Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Nation of Curious Minds

A few weeks ago I was delighted to read that the Government  had  announced a new nationwide action plan to encourage engagement with science and technology. A big focus of course is in education.

Not before time as science has had a very low profile in many primary schools for too long. I have to be careful with this generalisation as some schools and individual teachers are doing a wonderful job. Too often though science teaching becomes very language based or lost in the middle of some thematic study.  Teachers can lack confidence and / or knowledge to embark on science studies or would rather focus on subjects of personal interest.

As a school we have prioritised Science and employed a lead teacher to work along classroom teachers with dedicated Science and Materials Technology facility. This is in some way a luxury but if you believe in promoting this amazing area of study and engagement, then it is a ‘no brainer’ in terms of budget considerations.

When ‘A Nation of Curious Minds’ was launched by Education Minister Hekia Parata (Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce), she said,  “If we are serious about ensuring a prosperous future for every New Zealander, we must ensure all our young people have the best possible opportunity to achieve educational success. Lifting engagement and achievement in science education is absolutely vital and the education profession must prepare all New Zealanders to be participants, and leaders, in the 21st century.”

Steven Joyce was reported as saying, “Science, and the knowledge and innovation that flow from it, plays a critical role in creating and defining our future.”

The Government’s concept of a Nation of Curious Minds is very awe inspiring and strategically very wise but for this plan to be successful, sustainable career pathways also need to be available. Historically science graduates have had to struggle to make a decent living. A PhD  graduate will spend from age 5 through to about 25 in education building massive student debt and by the time they ‘get some runs on the board’ via their research they are usually getting worn down having to battle for funding to build on their findings. Their salaries are a fraction of what a lawyer, accountant etc would get with a similar qualification and experience. So how important is science really to the nation? We have to reward these very intelligent people who commit to research and the long hours of associated work.  These are the people who progress our world with their research and development findings.

Capturing the love and passion for science needs to start with our new entrants at school. Science traverses all that we are and do as humans. Children love getting their hands and minds into this fascinating subject and it links so well with other curriculum areas. It is a way of thinking, a way of viewing the world and something that you do, not something that you learn from a textbook.

For some years we have been promoting curiosity via our approach to inquiry learning. We want the boys to develop an inquisitive disposition to the point of it being second nature to them. The macro picture of inquiry can be deceiving and may be seen as simply fostering curiosity, which of course is a laudable pursuit but we also have to empower children to become independent life- long learners.

Our job as educators is to enthuse and encourage the curiosity within children and in parallel, build the skills of developing good questions for inquiry, seeking out answers, generating solutions, testing hypotheses, justifying conclusions and exploring other questions generated during the inquiry.  The skills of inquiry learning are the building blocks for all learning. This approach actively engages and empowers children allowing access to transformational learning experiences.

A key message we keep hearing is that for New Zealand to improve its competitiveness in the global market place, we must foster creativity, innovation and enterprise in all aspects of society and particularly in schools.

At the heart of making a real difference to productivity is ‘smart thinking’ aligned with the courage to push the boundaries of our imagination and dare to do something different. We need to develop this aspiration in our children.

Our job as educators is to provide contexts for creative endeavor (be it in the arts, science, maths or any pursuit), expectations of ‘personal best’ effort and a warm, inclusive culture that supports risk taking.

In short, I am excited about the Government’s initiative, not just in the science arena but as a disposition to foster in all that we do in this wonderful country of Aoteroa.