Much hay has been made by opposition politicians and their media platforms, of Scottish education’s recent Pisa score for Science. It fell 7 points leaving it behind that of England and ‘only’ just around the OECD average. In the BBC Scotland report last December, we read these outrageous comments from their sponsors:
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said the maths and science results were a “humiliation” for the SNP government.
She said: “These two areas are so critical to the success of much of Scotland’s modern economy. We should be doing so much better.”
Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said the “small improvement” in reading was welcome but further falls in maths and science were “alarming”.
He said: “John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon have been warned again and again that we have a problem with STEM subjects being squeezed out of the curriculum but they refuse to listen.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said called the results “appalling”.
“Scotland used to have one of the best education systems in the world but under the SNP it’s now just average,” he said.
The BBC report does acknowledge, but only briefly and in passing, the reservations many critics have of Pisa. In fact, no credible academic uses the Pisa scores and a report from Oslo University in 2018 describes curricula based on the tests for science as likely to be damaging for the kind of science education scientists themselves want to see and which the world needs:
‘The most problematic ﬁnding for science education is that PISA-scores correlate negatively with nearly all aspects of inquiry-based science teaching (IBSE), the kind of teaching that is recommended by scientists as well as science educators.’
The central concern here is that scientists and science educators agree that inquiry-based or experimental activity is what leads to pupils developing the skills, knowledge and attitudes needed to become actual scientists, who take science beyond what is already known, but the Pisa scoring encourages the passive acquisition of what is already known so that it can be regurgitated in a test. Pisa is bad for science.
Now, I’m limited here, but on a cursory investigation of guidelines, I can see that inquiry-based learning seems to have a central place in the Scottish curriculum:
What skills will my child develop? Learning in the sciences will enable your child to:
- develop curiosity and understanding of the environment and their place in the living, material and physical world
- demonstrate a secure knowledge and understanding of the big ideas and concepts of the sciences
- develop skills for learning, life and work
- develop the skills of scientific inquiry and investigation using practical techniques
- develop skills in the accurate use of scientific language, formulae and equations
- apply safety measures and take necessary actions to control risk and hazards
- recognise the impact science makes on their life, the lives of others, on the environment and in society
- recognise the role of creativity and inventiveness in the development of science
- develop an understanding of the Earth’s resources and the need for responsible use of them
- express opinions and make decisions on social, moral, ethical, economic and environmental issues, based upon sound understanding
- develop as a scientifically-literate citizen with a lifelong interest in science
- establish the foundation for more advanced learning and future careers in science and technology.
Perhaps we might welcome this resistance to useless rote-learning just to score points?
I’d share this with Liz, Iain and Willie but I feel sure it’s a bit above their reading level.