Review of science curriculum is failing

2nd January 2009 at 00:00

The sad showing of Scotland's young scientists in the 2007 TIMSS international survey of maths and science provoked an immediate and forceful response from Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop. She promises the Government will "take action".

Well, I have a strong message for Ms Hyslop: the review of the science curriculum, which she hopes will redress the situation, is failing. It is failing the communities, it is failing teachers and it will fail students.

The heavy criticisms of the review process and nature of the draft science experiences and outcomes ranged from schools to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and forced Ms Hyslop to respond with an immediate re-think. There was concern over the wording of outcomes and, perhaps most significantly, the lack of detail for teachers on conceptual progression and the "narrative" of learning science - the road map for the science journey 3-18.

So how is the redrafting going? The original team charged with producing the first draft outcomes was a small and tight group, limited by their own teaching experiences and experience of curriculum innovation. The redrafting team is smaller and apparently even more limited in its expertise of curriculum reform.

I have participated in the engagement process currently underway, and it would appear that very little change has been made to the original outcomes and experiences in science. Yes, there has been some tinkering with words. The chemistry content has been boosted a little. But the joined-up thinking about the long journey towards understanding and the conceptual progression is still missing. So is the narrative that will enable teachers to produce sequences of lessons which might lead learners through a satisfying, intellectually-rewarding and motivating experience of science.

It is not enough to hide this omission behind a cloak of "decluttering" and "teacher autonomy". Of course, teachers want some room for manoeuvre, to explore ideas and investigative challenges with learners. But let's offer them a curriculum which is more than a series of disjointed stopping-off points.

If Ms Hyslop allows the current review process to run its course in its current guise - lacking in forward planning, under-nourished and rushed - then I fear her successors will continue to preside over the decline in Scotland's standing in science.

Bob Kibble, senior lecturer in science education, Edinburgh University, and chair of the Association for Science Education, Scotland.

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