Foundations in education are core: Finkel

Dominica Sanda
(Australian Associated Press)


Australia’s chief scientist is concerned students who want to study science at university aren’t being prepared well enough at school – partly because of a focus on marks over content.

Alan Finkel says both schools and universities need to review the prerequisites for specialist courses to ensure students succeed.

Speaking at a science education conference in Sydney on Tuesday, Dr Finkel raised concerns about the number of Year 11 students who believed choosing a higher level of maths would hurt their ATAR.

As a result, they ended up in maths-intensive degrees at university without the foundations needed to get them through the first semester, he said.

This is why he thinks it’s important for teachers to inspire children towards maths.

“Mathematics is the language of science,” he said.

“None of us arrive in school at the age of five as native maths speakers.”

He wants schools and universities to work together to ensure students are required to study the right subjects in pursuit of a career.

The role of the ATAR also needs to be clarified so it doesn’t “inadvertently” send the wrong signal to students.

Teachers also need to be equipped with the resources and knowledge to be able to teach students specialist subjects, he said.

“We must ensure that our students are taught to master content – lots of it – and we must ensure that all specialist teachers are subject matter specialists.”

The federal government is pushing for more science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students in the education system within five to 10 years.

It has committed to extra funding to secure skilled individuals such as engineers or scientist into the teaching profession.

The NSW government on Tuesday announced tougher university prerequisite standards for specialist teachers.

Under the changes, physics, chemistry, biology and environment science teachers will need to demonstrate a solid foundation in their core subjects before teaching in NSW schools by next year.

“The notion that you can instruct, inform and inspire students without a firm understanding of the course content is crazy. Teachers should be masters before they educate apprentices,” NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said in a statement on Tuesday.

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