Science focus creates more Pacific medical professionals

Issue: Volume 98, Number 7

Posted: 2 May 2019
Reference #: 1H9tfp

De La Salle College for boys in South Auckland is seeing significant progress in senior student achievement by making science compulsory for Years 7 and up and setting clear pathways into careers in areas such as medicine and health.

Toma Laumalili is one of the students working towards a career in medicine.

Last year at Level 3 every final-year science student in a cohort called the Health Science Academy at De La Salle College went on to tertiary studies. Most of their scholarships were science-based, and six of the students from the class of 25 are aiming to become doctors, with their first step being a Bachelor of Science degree at university. One will train to become an anaesthetist.

The head of the science faculty, Kane Raukura, says the academy is made up of mainly Pacific  young people.

“There is a growing need in the Auckland health workforce across a wide range of vocations, from nursing to chiropractic, for people from the Pacific community with appropriate skills and qualifications. Currently, there is a shortage in most skill areas.”

The schools that make up the academy are De La Salle, Tangaroa College, Onehunga High School, Auckland Girls’ Grammar and Manurewa High School, and all have a majority of Pacific students.

Real-world context

“Their studies have a real-world context,” says Kane, “and we teach them how that will help them reach their career goals. All students aiming for a career in health are virtually guaranteed work in the local area, most likely with a health board.

“We work hard to make the links between the learning and what is needed next by the students, either tertiary study or work. We give them the belief that they can do as well as students at King’s College or anywhere else.

“They can’t wait until they’re at or near tertiary level to be deciding about their future. They need to expand their science knowledge consistently from Year 7 and have a map of where they are going next.”

Many former De La Salle students have become doctors at Middlemore Hospital.

However, other career pathways such as chemical or electrical engineering are also an option because of the physics component of the science curriculum for academy students.

The academy members are a group of 25 students in Years 11, 12 and 13. There are three cohorts, one each at Levels 1, 2 and 3. The boys have to apply to be accepted, the expectations are high and they must maintain their grades to remain.

“In theory, a lot of things are stacked against us being successful as a school,” Kane says. “This is the first time that many families have had their kids go to uni. Many households have low incomes, and some students have poor literacy. But we don’t see that as a reason to fail. With the correct support networks and strong teacher-student relationships, anything is possible.”

Teacher development

The turnaround has happened over the past decade, as the emphasis on science has grown, but it has accelerated since the academy began.

All the boys in the academy get support to achieve, and there’s been a lot of professional development by the teaching team to reach this point, says Kane.

“We rewrote the schemes of work and unit planning from scratch and they remain under continual review because the world is constantly changing. ‘Reinvent if necessary’ is our approach. The next wave of change we are preparing for is digital learning.”

External exam focus

The school has a strong focus on external exams. “We push the externals, and most students do two or three a year. Our pass rate on externals was almost 100 per cent for our Level 1 advanced science class in 2018.”

He says attendance is high and there is a “supportive triangle” for students. “We get buy-in from everyone – parents, staff, and health boards, and the boys themselves sign a contract to reflect their personal commitment.

“Then, in tertiary, the students who are on health sector pathways are tracked and actively supported by the health boards. So they’re not left on their own at university or polytech because there is an ongoing support network.”

However, literacy is a challenge for many students who have moved on to tertiary studies, with most students leaving school with Level 2 literacy. “Their reading is good,” says Kane, “but we’ve had feedback from tertiary institutions that their writing, in essays and other documents, needs improvement.

“Throughout the school, higher literacy levels are needed – as is the case at many boys’ schools – and we are working on that challenge as one of our long-term goals.”

Health Sciences Academy programme

The Health Sciences Academy programme was created three years ago by the Ministry of Health and the local health services providers Auckland and Counties Manukau District Health Boards to support students with study and careers in the health sector after graduation.

The achievement of De La Salle’s science faculty was recognised last year when the school was a finalist in the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards in the Teaching and Learning category.

Hospital builds links with students

Middlemore Hospital is just across the road from De La Salle and four ex-students are currently training there to become doctors. Others are in related medical fields such as nursing and physiotherapy.

Some students get experience in the hospital system by shadowing doctors and nurses in hospital on their daily routines, as part of Allied Work Day (‘Allied’ refers to the many support roles such as physios and chiropractors) organised by the DHB.

“But we aren’t elitist,” says Kane. “Not everyone can get into medical school and become a doctor, and there are plenty of opportunities over a wide spectrum of careers, such as nursing and occupational therapy, and we are trying to find niches for everyone in the academy.”

Over the Christmas holidays, students get the opportunity for internships, which are essentially admin and support roles, at Middlemore, but they are learning how a hospital works, and also being paid.

Stream revival is a science project

A stream that runs through the school grounds between various buildings is incorporated into science studies. Until recently the Otaki Stream was essentially dead, and weed-infested, but its ecosystem is reviving.

The students are bringing it back to life as part of their biology studies and the weeds are being removed. The students are working jointly with Auckland Council on the project, called ‘Our Stream, Our Taonga’. Over 3,000 native plants have been planted alongside the stream, and long-finned eels have now returned to live there. Students test and take nutrient samples for the council to ensure stream health is maintained.

The school, which is a bronze Enviroschool, also has a Māori medicinal garden (rongoa), which the students use as part of their studies and is part of an outdoor classroom. There are also plans to create a Pacific-themed garden.

High expectations raise the bar

Only the top-performing students at De La Salle can apply to join the academy. They must submit a three-page application form that includes a reason why they want to apply – their personal motivation.

Year 12 student Toma Laumalili is in the group. He says, “I am determined to be a doctor as my family have a lot of medical issues, and I want to be able to help them with their medical conditions.” His aim is to become a neurologist.

Year 12 student Wallace Sititi says, “There is a feeling of brotherhood at the school, and we support each other to practise self-management as a group. The work is very hard, but I know there is support for me, and my parents are very proud of my results.”

Tips for teachers from Kane Raukura:

  • Build strong relationship with students. Relationship first, teaching later. Students learn teachers, not subjects.
  • Build your relationships with families and guardians. A village is needed to raise a child.
  • Have high expectations of your students at all times. Achievement must be realistic but every opportunity must be given to grow, develop and succeed.
  • Hold high expectations of your staff and provide full support to help them to raise student achievement.
  • Share your passion for your subject in exciting and new ways. Market your subject, show your belief in it and be ready to reinvent.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:04 am, 2 May 2019

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