Science teaching needs urgent overhaul

Muhammad Fida Hussain Fida

I was taking my brother, Naeem who is in grade 5, to school two days ago. We were driving down a tree-lined road at speed. He was looking towards the trees from the car intensely and appeared deep in thought. After 15 minutes of our drive, he asked me: “Bhai, why are these trees moving? And that too in the opposite direction to ours?”

I told my brother, “Keep thinking about this and ask your science teacher today!”

I dropped him off at the school. My father picked him up at the end of the school day. On my return home that evening, I asked him: “Did you ask your science teacher about the moving trees?”  My brother replied: “She said ‘you are too little to understand this scientific concept; for you it should be enough to know that when we travel stationary objects seems to be moving in the opposite direction.’ ”

It’s not only my brother who gets such answers but most of our children get similar responses from their teachers: “This is not in your science book or you are too young to understand this concept or I guarantee this question won’t come up in your exam.” Surely, their curiosity deserves better.

The truth is that teaching science in our classroom is just meant to pass an exam or cover what is in the science textbook. There is very little that is taught and then connected with the real world around us. We aren’t concerned about the importance of Grade 5 science in the life of a 5th grader. We need to connect classroom experiences to real world situations; when that happens the world of creativity is sparked into life.

There was a lot to learn from the science festivals over the past six months that Alif Ailaan supported its partners in organising where the students came with practical solutions/explanations to/of various scientific problems. Such as the group of female students who came up with the idea of installing small hydro power plants in Swat, a group of students who brought a project of smart streetlights, a 5th grader to explain respiration and the harmful effects of tobacco on your lungs just in front of you at Swat Science Festival. These healthy festivals bring scientific theories to life which sparks imagination and creativity of students.

The students at Faisalabad Science Festival brought new application of robotics into textile, the students brought electric meter which can be remotely read, among other such experiments. I can’t describe all of the projects in one page. These festivals should be the part of districts development projects and students should be given the data on problems their district is facing and should be asked to bring solutions.

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I’d suggest that not only should these festivals become regular events but there should also be competitions in these festivals among science teachers of the districts to bring new and innovative methods of teaching science so that they can learn from each other and practice new ways of teaching the subject.

Our students like Naeem are imaginative and creative enough but it’s we who start to harm their scientific way of thinking, we start to harm their imaginative power, we start to harm their creative capacities by just keeping them restricted to our outdated science curriculum and practices, and not responding to their questions about the phenomenon of nature or their observations of daily life science phenomenon. Our teachers prepare them just for the exams not for the problems these students would be facing in their professional life and would need to find solutions to those problems!

Literally every moment, there are innovations happening somewhere in the world, new technologies are being introduced and smart ways of working are being adopted. Imagine the life of our student who would be working 15-20 years from now. They would be working in environments we know nothing about as we speak. Yet, we have to prepare them for that world; we need to prepare them how to think scientifically to solve problems not just to memorise scientific concepts or theories.

For all that to happen in and outside the classroom, the teacher is one main stakeholder. A better prepared teacher can do wonders in the science classroom. What’s’ wrong with our science teachers? Our science teachers have degrees in their science subjects but they aren’t trained in the area of pedagogy, science teaching, science curriculum or assessing science learning. We should train every science teacher comprehensively in the area of teaching and learning, pedagogy, curriculum and assessments.

For that purpose we need a comprehensive teacher training programme not only the mere 1 or 2 months training in which usually the science teachers aren’t given any training about how to teach science? What different methods of teaching science are out there? What other methods as science teachers can they adopt to assess science learning instead of paper, pencil exam? How science learning can be extended beyond the classroom? How the use of a science lab is important in every lesson? How inquiry and discovery methods of science teaching work? These and other question of science teaching remains mostly unaddressed in these short-term training modules held by the School Education Department.

The Bahawalpur-based writer is CEO Ilm Rohi

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