time when the Government should be focused on turning around our declining achievement in science, National’s Education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

The proposals divide science into ‘mātauranga putaiao’ (Māori understanding of the natural world) and ‘western science’.

“Western science’? Since when has science been defined by geography?

Mr Goldsmith says he would like to see Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins call it ‘western science’ to the leading rocket scientists or specialists in artificial intelligence in China and India.

“It suggests the curriculum leaders don’t know the first thing about the subject. Science is universal no matter where you come from. Calling it ‘western science’ is an insult to half the world.

“But more importantly, how will these sorts of muddled distractions help turn around our declining achievement in the subject?

“International studies show Kiwi kids are falling behind the best in the world in science and in the latest National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement of Science just 20 per cent of year 8 students were achieving at or above expectations.

“An equally important question is what is meant by the statement, ‘the two world views and bodies of knowledge (mātauranga putaiao and so-called western science) are separate and need to be considered separately. One should not be given greater status than the other – both have authority.’

That doesn’t appear to be a statement based on science.

“Is the Government telling our children that the collective wisdom of all the cultures of the globe, over millennia and up to today, what we might call modern science, should be given no greater authority in the subject of science than the insights and traditions of one culture?

“In practical terms, and in terms of limited class time, what does this mean? How will this help us reverse our declining relative performance in the global endeavour that the rest of the world calls science?

“Our nation’s prosperity depends on Kiwi kids receiving a world class education in science.

“This Government has lost sight of the basics in education: getting the kids to school, teaching them a world class curriculum and measuring performance to ensure they’re making progress.

“If we want our kids to succeed globally, we need to educate them to the highest global standards.”

Two of the major problems facing the world at the moment are Covid-19 and climate change. Solutions to both require the best science. New Zealand farming is world-leading but faces myriad challenges. Addressing those will require the best science. We have a shortage of health professionals, engineers and scientists, their training must be based on the best science.

That’s real, universal science which the Science Council defines as:

Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

Scientific methodology includes the following:

    • Objective observation: Measurement and data (possibly although not necessarily using mathematics as a tool)
    • Evidence
    • Experiment and/or observation as benchmarks for testing hypotheses
    • Induction: reasoning to establish general rules or conclusions drawn from facts or examples
    • Repetition
    • Critical analysis
    • Verification and testing: critical exposure to scrutiny, peer review and assessment

No single culture’s understanding is included in that definition of science, nor of any other I could find and nor should it be.

You’d think that science would be one subject where scientific rigor rather than a political view would apply to its teaching.

Alas, science education isn’t going to be strictly scientific any more.

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