The Australian Government has recently signalled that funding will not continue for the Australian Academy of Science’s PrimaryConnections: Linking Science with Literacy Project.
The Academy is confident, based on comprehensive independent assessments, that PrimaryConnections enables Australia’s primary school teachers to significantly improve the scientific literacy of their students
Former winners of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools have written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, urging her to continue funding for Primary Connections. Read the letter below.
At the same time the Australian Science Teachers Association has written to Education Minister Peter Garrett to urge that funding continue for Primary Connections and Science by Doing. Read the letter below.
The letters respond to indications from Government that funding will not be renewed for the Academy’s premium primary school and high school science education programs.
The Academy was founded in 1954 by Australian Fellows of the Royal Society of London with the distinguished physicist Sir Mark Oliphant as founding President. It was granted a Royal Charter establishing the Academy as an independent body but with government endorsement.
The Academy's Constitution was modelled on that of the Royal Society of London. It receives government grants towards its activities but has no statutory obligation to government.
Here is the letter.
Dear Prime Minister,
As past winners of the Prime Minister’s Science Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools, we write to you seeking an explanation of your Government’s reported decision to no longer fund Primary Connections. It would be a waste of tax payers’ money, as well as undermining the considerable sustained efforts of thousands of primary science teachers and their schools in recent years if, for the sake of a relatively small amount of money, current and future students are deprived of the benefits of Primary Connections.
The worth of Primary Connections has been proven by teacher experience, science education peer review and the learning standards achieved by students. In our experience there is no other program that has done as much to support effective teaching of primary science in this country.
Primary Connections also has proven benefits for Indigenous students. It is raising the awareness of teachers through modeling how Indigenous Perspectives can be incorporated in everyday teaching in a meaningful way.
Primary Connections is a wonderful vehicle to continue inspiring and challenging young Australian minds to recognise and solve future problems, as well as provide the highly skilled work force so desperately sought in this country.
Primary Connections is a product of a need identified by politicians, scientists, industrialists and educators. It is not a political tool that should be just turned on and off. If funding is to be stopped now, Primary Connections will become just another set of dated books sitting in school cupboards. Like commercially produced books, Primary Connections has to be continually updated, so as to incorporate new developments in science in students’ learning, e.g. Nano science and technology, carbon technology, climate change, stem cell research, GMO, genomic research and information technologies (interactive white boards, web based, ebook and ipad learning, mobile phone applications and other smart technologies).
In the face of having to implement Australian Curriculum: Science, many teachers will need to teach science confidently and effectively for the first time. As part of this curriculum, teachers are required to teach content such as Chemical and Physical Sciences for which they are untrained, do not have the essential background knowledge and lack confidence in their own ability to deliver. Why, on the eve of implementing a National Curriculum, would a program such as Primary Connections, which is proven to support such teachers, be removed from Federal Government support? Primary Connections enables primary teachers to develop the confidence and competency to teach all strands of primary science effectively. Primary Connections is aligned to the Australian Curriculum: Science and it would seem clearly essential to ensure that the full suite of units and professional learning planned to support teachers to implement the Australian Curriculum: Science is allowed to occur. This requires a relatively small amount of ongoing funding, especially when compared to brick and mortar “science” buildings. Primary Connections can cement the long term goal of quality science teaching in Australia.
Some of the best advocates of Primary Connections are pre-service and young graduate teachers who buy the Primary Connections’ materials out of their own money. They show them to their supervising teachers, use them during practice teaching blocks in schools and allow their supervisors to see the benefits of the materials. These graduates are now waiting for their schools to take up Primary Connections, which would be unlikely if future funding is not forthcoming, since without continuance of Federal funding, prices must increase.
Possibly no other learning area develops at the rate of science. It is difficult for teachers to keep up with the developments, let alone have the time to work out how to integrate them into their teaching. In today's scientific world, is it really a valid move to stop funding materials, when it would seem to make more sense to ensure funding is available to assist primary teachers to incorporate new scientific concepts into their teaching? Primary Connections is developed by knowledgeable practitioners and scientists and is based on research of how inquiry based science can best be taught. These units are of recognised high quality, providing lesson plans well beyond the time and expertise available to most primary teachers to research and write materials for learning. Why remove such a valuable resource from teachers at such a critical time?
Most text books and resources for science are out of date when they are published and few schools can afford to update texts regularly. This means students and teachers are being exposed to out of date information. In today's world we cannot afford to do this any more. Students see new developments in science in front of them each day through electronic media and ICT. It is possible for them to watch documentaries with a higher level of current information and more detail than most resources available in school libraries and classrooms. Students want to know about what they are seeing and hearing and, as teachers; we are the ones they come to. With the continuation of Primary Connections’ Federal funding, primary teachers will have regularly updated materials so that they are able to answer students’ questions and extend their learning, while maintaining the excitement of their interest in new scientific endeavours.
The Primary Connections’ Program is such an outstanding success with classroom teachers because it gives support at differing levels, from complete step by step instructions, to supporting teachers in developing their own teaching modules using the background information given. It provides extensive, high quality professional learning for teachers, as well as a teaching program. Many of the teachers we meet and teach with are worried about their lack of science background and are afraid they will not teach science effectively. The Primary Connections’ books always have a teacher background CD and notes that empower teachers with conceptual knowledge and understanding about science. It puzzles us as to why we seem to abandon things when they are so successful.
A move in supporting Primary Connections for an extended period would be a significant step in assisting the primary teachers of Australia to effectively teach science and, resultantly, greatly benefit the students of Australia to reach their full potential, thus enabling them to compete with the rest of the World.
Help us to continue to improve the scientific literacy and understanding of our students with a program like no other: Primary Connections. Help us by maintaining an award-winning program that provides a meaningful way to teach literacy, as well as improve the quality of science teaching in this country.
We ask that you please reconsider this proposed funding cut in the light of its cost to the future of Australian science education. If on consideration, your government is able to secure the future of Primary Connections, we would applaud your intervention on behalf of the future scientific literacy and employment skills of young Australians.
Winners of the Prime Minister’s Science Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools as listed on following pages.
Teacher, Science Coordinator, Primary Science Facilitator
Albany Hills State School, Queensland
BHP Billiton Science Teachers’ Prize (2008)
Prime Ministers’ Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools (2007)
Prof. Peter Dougherty Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching (2007)
Australian Museum Eureka Prize for research entitled, Touching the Future: Children learning to think critically through doing science (2004)
Mark Merritt Dip Teach. B Ed. M Ed MACE.
Namadgi School (ACT) Middle School Teacher
Respect, Equity, and Diversity Contact Officer (REDCO),
Environmental Sustainability School Contact.
Western Australian recipient of the Clean Up Australia and Sanyo Oceania Green Teacher Award (2010)
Foundation President of the Primary Teachers Association of Western Australia Inc. (2008-2010)
Outstanding Professional Service Award (Professional Teaching Council of WA) (2008)
Finalist Premier’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching Primary (2007)
Finalist for the Western Australian Citizen of the Year Awards “Professions” (2007)
Finalist for the Western Australian Citizen of the Year Awards “Professions” (2006)
One of One Hundred Local Champions for the City of Perth
Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools Recipient (2005)
The de Laeter Medal For Outstanding Contribution to Science Teaching – Science Teachers’ Association of Western Australia (STAWA) (2004)
Nominated for the Premier’s “Teacher of the Year Award” WA. (2004)
The Inaugural 2003 Premier’s Excellence in Science Teaching Primary W.A Winner. (2003)
National Excellence in Teaching Awards- Nomination, North Beach Primary School Parents, NEITA FOUNDATION (2002)
Teacher, Head of Curriculum
Darling Heights State School
Prime Ministers’ Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools (2004)
Peter Doherty Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching
BHP Billiton Science Teachers award
Teacher Level 3
Teacher WA Primary Science Project 2005- 2010
Curtin University Teaching Excellence Award (2010)
Science at the Shine Dome (2010)
Prime Minister's Science Prize Excellence in Science Teaching Primary (2009)
Science at the Shine Dome Teaching Award (2008)
WA Premier's Science Prize Excellence in Science Teaching Primary (2007)
Australian Academy of Science