December 17th, 2012

Education: Review teaching of Science

THE National Philosophy of Science Education (1996) states that, "In consonance with the National Education Philosophy, science education in Malaysia nurtures a science and technology culture by focusing on the development of individuals who are competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient and able to master scientific knowledge and technological competency".

With this philosophy, science education aims at developing the potential of individuals in an overall and integrated manner so as to produce Malaysian citizens who are scientifically and technologically literate, competent in scientific skills, practise good moral values, capable of coping with the changes in scientific and technological advances and able to manage nature with wisdom and responsibility for the betterment of mankind.

In line with Malaysia's national vision of becoming a fully developed nation by 2020 and the current Government Transformation Programmes to ensure the country's economic development meets the criteria for industrialised countries, it is of the greatest urgency that Science education in schools undergoes a substantive change.

This is necessary to fulfil the promise of developing Malaysians who are equipped with scientific knowledge and technological competency. By nurturing a culture of science and technology among the young, the country can focus on the development of scientifically and technologically-literate individuals imbued with scientific and intellectual curiosity, dynamism and resilience necessary to meet modern-day needs.

It is an undisputed fact that science and technology are the driving force behind the economic development of industrialised countries. In order to secure the future prosperity of Malaysia, we have to ensure that the country has the number and quality of people with strong backgrounds in science and technology.

The potential of its citizens has to be developed in a holistic manner to enable them to cope with the advances in science and technology for the betterment of society, locally and globally.

In order to develop a strong culture of science and scientific learning in the national education system, there has to be a redefinition of the National Science Education Philosophy supported by a clear Science Education Policy.

These are the recommendations of the Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE):

THE Ministry of Education should define a new Science Education Policy that meets the nation's scientific and technological requirements. At the lowest levels it must ensure that students acquire sufficient knowledge of science, its values and skills to op erate effectively in their daily lives and for their personal wellbeing.

At the highest levels, it must provide them with advanced knowledge, specialised tools and critical thinking skills to tackle higher level developments in contemporary culture.

The development of scientific thinking skills is pivotal for the development of innovation and innovative applications for the development of a nation.

TO arrest the declining ratio of students taking up Science and revive interest in Science subjects, there has to be a revamp of their content and context with change in pedagogy, methodology and teaching/learning strategies, methods of assessment as well as the overall school environment.

The school culture of science must ensure that the personal development of students focuses on their ability to internalise the knowledge, values and critical thinking skills that science provides for them to operate at the academic, professional and vocational levels.

The teaching and learning of Science can be effectively transformed in the following ways:

RESOLVE the controversy surrounding the language of instruction for Science and Mathematics once and for all, by adopting a bilingual approach to the subjects. One of the suggestions recommended is that in primary school, the teaching/learning of basic concepts should be in the mother tongue (Mandarin and Tamil in the national type schools) or Bahasa Malaysia (in the national schools) in Year One to Four, with gradual introduction of English in Year Five to Six.

In secondary school, Science and Maths should be taught in English from Form 1, so that by the time students reach the upper secondary level they are able to master the subjects in English.

A bilingual approach to the teaching and learning of Maths and Science will benefit Malaysian students, who will be able to handle the subjects, their terminology and content in two languages.

Include Science and Mathematics as a key sub-topic in the National Education Blueprint in order to highlight their importance and identify particular areas of concern such as pedagogy, curriculum, methodology and evaluation.

This will motivate ongoing discussion among policymakers, curriculum designers, school heads, teachers, facilitators and other stakeholders to identify weaknesses in the system and propose corrective measures.

ESTABLISH specialist teams of people in industry, scientists, teachers and student leaders for Science and Mathematics. They can come together periodically to discuss and submit their findings on the various aspects of the discipline that have implications for teaching and learning.

For example, teachers can be interviewed to give feedback on why students' performance in Science is dismal, or their observations on why girls perform better than boys in the classroom and examinations. Students can also be engaged to give their perspective on the effectiveness of the teaching and learning strategies.

DEVELOP and upgrade the school infrastructure, tools and equipment vital for the effective teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics.

Science labs are a necessary environment where teachers, lab assistants and students work together to conduct practical sessions and experiments to verify or affirm scientific concepts and processes. The investigative methods are a necessary part of gathering evidence in the learning of Science.

ALLOCATE special budgets for schools with poor infrastructure and facilities. Science and computer labs are basic to successful Science education.

Equalising the opportunities and facilities for public schools across the country must be a top priority if science education is to benefit all Malaysian students. Schools with outstanding students, teachers and facilities such as those in the PINTAR programme can serve as partners and mentors for less advantaged schools, teachers and students.

A national education system which favours one group of schools, teachers and students over another defeats the very idea of the democratisation of education and social justice.

RELOOK the assessment of Science subjects in class work, tests and public examinations. Replace rote learning of scientific facts with a more investigative methodology of teaching and learning where the focus is more on how science works rather than on its conclusions.

For instance, through project work students can share research and experiments which may produce different results. They can be encouraged to investigate further as to why the same experiment has produced different results.

BUILD up community science projects where students take up an environmental issue such as greening, or recycle and reuse, and come up with a group initiative that will benefit their school and the greater community.

In this way they learn about the practical and ethical aspects of science and how it impacts people and their communities. From young they learn to form partnerships with community organisations to explore contemporary science in real-life settings.

BY integrating Science Education in a more focused and concerted way, the teaching and learning of Science will be conducted in a more open system that optimises the benefits which accrue to all its stakeholders, in particular the schoolchildren who will move on to higher levels of academic, professional and vocational learning.

With a substantive foundation in science made possible by a sound Science Education Policy, they will be able to acquire greater knowledge and skills to participate in the development of the nation and make significant contributions towards innovation and scientific development.

Dr Faridah Shah, Council Member of World Academy of Science For The Developing World and Member OF PCORE Education Committee, Kuala Lumpur. The New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 17 December 2012