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DR MICHAEL JOHNSTON: THE MINISTRY OF IGNORANCE STRIKES AGAIN

The following partial opinion piece was published in full as premium content in the New Zealand Herald. The balance of the piece can also be read at The New Zealand Initiative.


New Zealand has produced some impressive scientists during its short history. Ernest Rutherford, dubbed ‘the father of nuclear physics’, must surely be foremost among them. But there are many others – Alan MacDiarmid, William Pickering and Ingrid Visser, to name a few.


Writing in the New Zealand Herald last week, Dr Andrew Rogers, Head of Chemistry at St Peter’s College, argued that “science education in New Zealand is in decline.” He’s right to be concerned. As Dr Rogers pointed out, New Zealand has fallen substantially in PISA science since testing began in 2006.


The Ministry of Education has recently produced a draft of the ‘refreshed’ curriculum for school science. But calling this document a science curriculum is far too generous. It is a blueprint for accelerating the decline of science in New Zealand.


Central concepts in physics are absent. There is no mention of gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, mass or motion. Chemistry is likewise missing in action. There is nothing about atomic structure, the periodic table of the elements, compounds or molecular bonding.


These are key concepts for any student wanting to study the physical sciences or engineering at university. The universities will have to prepare themselves to teach science from scratch. If the Ministry gets its way, our schools will no longer be doing it.


What, you might be wondering, does the draft curriculum cover?




Dr Michael Johnston, Senior Fellow at The New Zealand Initiative, has held academic positions at Victoria University of Wellington for the past ten years. This includes being the Associate Dean (Academic) of the University’s School of Education for the last 3 years.


Prior to his time at Victoria, Dr Johnston was the Senior Statistician at the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, a position he held for 6 years. Before that, he held positions at Melbourne and Latrobe universities.


Dr Johnston holds a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Melbourne.

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