Experts Caution Against Removing Science Classes From Primary Schools
By Prime Sarmiento | Academia
February 4, 2013
Experts have criticized the recent decisions by the Indonesian and Philippine governments to limit primary students’ exposure to science.
AsianScientist (Feb. 4, 2013) – Education experts have criticized the recent decisions by the Indonesian and Philippine governments to limit primary students’ exposure to science. They believe that this move will harm students who are already lagging behind in the global science competency examinations.
In Manila, the Department of Education decided to drop science from the list of subjects taken up by Grade One and Two students, in line with the new curriculum that was enforced in the school year that started in June 2012. Science will be introduced as a separate subject in the third grade.
Philippine Education Secretary Armin Luistro said these measures will “decongest” the curriculum and make learning more enjoyable to young learners. He added that while there will be no separate subject for science during this time, science subjects will be incorporated in other subjects.
In Jakarta, Indonesian officials announced plans in October last year to eliminate science and social sciences as separate subjects and integrate them with other subjects being taught throughout elementary school. Education officials said this is in response to “some public opinion” that the existing science curriculum is “too hard” for elementary students.
Such moves, however, have sparked debate over how this will affect the competitiveness of students in the future.
“What society teaches in the early grades is what society advertises to its youngest members. Interests in careers in science and technology need to be cultivated as early as possible. It should not be later than the introduction of arts, music, and religion,” said Angel de Dios, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Georgetown University, in an interview with Asian Scientist Magazine.
De Dios, one of the vocal critics of the new curriculum introduced in the Philippines, notes that children that age are naturally curious, making it the best time to introduce scientific concepts and methods to them.
“Young children can be taught to compare and contrast, make observations and measurements, and appreciate nature. Without a formal subject of science in kindergarten and in the first two grades, there is no specific classroom time assigned to these activities. These lessons are therefore likely to be missed,” he said.
De dios cited a study published in October 2011 by the Journal of Science Education and Technology where researchers in the United States revealed that science can be taught to early learners.
“Students as young as kindergarten are developmentally capable of conceptualizing nature of science when it is taught to them,” the researchers said.
Indeed, this view is also taken by Srisetiowati Seiful, executive director of the Jakarta-based Surya Institute, who says that science should be taught as a separate subject before high school.
“By the fourth grade, students are actually capable of absorbing the basics and process of science like how plants grow, how the earth is formed, the basics of force and energy, how light is reflected, and so much more from just observing their surroundings,” she said.
Surya is a private foundation that develops alternative math and science teaching materials. Seiful said that as far as Surya is concerned, this is not about science being a difficult subject for grade school students but more about how science is being taught to the students.
“Science can be taught and learned in a fun manner. It’s all in the method of teaching and also the competency of teachers,” she said.
Instead of reducing the number of hours for science learning, Seiful said Indonesian officials should instead invest in training teachers who will make science fun and accessible to young learners.
It also doesn’t help that Indonesian and Filipino students can barely cope with the outstanding performance of their peers in Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
TIMSS is an international assessment of math and science skills among primary and secondary school students conducted every four years. The Philippines ranked 41st in science among 45 countries in the 2003 TIMSS – the same as in 1999. It did not participate in the 2007 and 2011 TIMSS.
Indonesia ranked 40th for science in the 2011 TIMSS, trailing behind neighbors Malaysia and Thailand. The 2011 scores for both science and math are also down from the previous TIMSS in 2007.
Education experts predict such performance will worsen if science is not introduced as early as possible.
“We should be teaching science early enough so that we may be able to imbue the values of science during the formative stage of children,” said Ruby Cristobal, chief research specialist at the Philippine science department.
Cristobal thinks that more training must be done so that teachers of Grade One and Two students can integrate science concepts into other subjects.
“I guess the key to doing this is to train teachers in these grade levels on the basic science competencies which must be developed among the children in the first two primary grades and the integration skills that would be needed to successfully implement the current curriculum,” she said.
Otherwise, Cristobal said it might be difficult for students to get into science careers, which will in the end be detrimental to a country’s science and technology development.
Seiful shares the same view, stressing how hard it is already to persuade students to like science, much less consider science as a career.
“Unless one reaches a critical mass of number of scientists in respective fields, it will be doubly difficult to produce breakthroughs in science and technology, difficult to have your nation develop innovative technology, alternative energy, using resources as effectively as possible to help grow the nation,” she said.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: U.S. Pacific Air Forces/Flickr/CC.
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