There are still Science teachers who are enthusiastic and ready to give their best in imparting knowledge and skills to their charges. But, sadly, they are the minority.
Occasionally, there are reports on our students’ Science and Mathematics achievements in international competitions. They are not typical.
A parent lamented that his daughter’s Physics teacher always told his students to read chapters in the textbook on their own, without proper guidance.
A committed upper secondary teacher was appalled that many of her charges were struggling with the simple mathematical concept of “proportionality”.
She guessed that they were not properly taught Mathematics in their lower secondary years.
Let us have a hard look at the situation on the ground.
Firstly, we have incompetent Science teachers, who do not have a strong grasp of the subjects they teach. Such teachers skim through chapters and skip concepts that are more difficult to explain.
Asking students to read on their own and leaving untaught topics to the care of tuition teachers have become the norm.
This is irresponsible and unethical. If teachers have not learnt their subjects well, it is unlikely that they will do a good job when it comes to teaching.
This is especially true for subjects in the natural sciences. Concepts are built on top of one another. If the foundational knowledge is not firmly established, it is unlikely that later, additional knowledge can stand their ground.
If a teacher blunders in teaching the concept of “proportionality”, I shudder to think how he can handle difficult topics, like solving simultaneous equations, nuclear physics or electromagnetic waves.
Secondly, are we to think that there are Science and Mathematics teachers who are neither keen nor want to teach subjects in the natural sciences in the first place?
They know their own grades in those subjects, and should be aware that they might not understand the subjects well.
But, the opportunity to join a teachers’ college or institute might have been presented to them, so they responded to the “call” and found employment, but what a mess they find themselves in.
It is not surprising, therefore, that they derive no satisfaction from their work. They are victims of the system.
Thirdly, the fact that our students can excel at the lower secondary level, but cannot understand “proportionality” should be of concern to educators.
What are the standards of our assessments or public examinations?
Students seem to be getting As really easily. But, the reality is that they are often “knocked out” by something basic or fundamental.
Their confidence in their academic prowess may be shattered when they meet their peers from outside the country.
We are still looking for new ways to improve our Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) scores and rankings.
Fourthly, in their eagerness to complete the syllabus, some teachers “take over” in every lesson. Such teachers, citing time constraints, even provide answers or results for experiments that students are supposed to find and do on their own.
The students, then, will not be innovative, creative or inventive. They must be taught, coached and trained to think, operate and work as scientists or researchers.
Besides gaining knowledge, they must also acquire scientific skills.
I wonder if there are, at this time, grounds to call for a “reassessment and retraining” of some of our Science and Mathematics teachers, as we are doing for our English teachers.
It is time we raise the bar when it comes to Science and Mathematics teachers.
And, in public examinations, we should give good grades only to deserving students. Liong Kam Chong , Seremban, Negri Sembilan The NST Opinion You Write 10 June 2016 @ 11:01 AM