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Science curriculum refresh long on ideology, but short on science 

In brief
  • Teachers appalled at leaked “draft” science curriculum’s lack of science. 
  • Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), which contains folklore and mysticism, is the core of it.
  • Minister Tinetti assures there will be more conventional science than the draft shows, but many are concerned.  
  • What should voters make of Hipkins’ mother’s involvement? 

Short on science, long on Treaty

Science teachers across New Zealand who saw the refreshed curriculum’s so-called “fast draft” named Te Mātaiaho (to observe and examine the strands of learning) said it contains no mention of physics, chemistry or biology. It does, however, include giving effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and embedding mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) throughout. The Ministry is aiming to implement the new curriculum by 2024. 

Teachers described it as embarrassing and said it would lead to “appalling” declines in student achievement.

Michael Johnston, a senior research fellow at NZ Initiative, was the first to go public with the draft. He said key concepts are missing including science methodology: “I can’t even find the word experiment in the entire document.”

Science would be taught through five “cutting edge” contexts from Year 1 to Year 13, called earth systems (which Johnston says appears to mean climate change), biodiversity, food, energy and water, and infectious diseases.

Johnston says students wouldn’t be taught the basics and that the proposed curriculum is being dumbed down. He warns that universities will have to teach science “from scratch” and said students would find it dull to revisit the 5 proposed “contexts” year after year. 

Science curriculum refresh long on ideology, but short on science  - Centrist
Mātauranga Māori has great significance, but is it really compatible with the core science subjects?

And how will this mesh with what overseas universities are doing?

There needs to be a structured and staged approach to teaching concepts in science, says Johnston: “You have to teach them systematically from the ground up.” 

Too much left for teachers to figure out 

Many teachers have voiced concerns that they’re not suited to teach mātauranga Māori.

Furthermore, the lack of specific direction in the curriculum will make it difficult for teachers, especially at the primary level, to teach traditional sciences properly as very few have science degrees

Education Minister Jan Tinetti reassured critics that the document was only a draft and there was “no question” the final curriculum would include the traditional core science topics. But, given the other extreme foisting of so much Māori by this government, sceptics could be forgiven for thinking the plan was a trial balloon which may end up being changed  because of the public outcry.

Science or ideology? 

Auckland University academic Elizabeth Rata argues mātauranga Māori is not compatible with “what can be defined as science itself”. She describes the education system as indoctrinating children. “This so-called decolonisation, indigenisation of the curriculum… it is a disaster,” she says.

Cathy Buntting is director of the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research at the University of Waikato, and one of the curriculum’s authors. She  says the purpose of the curriculum is for students to “engage with the big issues of our time” and “encourage change”. 

Writer Graham Adams points out the deep involvement of Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ mother, Rosemary Hipkins, in the curriculum’s refresh. 

Rosemary Hipkins is Chief Researcher/Kaihautū Rangahau at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research. In 2022, she wrote “students need a curriculum that can prepare them to work collaboratively, competently and confidently to address the wicked ‘glocal’ problems of our time.” (Glocal =  global and local)

The obvious ideological struggle behind New Zealand’s “science wars” are a  reminder to voters about what’s at stake in the next general election.

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