Transitions, aspirations and capitals: science education in a globalised policy field

Doyle, Tanya Lee (2014) Transitions, aspirations and capitals: science education in a globalised policy field. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

For over two decades, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in Australia has been described as being at 'crisis point' (Adams, Doig, & Rosier, 1991; Goodrum, Hackling, & Rennie, 2001; Goodrum & Rennie, 2007; Lyons, Cooksey, Panizzon, Parnell, & Pegg, 2006; Masters, 2006; Osborne, 2006; Teese & Polesel, 2003) with calls in the literature to re-imagine science education (Tytler, 2007) in order to address the crisis. Over the same time frame, Australia's economy has transitioned to post-Fordism and consequently Australia, as a nation-state, seeks to galvanise its future economic security through an innovation-led economy (Bullen, Fahey, & Kenway, 2006; Kenway, Bullen, & Robb, 2004). It is through policy that such attempts at galvanisation are made, with 'Innovation' positioned as a force critical to Australia's future economic prosperity. Simultaneously, at the Federal level, the Australian education policy moment is dominated by the articulation of an Education Revolution which seeks to widen the participation of non-traditional students in the Higher Education sector (Bradley, Noonan, Nugent, & Scales, 2008; Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009).

This study focuses on Chemistry as an enabling science, and its role in navigating access to the innovation agenda. Chemistry serves as a pre-requisite subject for entry into many science, engineering, technology and allied health courses at universities throughout Queensland (Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre, 2010) and yet there is little reported literature that examines the ways in which subjects such as Chemistry, enable or constrain access to STEM courses. Consequently, the secondary school subject of Chemistry, defined here by the 2007 Queensland Studies Authority Syllabus, has been selected as a vehicle, or point of focus, for this study. Concomitantly, policy centrally positions education generally and education in the "enabling science" of Chemistry (Tytler, 2007, p. 7) more specifically, as key to the transformative development of an 'Innovative' Australian citizenry. It is argued in this thesis that despite the Federal political agenda to transform the Australian citizenry into 'Innovators', many students who attend secondary schools experiencing high levels of social and economic disadvantage continue to study in fields outside of the 'enabling sciences'.

This thesis seeks to re-frame the STEM crisis as one of demand rather than supply. On that account, this thesis also seeks to problematise the notion of Chemistry working as an 'enabling science'. Instead, it presents an argument that as the purpose of STEM education has been transformed, so, too, has the role of Chemistry been transformed. Chemistry is now primarily conceived of, by the students and teachers at the school sites under study, as well as by universities in Queensland, as a commodity with strategic value, rather than as a discipline that provides foundational knowledge for further STEM study.

This investigation was implemented using a critical sequential, mixed model design (Elliott, 2008; Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998; Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2011), and presents data analysed in three intersecting and reciprocating units of analysis, namely: policy production, policy articulation and policy reception (Blackmore, 2010). During the policy production phase of this project, qualitative data was generated through a critical policy analysis. In this phase, critical discourse analysis informed by Fairclough (2010) was employed to analyse an assemblage of policy documents drawn from both the Australian Federal and State (Queensland) government jurisdictions. The analysis found intersecting spheres of policy that underpin STEM education, with significant leverage derived from the sphere of economic productivity. Furthermore, the discursive categories of 'security', 'risk' 'opportunity' and 'quality' were found to be operationalised in the policy assemblage under study; working to leverage a multi-scalar continuum between 'innovation' and 'security', directing the vi imperative for individuals and nation-states alike to embody Innovation, in order to secure their futures in 'uncertain' and 'changing' times. STEM education, then, constitutes part of the armoury rhetorically required by citizens to secure their own opportunities, as well as those of the nation-state, in the new economy.

During the policy articulation phase of the research, the role of Chemistry in gaining access to the Innovation agenda was explored by examining tertiary entrance procedures for Queensland universities. Two key findings were revealed as a result of these analyses. Firstly, 'Chemistry', as a pre-requisite to tertiary entrance, is itself a problematic notion. Over the period 1992 to 2011, five different official versions of Chemistry have been enacted in Queensland secondary schools. In some years, as many as three official versions of 'Chemistry' were in use at one time. From this finding, it is clear that 'doing Chemistry' cannot be regarded as a stable or homogenous experience for Queensland secondary school students. Secondly, and despite this instability, Chemistry was found to be differentially deployed as a pre-requisite to entry by universities across the state of Queensland. Arguably, in this way, Chemistry is implicated in marking out graduates, courses, institutions and fields of distinction thereby highlighting tensions between the construction of Chemistry as an 'enabling science' and the deployment of Chemistry as a 'mark of distinction'.

During the policy reception phase of this project, descriptive statistics pertaining to student participation in Chemistry in the senior years of schooling at each of the three state secondary schools under study were generated by document analysis of Senior Education and Training (SET) plans held at each school. These data are presented alongside interview data collected from staff and students at each of the three school sites. The notion of 'choice' is explored in this chapter by employing a commodification thesis to analyse the SET planning process. These analyses found that secondary school teachers' work is transformed such that they act as 'brokers' of the choice-making process, with students positioned as 'entrepreneurs of the self'. In addition, these findings problematise the extent to which authentic 'choice-making' and validation of students' aspiration occurs in secondary schools experiencing high levels of social and economic disadvantage. Overall, the thesis suggests new approaches to considering Australia's STEM crisis.

Item ID: 40816
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: chemistry curriculum; chemistry education; chemistry teachers; chemistry; crises; crisis; curriculum policies; education policies; high school chemistry; Queensland; school policies; science education; science technology engineering mathematics; secondary school chemistry; STEM; teachers; teaching chemistry; teaching policies; teaching
Date Deposited: 14 Oct 2015 05:45
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1301 Education Systems > 130106 Secondary Education @ 50%
13 EDUCATION > 1301 Education Systems > 130103 Higher Education @ 50%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9305 Education and Training Systems > 930501 Education and Training Systems Policies and Development @ 50%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9304 School/Institution > 930403 School/Institution Policies and Development @ 50%
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