One quote comes from the great theoretical physicist Albert Einstein: “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” 

For the past quarter of a century, Lineham, pictured second from left, has taught students at JHC to think critically and for themselves; that science is fun and an essential link to the world we live in; and how to have positive relationships with their teachers and other students. 

Students have thrived under Lineham’s guidance at the Invercargill-based secondary school and recently, Lineham was recognised for her efforts by winning the Prime Minister’s (PM) Science Teacher Prize and $150,000 at the 2015 PM’s Science Prizes. 

She had been nominated for it by JHC deputy principal Jenny Elder. 

Lineham then had to put together a two-page CV, and travel to Wellington in September to be grilled by a five-person panel for more than an hour.

The award affirms the long term vision she has for science education, Lineham says. 

“This award means a lot … it highlights the work we are doing with our science students is of high value.”

JHC intends to spend some of the money on new science equipment, professional opportunities for science teachers and students to help them take part in national and international events as the school is very isolated, and it is expensive to travel anywhere, she says. 

After completing a Bachelor of Science, Lineham worked in a laboratory before going to teachers’ college. 

“I was turned down in my original application to go teaching however, I continued to tutor colleagues’ children in maths and the sciences and enjoyed working with those students a lot so applied to train to teach again,” she explains. 

“I was initially turned down again, then three weeks later I was invited into the chemistry/mathematics stream.”

Lineham, who now leads a team of 18 (16 teachers, a technician and an assistant technician) and teaches chemistry and science, has never looked back. 

Twenty-five years is a long time to work at one place, and Lineham says it is the people, students, teachers and support staff which has kept her at JHC for so long.  

Lineham’s husband also teaches at the school, and she says the couple only intended to work in Invercargill for five years, before looking to move to sunnier parts of New Zealand. 

“But we were hooked in by the strong sense of community and the warmth of the people who live down here.”

James Hargest College embodies that same sense of community and inclusiveness and the students here are awesome to teach, she continues. 

“The people I work closest with (in my department) share my vision for science education and while we don’t agree on everything all the time, we are moving forward together as a team.”
Lineham’s personal philosophy when it comes to teaching is first and foremost, students have to be engaged, and to do that, science has to be fun. 

“I am interested in putting ideas in front of students and asking them to draw their own conclusions - to sort the science from the pseudoscience, to be able to distinguish between fact and opinion. 

“It is critical students are taught to look at (and access) facts not opinion and that they have the thinking tools that allow them to make informed decisions.” 

There’s no questioning Lineham’s passion and love for her job and science – and challenges. 

She enjoys pushing every student to always strive to do their best. 

Lineham thrives on challenges and embraces change and says the most challenging part about her role currently is trying to maintain good pedagogy and not allowing students’ BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) devices to become a distraction rather than a learning tool in the classroom. 

“Such technology is invaluable in teaching science but it will never replace the teacher neither will it replace good teaching practices,” she says. 

JHC will attest that Lineham, her vision and teaching practices are definitely irreplaceable. 

2015 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes

The PM’s Science Prizes recognise researchers, teachers, students and communicators of the highest calibre, working in areas with real impact on NZ’s economy, environment or societal wellbeing. 

The five prizes were established in 2009 and have total value of $1 million.

These prizes seek to highlight the way science underpins innovation, helping to grow our economy and improve our productivity and international competitiveness. 

The prizes were presented by PM John Key at a ceremony at Te Papa in November. 


• The PM’s Science Prize ($500,000) – The University of Auckland Bone and Joint Research Group, led by Professor Ian Reid (University of Auckland)

• The PM’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize ($200,000) – Dr Alex Taylor, University of Auckland, for his work into the evolution of intelligence

• The PM’s Science Teacher Prize ($150,000) - Tania Lineham (James Hargest College)

• The PM’s Science Media Communication Prize ($100,000) - Dr Ian Griffin (Otago Museum)

• The PM’s Future Scientist Prize ($50,000) - Georgia Lala (Auckland Diocesan School for Girls).

• The PM’s Science Prizes are administered by the Royal Society of NZ and on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.