Academic journal article Teaching Science

Exploring the Profile of Teachers of Secondary Science: What Are the Emerging Issues for Future Workforce Planning?

Academic journal article Teaching Science

Exploring the Profile of Teachers of Secondary Science: What Are the Emerging Issues for Future Workforce Planning?

Article excerpt

Australia requires a flexible and scientifically literate population if we are to maintain and possibly raise our competitive edge for innovation in an ever-changing global economy (DEST, 2006). Central to achieving this outcome is a workforce of competent teachers of Science with the pedagogical expertise, subject knowledge and enthusiasm necessary to engage our students as life-long learners of science. While we recognise that this process of student engagement begins in the early years and continues throughout formal education, this paper focuses specifically on secondary schooling. In the paper, we report on a study to capture the demographic profile and academic qualifications of secondary teachers of science in South Australia. Analysis of this data identifies potential workforce issues for our future science teachers around: (i) permanency for our new graduates; (ii) the lack of subject knowledge expertise for senior teachers, particularly for Physics; and (iii) the inequity regarding the proportion of qualified secondary science teachers in metropolitan schools when compared to rural schools. It is our view, that by considering these impeding issues now there is an opportunity to implement counteractive strategies and so minimise the future impact. Importantly, we consider that the findings presented here are relevant to secondary science teachers across Australia.

INTRODUCTION

In 2004, Harris, Jensz and Baldwin were commissioned by the Australian Council of Deans of Science (ACDS) to conduct a national study around the qualifications of science teachers. Data was collected from surveys of 1207 science teachers and 266 heads of department. Using an estimate of teachers for each state and territory (actual numbers were not available) provided by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), the research sample represented a 40% response rate for science teachers and a 42% response rate for heads of department.

A report of their findings entitled, Who's teaching science? Meeting the Demand (or Qualified Science Teachers in Australian Secondary Schools) highlighted the following key points:

* The 45-54 year age bracket represented the mode for science teachers with the majority of teachers being male.

* 93% of respondents were university educated, with 90% having undertaken science courses within a Faculty of Science rather than a Faculty of Education.

* Chemistry and Biology were the most commonly and extensively studied science subjects at university.

* Fewer teachers had studied Physics and Geology/Earth science beyond first-year university with this trend particularly evident among younger teachers.

* 14% of the respondents lacked a minor in Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Geology/Earth science. Collectively these teachers comprised 16% of all teachers of junior school science, 12% of teachers of middle school science, and 6% of teachers involved in senior school science subjects.

* Approximately 8% of all teachers had not studied any Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Geology/Earth science at university. They represented 8% of all teachers of junior school science, 5% of teachers of middle school science, and less than 2% of teachers involved in senior school science subjects.

In terms of findings around discipline-specific science qualifications for senior teachers, Harris et al (2005) found that:

* Senior school biology teachers were the most highly educated in their discipline with 86% having a major in Biology and almost 27% studying Biology into a fourth-year at university. Only 4% of biology teachers had undertaken no tertiary study in this area.

* 75% of senior school chemistry teachers had a major in Chemistry.

* 57% of senior physics teachers had a major in Physics, with 25% not having studied the subject beyond first-year.

* Senior geology teachers had the lowest levels of discipline-specific qualifications with over 50% not having study any Geology at university. …

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