Tired of waiting for feds, NSW mulls extra science for high schoolers

STEM the tide of science-illiteracy

With national action on a science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) curriculum moving slowly, the Australian State of New South Wales (NSW) is taking the plunge by suggesting STEM-targeted extensions in its Higher School Certificate.

Proposals have been put forward that would see physics, chemistry, and biology offered at the advanced "three-unit" level*. At the time of writing, all are only offered at the lesser "two-unit" level.

After more than a year reviewing the state's senior curriculum, the NSW Board of Studies has also proposed a pan-science topic for students who aren't seeking a scientific speciality.

The proposed Senior Science topic wants to help students "in becoming scientifically literate citizens with the means to investigate personally relevant local and global scientific issues," the brief for the proposal explains.

That would plug a gap in science education in NSW: at the moment, students have to choose a specialty (physics, chemistry, or biology) to study science at HSC-level, which looks like a wasted effort for anyone intending to pursue the humanities at university.

That course option would also be handy for NSW if the federal government goes ahead with an idea floated by former education minister Chris Pyne that senior science should be made compulsory.

The proposals also include revisions to high-level maths topics, history, and English.

The NSW Board of Studies proposals for all subjects are here, and are open for comment until 29 November. ®

*Bootnote: For readers beyond NSW: senior higher school students in the State have to accumulate at least ten units of study; a three-unit physics course, for example, would be a significant chunk of a student's exit score, as well as helping them survive first-year university studies.


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