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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Science Teaching in the Primaries

Science Teaching in the Primaries.

For the subject of elementary science the Conference suggests the use of a text-book by the children. This would undoubtedly be better than leaving things in the indefinite state they are at present. But what is really wanted for this branch of school work is an authoritative syllabus of subjects for a three years' course, something like that submitted to the Conference by Mr Inspector Lee. Until the work to he done in science is as carefully graduated and minutely prescribed as is that for drawing in our present syllabus we shall never do justice to the best subject we profess to teach, a subject the practical claims of which are increasing upon us day by day, and which at the same time affords some of the most valuable mental discipline to which the minds of the children can be subjected. Let me not be misunderstood, however. All that I am pleading for, all that is possible in primary schools, is just a systematic course of object lessons in science, nothing more; experiments with the air pump, a few chemicals, and a galvanic battery; or, on the other band, specimens of rocks, flowers, and animal organs, but the real things if you please, and not mere verbal descriptions of them. One point, however, is very important; the principles selected for illustration should be those at the basis of the great industries of the present hour here in New Zealand; for example—frozen mutton. With an air pump and very little more the teacher could easily demonstrate the principle of the freezing machine, yet how many scholars of those who passed the Sixth Standard list year could have shown the connection between the furnace and the ice in this industry? The freezing machine, the steam engine, and the telegraph—not a boy should leave our schools who cannot thoroughly explain both the principle involved in each of these and the way in which that principle is applied. And, finally, given such a syllabus as I speak of it seems to me there would be little need for a scholars' text-book; but if we must have such a work, in the name of common sense let it be a child's book, written by a teacher rather than a savant, and, preferably, by a lady teacher. Books of generalisations, such as Huxley's 'Introductory Primer,' are utterly out of place in a primary school, and should never be seen there. The practical sum of what I have to say, however, on this point is this: that it is too much, far too much, to expect over-worked officials, whether teacher or inspector, the one to build up and the other to appraise a scheme of science for each school. The department must prepare and impose the schema, and do it thoroughly and elaborately, allowing teachers an option, no doubt, but only a restricted option, between authoritative and detailed courses; and until this is done elementary science, the distinguishing characteristic of our age, will remain a comparatively neglected subject, nominally rather than effectively taught. I have touched on history, reading, and science; when I have added that I quite agree with the inspectors in their proposal to eliminate solid geometry from the drawing curriculum I shall have said pretty much all I think necessary on this part of my subject. The geometrical representation of solids is surely a technical subject which only a few scholars will ever require to know, and which therefore had better be reserved for the art school of later youth. It would form a suitable subject for a class of apprentices in the evening, but should not be allowed to burden the primary course.