The Ministry of Education has asked for some initial feedback from teachers on a new draft of the science curriculum. From RNZ,
… science would be taught through five contexts – the Earth system, biodiversity, food, energy and water, infectious diseases and “at the cutting edge”
Cathy Buntting, director of the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research at the University of Waikato, and one of the developers of the curriculum explained to RNZ the change in approach,
… they will be teaching the chemistry and the physics that you need to engage with – the big issues of our time – and in order to engage with the excitement of science and the possibilities that science offers
… What we are pushing towards with the current fast draft is more of a holistic approach to how the different science concepts interact with each other rather than a purist, siloed approach
Exciting stuff. It appears to be shifting science education into a more whole systems view. This view places an emphasis on the connections and relationships between things and how they operate as sets of interconnected systems, rather than looking at the things in isolation.
This is exactly the kind of thinking that is needed to solve the big issues of our time, because the problems we have with events like the climate and ecology crises come from seeing things in isolation rather than as part of whole systems. For example instead of looking at whole river catchments and all the life in and around them, we focus on mg/L of nitrates and search for the highest level we can get away with before collapsing the river ecology (if we are lucky to judge that right, otherwise, oops).
Obviously we need the science to measure nitrate levels, but we also need the philosophical framework to use that data in ways that serve the river catchment and human needs.
That’s not the only interpretation of the science curriculum news this morning. There are also people concerned if this means dropping fundamentals of science. RNZ appear to be stoking an alarmist, reactionary narrative based on little evidence. I decided to take what was in the public domain and present my own interpretation, gleaning the bits that had meaning for me. I’m reading between the lines like everyone else, so the question becomes why do we take specific positions on such a paucity of information? Does this serve the public in understanding what is happening?
I didn’t look any further than the RNZ piece and one of the audios, and a few tweets. I’m thinking about the people getting ready for work this morning who likewise heard the audio and maybe had time to check twitter and this is all they have to go on as another MSM instigated culture war battle over education breaks out. Nek minit, Richard Dawkins has a blog post about how wokedom is destroying New Zealand science and everyone starts entrenching their positions.
What I know from RNZ,
I’m not involved in education and I found the interview with curriculum developer Bunting frustrating. Both because RNZ didn’t explain how curriculums actually work (see, that’s the problem of looking at things in isolation), and Bunting seemed more intent on PR than giving clear explanations (it’s not hard to imagine why she might be defensive given the leak and the framing of the reactions)
My best guess is that curriculums are meant to provide the frame and then schools develop how they will teach subjects within that. I really hope someone gets round to explaining this before everyone goes off on one.
I’d also like to know why RNZ ran this story without releasing the leaked draft. How can we know what the draft actually is and form meaningful opinions without seeing it? How can we parse the various biases in the interpretations being presented?
It’s not hard to see this as another example of how poorly served we are in election years, where reactionary drama takes precedence over information and considered analysis and presenting the public with the fine detail on which to form their views and opinions.
I really hope the science curriculum is going to start teaching whole systems thinking in schools. That would be a game changer for the kind of climate action and transition that we need to save ourselves. There is no science education on a dead planet.