SCIENCE EDUCATION: Not too late to spark interest

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

By Liong Kam Chong, Seremban, Negri Sembilan 0 comments

THE Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) has urged the government to improve drastically the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (“ASM wants improvements in teaching of science”– NST, July 11).

Academy president Tan Sri Dr Ahmad Tajuddin Ali lamented the shortage of scientific talents in the country and while emphasising that the talent issue must be resolved urgently, said: “The education and culture-building dimension will also have to be addressed if the country is to enjoy a more sustained growth in innovation”.

In the column “A particular discovery” (NST, July 12), the columnist related a recent discovery in nuclear research and gave a precise and concise explanation of some modern physics concepts necessary to understand the discovery.

His call to Malaysians to “bring science into the national conversation”, “let’s create a buzz” and “let’s use its discovery to spark interest in science”, is timely.

However, our local “scientific” community does not seem excited. Our schools are not talking about it. And, we have yet to hear from our universities.

Months earlier, the Education Ministry had announced that it would study the reasons for the declining interest in Science and find ways to reverse it (“Move to boost students’ interest in Science” — NST, Feb 3).

Shouldn’t we be concerned? These observations seem to point to the fact that our students are not showing sufficient interest in Science and science-related courses, Our community, as a whole, is also oblivious and indifferent to the latest discoveries in science.

This is no way for us to meet the sixth challenge of Vision 2020: to establish a scientific and progressive society, a society that is innovative and forward-looking, one that is not only a consumer of technology but also a contributor to the scientific and technological civilisation of the future.

Allow me to share my thoughts on what we must do, especially at the school level.

FIRST, there is a need to change our mindset that “science is difficult”. In a world of science and technology, knowing the basics helps us to live a better and fuller life. We should start having the view that, “Now everybody can do Science!”

Mental preparedness and belief form the necessary first step to embracing science.

If Arts stream students can go on to successfully acquire professional qualifications in Arts subjects, I am confident that these same students have the intelligence and academic prowess to handle Science subjects in Form Four and Form Five.

SECOND, consider doing away with the Science-Arts streaming after Form Three. Students need to gain a better and deeper understanding of the different subjects before they make the decision to specialise.

In addition, it is highly necessary for Arts streamers to learn much more Science than they do at present.

All students in Form Four should enter a General stream, where a broader Science syllabus is taught compared with the current Science taught to Arts stream students.

At the same time, the Science syllabus for the General stream should not include the preparatory topics for higher learning found in the present Pure Science syllabus. This way, everyone learns enough Science and there is still sufficient time for other subjects.

THIRD, we need to once again accord greater importance to effective Science teaching-learning methods that incorporate experiments, activities and field trips into lessons.

In their eagerness to complete the syllabus, many teachers tend to “lecture” in every lesson. They even provide answers or results for experiments that students are supposed to do on their own, citing time constraints.

If all students are to learn more Science, it is the duty of teachers to make the subject more interesting and challenging.

Easy methods that emphasise mainly on scoring in examinations must be “used” with much caution, lest they make students robotic in their learning.

Students who are “fully guided” in learning science will not be innovative, creative or inventive. They must be taught, coached and trained to think, operate and work as a scientist, a researcher even. Besides gaining knowledge, they must also learn to acquire the appropriate scientific skills.

Learning science should be a holistic and exciting experience.

FOURTH, lest I be accused of raising yet again an issue “already settled”, I am adamant that Science and Mathematics should be taught in English, at least from Form One onwards.

This is a realistic approach, taking cognisance of the strong sentiment on the ground and the unfortunate political expediency that makes it difficult to “enforce” the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English in primary schools.

Moreover, since the ongoing policy of Upholding Bahasa Malaysia and Strengthening English (MBMMBI) is expected to bear fruit, can we then be optimistic that English proficiency will increase by the time students reach Form One, thus making them ready for Science and Mathematics in English?

With the basics firmly grasped after six years of primary English lessons, learning Science and Mathematics in English in secondary school should be manageable.

Students, therefore, will be able to access the whole world of English, Science and Mathematics.

FINALLY, as for the columnist’s closing questions: “Who am I?” and “Why am I?”, for this, I will have to search my inner spiritual being.

The answers are not likely to be found among the fermions and bosons!

Read more: SCIENCE EDUCATION: Not too late to spark interest – Letters to the Editor – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/science-education-not-too-late-to-spark-interest-1.109214#ixzz20wwhN2FF