Another annual conference has come and gone, with the usual collection of thought-provoking presentations. This issue we present two highlights, from Waikato University biology lecturer and science communicator Alison Campbell, and Greek Honorary Consul Nikos Petousis.

Alison Campbell’s topic -how to inspire students to pursue careers in science -could not be more timely, with several related news reports in recent weeks about the declining interest in science among young New Zealanders.

Radio New Zealand National’s Morning Report for 30 September carried an item about the National Education Monitoring Project ( NEMP), which has revealed a steep decline in interest in science expressed by Year 8 ( the old Form 2) students. Eight years ago, 15 percent said they actively disliked science; this has now increased to 37 percent. Only five percent say they like the subject and would consider a career in it. Project co-director Terry Crooks credits the decline to the failure of schools to provide activities that students really enjoy, such as practical experiments. Education reporter Gail Woods mentioned the pressures on the curriculum from other subjects such as dance and healthy eating, and a big focus on reading and maths. There is less concern over levels of achievement, in which New Zealand has traditionally scored highly by international standards, although in two measures – understanding the physical world and the material world – there has been a decline. And surely, if attitudes towards science are deteriorating, academic perfomance standards are soon to follow.

In the NZ Herald on 3 October Dr Crooks said the survey showed a lot of students wanted more science, but they weren’t happy with what they were getting.

Morning Report also described on 1 October how this decline is affecting secondary students as well, and how Auckland’s Tamaki College was trying to change the perception among its mostly Pacific Island and Maori students, that science was too hard. Principal Soana Pamaka is developing an education programme with Auckland University which she says makes science enjoyable and relates it to real life. Jacquie Bay, director of the university’ s Liggins Institute, said a recent presentation by the students showed they were comfortable with the language of science.

Science has been popular with students in the past, and with the right approach can still be so. The NEMP is a timely wake-up call for everyone who cares about science literacy in this country – and that should be all of us.

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