The smartest science students in New Zealand are not always being identified through the school system, research from Victoria University of Wellington shows.
A professor from the university's Faculty of Education, Dr Azra Moeed, has been investigating the identification of science students with independent researcher Dr Jenny Horsley.
The research has been laid out in a chapter in the Handbook of Giftedness and Talent Development in the Asia-Pacific
Moeed has spent 40 years teaching and researching science in New Zealand schools and said high-academic-ability science students were not always discovered through the school system.
"We were surprised to find that PAT English and mathematics tests were one of the key ways high-ability science students were identified," she said.
She said this was partly due to a focus on literacy and numeracy in early schooling.
"We do not have equitable science teaching and learning in primary schools.
"This is often because the primary teachers are generalists and some don't feel confident to teach science.
"An unintended consequence of focus on literacy and numeracy in the early 2000s was less time for teacher education in science."
Primary principals recently asked the Ministry of Education for more support for teachers in science and mathematics, requesting they bring back the science advisors that existed for teachers in the 1990s and 2000s.
There were also inequities in the access to science rural New Zealand, said the researchers, with students in small towns unable to access science fairs and universities.
The study engaged high-academic-ability students, who said they wanted to be more engaged in practical science work.
Moeed said the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted the importance of scientific thinkers in the world.
"We need those who can think in new ways about the old and new issues we face in our everyday lives, for us to be able to live a satisfying life.
"We need scientifically literate citizens, but we also need our future science leaders to be identified, nurtured and taught so they develop a nuanced understanding of how scientific knowledge is created."