The future of crucial business sectors depend on schools turning out students capable of studying science, says BusinessNZ.
Chief Executive Phil O'Reilly says high-tech manufacturing, businesses based on life sciences and innovation in business generally all depend on large numbers of students studying science at higher levels
He has welcomed a report by the Prime Minister's chief science advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman - released yesterday - called Looking Ahead: Science Education for the Twenty-First Century.
The report on school science education raises crucial issues for New Zealand's future prosperity, says O'Reilly.
"This analysis of challenges and opportunities in science education is extremely timely and deserves close attention and debate by decision makers in science, education and business."
The report says while New Zealand produces world-leading science stars, the school system is dogged by'' a long trail of under achievement.''
Radical changes are needed in the way schools teach science if New Zealand is to become a ''smart nation,'' says Gluckman.
Changes include the need for primary school teachers to be better prepared to cope with smarter, more sophisticated pupils.
The report says although science education was ''not in terrible shape ... we have a long trail of under achievement.''
Evidence shows that although our top science students do very well by international standards there is a large level of under-achievement in the rest of the country's schools - with Maori and Pacific Island over-represented among the under achievers.
The report also warns primary school teachers they needed to improve to deal with children familiar with computers and online information sharing.
''Most primary school teachers come from a background in the humanities and are ill-prepared for the increasingly complex questions about science that primary school children might throw at them.
''The sources of questions that children throw at the primary school teacher are broader and more sophisticated than a generation ago by virtue of the influence of access to the internet and electronic media.''
Secondary school teachers also need to up their game and be given ongoing professional development and access to modern technology, such as sabbaticals in labs.
Education Minister Anne Trolley says she supports the report.
''Science is advancing at an incredible speed, and our education system must keep up and equip today's young New Zealanders with the scientific knowledge and skills they need to succeed.''
The report suggests new ways of teachers and scientists working together including partnerships between schools and the scientific community.
Suggestions for coping with the challenge of rapid change in science include more use of broadband, teacher sabbaticals in research laboratories and more use of science centres and science hubs.
The report also suggests science champions in schools to help inspire young people and more attention to the status of science teachers to retain key skills in teaching staff.
Gluckman says science teaching needs to focus less on traditional science education such as physics, biology and chemistry and more on what he calls ''citizen based science.''
''To be an effective citizen in the world really requires some level of science literacy, now that doesn't mean knowing the periodic table or understanding the speed of light, it is understanding how science operates and the limits of what science can and can't do because science does not operate in a vacuum, science operates alongside values of society and other priorities.''
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