By accident, I came across the curriculum document for Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) which provides teaching & learning materials to parents who are homeschooling their children. New Zealand students who complete the program right to year 13 gain university entrance.
Home Schooling NZ gives parents advice about the ACE program, but makes it clear that HSNZ does not work for Accelerated Christian Education or sell their teaching & assessment materials. However, I was startled to see the following listed by HSNZ as one of the 'distinctives' [sic] of the ACE program:
Each student is taught from a biblical perspective developing critical thinking skills that will enable them to discern what is truly "…the good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:2)
Having had a fair bit to do with the development of the Science section of the current national curriculum document, specifically, the Living World component, I was naturally interested in seeing how ACE handles a science curriculum. The answer is, poorly.
In fact, I feel that it's most unfortunate that the ACE science program is officially recognised here, given statements such as this from Sir Peter Gluckman (the PM's Chief Science Advisor) about the importance of science and science education. For example, from the curriculum overview material for grade 1 students we learn that students will
- [pronounce and learn] new vocabulary words as they are defined and used in the text
- [discover] God's wisdom as he1 learns about God creating Earth…
- [learn] about the design and care of the human eye and ear; high, low, soft and loud sounds.
- [learn] about the importance of personal health – clean teeth and hands.
- [gain] a respect for God as he learns about God's wisdom, goodness, kindness, and that all things belong to God.
- [read] stories and answer questions about God's creation.
- [continue] to build eye-hand coordination by drawing shapes, irregular shapes, and directional lines.
In contrast, the New Zealand Curriculum document has a number of subject-specific achievement aims for students at this level, in addition to those relating specifically to the nature of science. For example, students in their first year or two of primary school should
- Learn about science as a knowledge system: the features of scientific knowledge and the processes by which it is developed; and learn about the ways in which the work of scientists interacts with society.
- Appreciate that scientists ask questions about our world that lead to investigations and that open-mindedness is important because there may be more than one explanation.
- Explore and act on issues and questions that link their science learning to their daily living.
Remember, that's in addition to the achievement aims for biology (Living World), chemistry (Material World), earth sciences (Planet Earth & Beyond). and physics (Physical World).
And so it continues. I mean, how could this (from the ACE objectives for Grade 3) be construed as science by anyone assessing the document?
Studies Bible topics such as Jesus' return; sin, death, and the curse; man's freedom to choose to love and obey God.
Discovers the Bible to be the final authority in scientific matters.
Science, it ain't. It would appear that helping students to gain and enhance critical thinking skills isn't on the curriculum either – after all, teaching students to look to authority for the answers runs completely counter to encouraging critical thinking and teaching students how to weigh up evidence.
While I haven't read all the PACEs available for the curriculum, partly because I am not going to buy them in order to do so, I have read through the samples available on line. Among other things, the materials I viewed encouraged rote learning rather than deep, meaningful understanding of a subject – a long way indeed from current best-practice models of teaching & learning.
However, others have read ACE's PACE documents, & have been extremely critical of them. The Times Education Supplement, for example, was startled to find that ACE materials available in 1995 contained the claim that the Loch Ness Monster has been reliably identified and seems to be a plesiosaur. (It seems this reference has since been removed from new textbooks published in Europe.)
The TES also addressed some rather trenchant comments to the UK educational body responsible for giving the ACE curriculum equivalent status to O and A level examinations. Perhaps the NZ equivalent of that body should give the ACE documents a closer second look.
1 No female pronouns used, that I could see. (No room for female scientists in this curriculum, either – students are introduced to 'early men in science'.)
However, ACE do make a curriculum document available on-line, and the comments that follow are based on this. I am certainly hoping any materials that are sent out to NZ are modified to take account of our different context (for example, the source document talks about nickels & dimes in some maths sections). The Science section begins on page 22 of the linked document. Frankly, I do not think that students who had studied this curriculum would be well-prepared for university study in biology. For example: