Is the tide out on marine education?
As a nation of beach lovers and a globally recognised hotspot of marine biodiversity, Australia is well-placed to lead the way when it comes to educating our children in marine science.
However, a Deakin University study recently published in Frontiers in Marine Science suggests that ocean literacy is generally lacking in Australian primary schools.
The research, conducted by Deakin PhD candidate Cátia Freitas and supervised by Dr Prue Francis, Senior Lecturer in Marine Science at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, investigated how public primary school teachers, across five Australian states bordering the Great Southern Reef, teach marine science from Prep to Grade Six.
"Despite being an island continent with the third largest marine jurisdiction, Australia is lagging in the ocean literacy movement," said Ms Freitas. "Our data indicates that while teachers value the importance of ocean education from a young age, they rarely or only occasionally cover marine science topics in their lessons."
A total of 124 primary school teachers responded to the online survey, reporting that a crowded curriculum was the biggest challenge to implementing more marine-focused teaching, as well as challenges around geographic location, lack of funding and the fact that marine science is not formally embedded in the Australian Curriculum.
"We acknowledge that the already-crowded curriculum is not an easy problem to solve," said Ms Freitas.
"One potential solution is the integration of marine science across the many learning areas so marine education is not just taught as part of science classes but incorporated into teaching through familiar tools like children’s books."
Covering 71% of the Earth's surface, the ocean holds 97% of the total water on our planet, supports life and diverse ecosystems, and regulates our climate and weather.
Ms Freitas says that understanding how the ocean works is vital to changing the course of climate change.
"Children are the future custodians of the ocean and schools are the place where they will be exposed to the knowledge and the skills needed to make better decisions to support a healthy, resilient, and sustainable ocean.
"Teachers are the ultimate arbiters deciding whether and how to include these topics in their classes," said Ms Freitas. "This study highlights the importance of formal marine science education in primary education, along with the need for professional development opportunities for teachers."