A warning about pseudoscience threatening to take hold of New Zealand if curious children don’t pursue science in schools is sounded today in an article on the Stuff website.
House of Science chief executive and founder Chris Duggan is quoted as saying primary teachers don’t have the confidence to teach students science because of inadequate training and a lack of resources,
The extent of the threat to science teaching had become ominously plain a few days earlier in an item headed Schools to axe core subjects as shortage of specialist teachers reaches ‘crisis point. This report says secondary schools across the country could be forced to drop subjects as a teacher shortage becomes critical.
A lack of applicants for teaching positions in core subjects such as mathematics, science and technology is forcing schools to encourage older teachers out of retirement to teach, or use untrained teachers teaching students.
It is understood there are schools who have been advertising for teachers for more than a year, with no suitable applicants applying for roles, leaving students without qualified teachers.
But without science – Duggan today is urging – New Zealand would head for disaster because the population would not have a basic scientific literacy.
“So they will be easily swayed by pseudoscience and end up making potentially harmful decisions for their own children, for the environment, for the country as a whole, really.”
Duggan, a biochemist and former secondary school teacher, said the value put on science had changed during her 15 years in the classroom. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the Education Review Office found the overall quality of science teaching and learning was poor.
Not much appeared to have changed, she said.
She has responded by creating the not-for-profit organisation House of Science – a programme which infiltrates primary schools when children are curious about the world around them.
Each week it sends about 200 science kits to schools.
Hutt Science director Anne Ryan, welcoming this initiative, said if students find a love of science at a young age they’re more likely to find the subject interesting in secondary school and potentially go on to study it at a higher level,
New Zealand did not have enough skilled people to fill scientific jobs, forcing companies to hire people from overseas, she said.
“We want our kids to be part of that [scientifically skilled] future. It starts in primary school.”
As a secondary school teacher, she said, she had seen a disconnect between student and science first hand and by the time students reached their teenage years it was harder for them to form a positive affiliation with science.
“Teacher training doesn’t have a focus on science. Once [students] get to Year 11, sometimes 12, they can drop it and they drop science quite early.”
Ryan said secondary schools in her area had seen an increased student interest in science since Hutt Science began to distribute House of Science kits almost four years ago. But it was too early to tell if that had led to a take-up in electives and further scientific studies beyond school.
Ah, but what will happen when our children move on to university?
No doubt it depends on what course your child takes at which university.
Lincoln University, three years ago, had “indigenous digital philosopher” Karaitiana Taiuru on its academic staff.
He popped up three years ago at something called a NetHui in Auckland where Māori discussed and shared their ideas about whether tikanga Māori crosses over to the internet.
The gathering was apprised of research from Lincoln University which showed Māori use the internet to communicate on social media and to check the news – but some still have concerns.
Te Mihinga Komene says, “We are very active on the web, but there are many of us that are scared about new technology, 30 years have passed, let’s move forward eh?”
Te Tumatakuru O’Connell says, “The new technology is brilliant, to some it’s intimidating. But I believe we should embrace it.”
Taiuru assured the audience tikanga Māori does cross over to the internet.
He was quoted as saying:
“We’re kanohi ki te kanohi, you know their mauri, you can touch something and get the mauri and the internet, it’s nothing, it’s te kore and it’s hard to try and quantify that. But if you use the internet for the right purposes then it will have mauri.”
This is akin to a priest giving an assurance that God will approve your use of the internet if you use it for “the right purposes” because mauri is a fundamental matter of belief.
A discussion of “the mauri or mouri” is provided in a section on Maori religion and mythology on the Victoria University of Wellington website.
The Encyclopedia of New Zealand says “mauri” is an energy which binds and animates all things in the physical world. Without mauri, mana cannot flow into a person or object.
Fair to say, Karaitiana Taiuru was teaching philosophy at Lincoln and philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.
But it seems mauri has been absorbed within Lincoln’s science research, too, because in May the university announced a new ground-breaking initiative would respond to the need for new ways of using the land more productively while ensuring New Zealand’s future prosperity and enhancing lives.
Some of the areas the initiative could address included:
“Reshaping and reimagining Māori productive landscapes that will support and sustain the mauri of te taiao while continuing to grow the Māori economy”.
Lincoln University Director Kaiarahi Māori, Dr Dione Payne, said an important aspect for her “was protecting and sustaining the Mauri of te taiao”.
Chancellor Steve Smith endorsed this synthesis of Maori belief and science by saying Lincoln was “uniquely placed to lead this new initiative”.
More recently, Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report featured an item in which Māori students expressed their grievances about the country’s universities. One complaint was that “Maori knowledge” was not being adequately or properly taught in science classes at Victoria University.
Point of Order emailed the university to observe that “Maori knowledge” incorporates concepts such as mauri, which is a matter of Maori belief.
This may well be taught in anthropology classes, perhaps, or philosophy classes, or in Māori studies we acknowledged. But could it comfortably be taught in a science class?
In response we were advised that mātauranga Māori is Māori knowledge including the body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors, the Māori world view and perspectives, Māori creativity and cultural practices.
And yes – aspects of mātauranga Māori are taught across all eight faculties at Victoria.
At the University of Auckland, according to this press statement, mātauranga and science join forces in a new Te Pūnaha Matatini research programme.
Dr Tara McAllister, an environmental scientist with the University of Auckland, is leading the project and working alongside ecologist Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng and earth systems scientist Dr Daniel Hikuroa, Principal Investigators with Te Pūnaha Matatini at the University of Auckland.
The project’s $100,000 funding comes under the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Te Pūnaha Hihiko: Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund, and the project team will partner with Mahaanui Kurataiao Limited, an environmental and resource management advisory firm based in Canterbury.
We wonder what Sir Ernest Rutherford would make of it.
Can we find a New Zealand university where “Maori knowledge” is not being taught to science students?
We’ll go looking and keep you briefed.
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.