Science teaching and learning in Australian schools: results of a national study
Kluwer Academic Publishers
Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
School of Education
This paper reports on a large scale study that investigated the quality of teaching and learning in science in Australian schools. Its purposes were first, to describe ideal practice in the teaching and learning of school science; second, to describe the nature of teaching and learning of science in Australian schools; and third, to make recommendations to move the actual closer to the ideal. Fundamental to the research was the belief that scientific literacy is a high priority for all citizens, helping them to be interested in, and understand the world around them, to be sceptical and questioning of claims made by others about scientific matters, to be able to identify questions, investigate and draw evidence-based conclusions, and to make informed decisions about the environment and their own health and well-being. Based on national and international reports and research literature, and substantial new data collected from teachers, students and other Australian stakeholders in science education, the ideal
picture was described in nine themes relating to the curriculum, teaching and learning strategies, professionalism of teachers and their career path, resources and facilities, and the value of science and science education to the community. The actual picture wasone of great variability, but overall, it was bleak. The actual curriculum implemented in most schools differs from the intended curriculum, which is focused on developing scientific literacy and helping students progress towards achieving
the stated outcomes. Science in primary schools is generally student-centred and activity-based. When students move to high school, many experience disappointment, because the science they are taught is neither relevant nor engaging and does not connect with their interests and experiences. Disenchantment with science is reflected in the decline in science subjects taken by students in upper secondary school. Many science teachers feel undervalued, under-resourced and overloaded with non-teaching duties. The recommendations. developed to improve the status and quality of science education were underlain by five fundamental premises: the purpose of science education is to develop scientific literacy, the focus for change is closing the gap between the actual and ideal, teachers are the key to change, change takes time and resources, and collaboration is essential for quality science education. Preliminary recommendations were prepared and scrutinised by members of a government-appointed Steering Committee for the project, critical friends, and teacher focus groups. Recommendations concerning awareness, teachers, resources, assessment, and national collaboration were developed incorporating feedback from the process described, each including a range of suggested actions for implementation that were feasible in the Australian context. If Commonwealth and State governments choose to act on these recommendations, the gap between the actual picture of science teaching and learning in Australia and the ideal will be significantly reduced.