Don't write off Aussie science students just yet

Jeremiah Gomes and Luke Fenech
Jeremiah Gomes and Luke Fenech

A recent report by Trends in International Mathematics and Science has noted that Australian students, on average, are falling behind in the science subjects, even being outstripped by those in Kazakhstan, the land of Borat.

While we would like to see greater emphasis on science in schools, and initiatives to raise our standards of examination results, writing off all Australian students as poor in science and mathematics is misinformed.

As long as we can set goals that we strive to reach with effort and hard work, we can punch it out with the best of them.

But we can’t completely dismiss the report completely.

Only a few years ago we were ranked 18th in a study of 49 countries, but a dramatic slide has placed us at 28th - a shameful display for such a wealthy country.

Indeed, England and Canada have improved their scores, while high-ranking countries such as Singapore, South Korea and China continue to surge ahead.

However, does this information go beyond the numbers? Certainly, greater investment needs to be put into encouraging students to enjoy and appreciate science and maths, and therefore increase the number and performance of students taking these subjects.

And while the report may look at averages, which are, admittedly, quite poor, those students who are truly interested and have the drive to achieve success have the potential to compare very favourably to their foreign counterparts, as long as they put in hard work and effort and are supported by their teachers and those around them.

Only a few days after the study was released on Tuesday, a group of Year 11 chemistry students from Sydney Grammar astounded the world by manufacturing Daraprim, a vitally important anti-parasitic drug used in the treatments of malaria and toxoplasmosis, and one listed as an essential medicine by the World Health Organisation.

Not only did they achieve this without the use of dangerous reagents, but 37 grams of the medicine only cost them $2, far cheaper than the marketed price in the US.

In Australia, there is a smaller focus on maths and science in schools, because people have a wider range of interests and specialisations, and we accept that not everyone can be good at everything.


However, projects like STEM and the Big History Project aim to make science more interesting and accessible for students, offering a refreshing mix of theoretical and hands-on practical activities.

They delve deep into the corners of science centred around history and exploration, proving that science can be fun - and this is very important for our generation, to promote pure and applied mathematics and science to a wider audience.

The achievements made by Australians in these fields is nothing short of staggering.

Regardless of what our averages are or what the studies show, they are just numbers on a page and don’t reveal the exciting things that are happening the classroom.

Recently at our school we hosted neighbouring primary school students and ran a science day in which we launched rockets, and used interesting ways to explore the solar system.

We made the rockets out of plastic bottles, used water pressure to make them soar,  and the record for the longest shot was more the 100m, the length of a football field.

Launching rockets was fun for the students, who are as young as 10, and after seeing the rockets fly they went into a solar system room where each planet had its own stall. The children had to work out the different planets by the clues supplied.

While the debate about international test results may continue, at our school we are getting on with the job of lifting our learning.

*Luke Fenech and Jeremiah Gomes are Year 12 students at McCarthy Catholic College, Emu Plains  

Posted By By Luke Fenech and Jeremiah Gomes at 6/12/2016 3:37:12 PM Comments(0)

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