Improving Science Teaching in Victorian Schools

There has been much commentary in the paper recently about Australia’s falling standards in science and mathematics. Like most long-term problems this one has a built-in structure that is self-perpetuating.  This causal loop diagram shows the simple but entrench structure that is creating this problem.

The low quality of science teaching in schools produces students who are not well trained in science. This in turn means that the students entering teacher education programs are not well schooled in science. This leads to a dearth of good science teachers and the decline in the standards of science teaching. This cycle continues year after year and it is likely that the standards are continuing to decline.

The causal loop diagram demonstrates that there are two leverage points. The first is to improve the quality of the existing science teachers through extensive and intensive in-service training. The second is to pay a premium to school leavers go into teaching with strong qualifications in science.

If the goal of the second policy were to place two outstanding science teachers in every school in Victoria, there would need to be 5600 science-specific graduates.  The Victorian teacher education system produces 4200 graduates each year. So, if approximately half the intake per year were 1000 graduates  devoted to science teaching, it would take approximately 6 years to produce the necessary number of excellent science teachers. Unfortunately, if current trends continue, it can be expected that 30% of these will leave in the first five years, so the net long-term gain per year is likely to be closer than 600 per year. This means the realistic lead-time for improving science teaching is around 10 years. Sadly, this is probably beyond the concentration span of most state governments.

This sobering statistic highlights the increasing importance of retaining teachers in the profession, particularly those who are well trained and talented. However, it also highlights the huge potential of improvements in retention rates  for improving the quality of science teaching.

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