The Australian chemistry curriculum: A comparative analysis of state syllabi

Year: 2021

Author: Firmer, Genevieve

Type of paper: Individual Paper

During the shaping of the current Australian curriculum, science education researchers put out a call to re-think the purpose of science education in schools (Tytler, 2007). Issues such as the importance of understanding the nature of science in preference to scientific concepts and the characteristics of effective pedagogies in the science classroom were discussed widely. In December 2012, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) released national content and achievement standards for fourteen senior secondary subjects. Starting with Victoria in 2015 and ending with Queensland in 2019, each state curriculum and assessment board published year 11 and 12 chemistry syllabus documents to align with the national curriculum. These syllabi are now the subject of intense debate, with concerns about their crowded or cluttered nature (e.g. Masters, 2020). The consequences of curriculum crowding include forcing teachers to rely on transmissive pedagogies and impeding teachers' abilities to engage with relevant contexts or inquiry-based learning. This paper will evaluate the breadth, depth, rigour, and flexibility of each Australian jurisdiction's year 11 and 12 chemistry syllabi through content analysis of the syllabus documents.  The analysis will utilise middle-range coding and categorical distinctions derived from chemistry education literature. In each document, we also consider the integration and mandatory nature of Science as a Human Endeavour (Nature of Science) concepts and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curricular priority.Our findings indicate that there are critical differences between state systems despite the clear intention for national consistency. Although many of the overarching themes in the syllabi are similar, the extent to which each state deals with specific concepts and mandates the contexts in which they must be taught is inconsistent. In this paper, we will discuss the potential implications of our findings on student outcomes, specifically scientific literacy and tertiary readiness, as well as broader ramifications for Australian research and industry priorities. As year 11 and 12 courses tend to drive middle years' curricula, scrutiny of senior secondary courses is critical for creating change in the education system. This systematic curriculum analysis is designed to produce data that will have immediate utility in informing the discourse around the contents of the senior chemistry curriculum. It models a method that could be utilised similarly in other disciplines and will contribute to future research that identifies specific conceptual and pedagogical challenges for chemistry teachers and opportunities for industry and research collaboration with schools.