THE article by Shamsun Nisha Shahul Hamid “Do not kill interest in Science at an early age” (NST, March 23) is timely and appropriate.
Science can be an enjoyable subject if it is taught in the right way, particularly by a competent teacher.
The beauty and enjoyment of science are simply killed off when pressure is applied to such an extent that a child becomes confused.
In this case, it is not only the child, but some university graduates who are also ill-informed in the field of science.
Armed with low scientific knowledge, students proceed to university education. When they graduate, they cannot find jobs. Science is closely related to everyday life.
For example, the extreme temperatures we are experiencing are due to environmental processes related to human activities such as cutting down forests and opening up of new townships, without the necessary environmental impact reports.
The hydrological systems are disrupted, rivers are polluted and scenic streams have become drains. New townships are becoming savannah. These current events should be explained to young minds.
The fact that rivers and canals are mostly without water should be explained scientifically based on the local knowledge of hydrological cycles, which are connected closely with human activities.
Most problems are human-made and require a lot of explanation. The world is a nature laboratory.
Observing and listening to the chirps of birds, especially in the morning, should bring life to young brains.
Humans need creativity and innovation. A lot of things can be learned from nature. Newton discovered the Law of Gravity when sitting under an apple tree.
Darwin and Wallace discovered the theory of evolution when they travelled out of England. Science can be interesting when you relate it to life and everyday happenings. Mashhor Mansor, Professor, School of Biological Science, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang The NST Home News Opinion 24 March 2016 @ 11.00AM
Do not kill interest in Science at early age
THE dwindling number of students entering the Science stream is a matter of great concern. To produce a strong, reliable workforce in science-related fields in the future, we must first educate more students in the discipline.
The subject must create a genuine interest and passion for children to master it at the highest level. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of interest, judging by the number of students in the Science stream.
The reason is how the subjects are taught and tested at primary level. In lower primary, Science classes are fun, but in upper primary, the classes get tedious, and some children start to dislike the subject.
Children at this age are keen to learn about the world around them and beyond. They are naturally curious about how and why things work and would like to have their questions answered.
Questions such as how an eclipse occurs, why the coconut tree can withstand strong winds and why iron rusts. But instead of presenting them with interesting images, facts and figures, they are bombarded with charts and tables, followed by questions pertaining to the experimental aspect of the topic.
Take, for example, a lesson on friction.
|For primary school pupils, Science should be a fun subject.|
It is followed by an explanation on how to reduce or increase friction accordingly.
However, later, in an examination, a different approach is used to test the children’s understanding of the subject.
Not having enough time to conduct experiments (the practical textbook is hardly used beyond the first few experiments), children are unable to understand a table showing the results of a finding on the effects of friction on a constant variable.
Obviously, this is meant to test whether they understand the constant, manipulated and responding variables. They even have to write down the inference, predict an outcome and provide a suitable conclusion for the experiment.
How can children at the age of 10 to 12 handle that? Those able to grasp concepts quickly can manage the questions. Most, however, struggle to understand the terminologies.
Are they supposed to learn the facts in an interesting way or memorise the answer, taking care not to miss a word or two because this may cost them an A in the examination?
Even if they are interested and good with explanations, they must know how to place the words correctly for the question on the inference and objective of the experiment.
All this drilling to regurgitate the correct sentence for the highest possible mark has, sadly, killed any interest in the subject.
Of course, students learn that stability is affected by height and base area, for example. If asked to compare two brick towers of different heights, they may be able to point out which will topple first.
But when given an elaborate table of numbers or bar graphs showing the time taken for both towers to topple and asked which is more stable, they freeze.
Why? They fear not being able to string a proper sentence to explain why. Why does Science for primary school have to be so complicated?
Can’t children just learn the simple facts and later, in secondary school, learn the objectives, inferences and determination of variables?
I am sure students in the 1980s will well remember the Alam Dan Manusia subject. It was fun learning and easy enough to be digested by children.
We also did not have Science as part of our Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) examination. Teachers focused on grammar skills, both in Bahasa Malaysia and English, and we had ample time to improve our computational skills.
It is important to note that Mathematics must be mastered at primary level before proceeding to learn Science at a higher level.
This strong foundation allowed many of us to enter the Science stream and become professionals in the fields of medicine, engineering, etc.
Unfortunately today, children don’t even have time to memorise multiplication tables and get their basic arithmetic correct. They enter Year Six, only to struggle to relearn the basics and eventually fall behind their peers.
There is also too much on their plate. Subjects like Kemahiran Hidup, Kajian Tempatan and Pendidikan Sivik take up to three hours a week, time that can be used to polish language and mathematical skills.
For the next Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah cohort, there’s also a lot on the weekly timetable. Are ICT and Design (Rekabentuk Dan Teknologi) as standalone subjects absolutely necessary?
Can’t these be integrated into the Science subject? For a smooth transition to secondary school, a child needs a strong foundation in language to read and write well in both Bahasa Malaysia and English, a good grasp of Mathematics and an introduction to Science, without being put off by complex charts, tables and graphs.
Perhaps the government can consider removing Science from the UPSR examination, so that children will not shun the subject in secondary school. Keep the teaching and learning of Science simple and fun.