Editorial: Inquiring into inquiring minds

Last updated 05:00 02/12/2013

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OPINION: It was never going to dominate last week's education news.

Not in a week that Education Minister Hekia Parata acknowledged students' achievement was stagnating.

And the Government announced $31 million extra funding for secondary school Maori achievement programmes.

And a survey (albeit a bit of a tiddler commissioned by the NZEI teachers' union) came out finding National Standards had more downsides than up.

Amid that little lot, a $10.5 million funding boost for maths and science in schools was never going to turn many heads.

But it should. In terms of high-stakes spending it's right up there.

Pretty much everyone's sagely agreeing that we need to train our kids for jobs that, in many cases, don't exist yet. And that we will need more maths and science skills in our workforce to be internationally competitive.

Go gettem, eh? Except that rhetoric along these lines has been with us for decades and yet, somehow, in spite of the impression given by all those skitey advertisements for tertiary training institutions, what we actually have going at the moment is a biting shortage of trained-up expertise in engineering, ICT, health and agricultural sciences.

Add to that the discomforting National Standards figures that show that although most students in Year 4 have a nicely developed understanding of scientific knowledge, and the ability to communicate it, by Year 8 most do not.

The Prime Minister's chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman is to chair a project within the education and science sectors, dubbed Science and Society, to stocktake existing programmes and develop a plan -- sorry, a "strategic" plan -- to develop not just initiatives -- beg pardon, "key" initiatives -- to improve engagement and achievement in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Without pre-empting what comes out of that, Sir Peter has already suggested that the decline in school science results may in part relate to teacher skills. and it's probably no co-incidence that the Government has also announced extra funds for science teacher development.

We hasten to add, however, that parents aren't off the hook either. Sir Peter's also signalled an interest in more closely exploring to the role parents play in what's getting called "science capital" in families. So parents may find some of the solutions to this national issue may be pursued closer to home.

The Science and Society project aims not only to lift the knowledge and skills of young people, but also to improve science literacy across the population. So apparently it wouldn't do any harm if we all had a slightly more educated grasp of the way things work.

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It's a good goal. How it might be achieved is a just-as-good question.

And let's not forget those 10 national science challenges that the Government set, last May, for the entire nation, the better to focus attention on the issues of greatest societal need.

In case it escaped your attention, or you weren't paying much, most of these areas fit into the categories of health science and economic development.

Ecological issues, not so much.

It's a $73.5 million project. It matters.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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