I REFER to the article “Poor show in Pisa rankings” (StarEducate, Dec 8).
It was stated that, “A difference of 38 points on the Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) scale was equivalent to one year of schooling. A comparison of scores showed that students in Shanghai were performing as though they had four or more years of schooling than 15-year-olds in Malaysia.”
This is worth careful attention and further deliberation by all concerned stake holders.
What is meant by the “equivalent to one year of schooling”?
Are we to think that our 15-year-olds (who are in Form Three) should be performing like students in Form Six? Or, is it that their thinking skills are of a much lower order, way below par?
First, we need to examine the real breadth and depth of the curricula and syllabi being taught in our classrooms today.
How are the knowledge contents of our subjects, Sciences and Mathematics in particular, compared to those adopted in better performing countries, in terms of quality as well as quantity?
This is not to advocate that we need to cram more into our school curricula and syllabi. It is about better and more efficient and effective organisation as well as presentation of the necessary teaching and learning materials.
Would students be able to cope if “more” are added?
It is a known fact that in our independent vernacular Chinese secondary schools, students are doing Mathematics that is syllabus-wise “years” ahead of that in our national schools.
In Singapore, students study Physics, Biology and Chemistry (not General Sciences) from Year One in secondary school.
Obviously then, with a greater knowledge base, they can tackle more questions with added confidence.
So perhaps, we need to ponder: “Have our students learnt enough, Sciences and Mathematics in particular, to tackle all Pisa questions?”
Secondly, are our teachers delivering to their classes the depth required? We often hear of cases where teachers just skim over a subject topic and some even ask students to read up chapters on their own!
There are also complaints of teachers who are themselves not competent in the subject of their first option; never mind about teachers who are made to teach subjects not of their own options.
In the urban setting, there is a heavy reliance on tuition centres. These centres, however, focus mainly on scoring local examination grades; they do not help to upscale our Pisa rankings.
Thirdly, what about the lack of “higher order thinking skills (HOTS)” amongst our students, a factor that has long been touted as a main cause of our lackadaisical Pisa performance?
If a particular subject topic is not taught in your years of schooling up to the time you take Pisa, no amount of training in thinking skills will be able to help you answer a question on that topic.
I would not object to students being given “special” training in higher order thinking skills. I would also think that properly conducted Science and Mathematics lessons would have many elements of HOTS already incorporated in them.
Do we still emphasise in our Science and Mathematics classes, skills such as observation, systematic data collection, tabulation and graphical presentation, interpretation, comparison, inferences, analysis, projection, induction, deduction, synthesis and others?
A Science and Mathematics question of substance and quality, at any level, demands one or a combination of the skills mentioned above. So you can say, the higher order thinking skills are already in our classrooms; they just have not been fully exploited.
To bring them out requires much perseverance and sacrifice, from both students and teachers.
We need competent and quality teachers. Would the multi-million ringgit 1Bestari or other cyber initiatives to be implemented motivate and facilitate the minds of our students to henceforth think in a higher order manner?
Would the true benefits derived justify the huge amount spent? Only time will tell.
Liong Kam Chong Seremban, Negeri Sembilan The STAR Online Home News Opinion Education 22/12/2013