Address math, science issues

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday April 12th, 2016

 A WELL worded letter to the editor this week on education by a former school inspector served to highlight a growing discrepancy with certain subjects in Papua New Guinean schools.

Maths and science are subjects that students tend to struggle with, to understand and do well in.

This is so because the grounding these students are getting firstly at the elementary and primary and then onto the secondary school levels is not equipping them for success.

In order to do well at a subject a student must first learn its basic tenets and principles and be able to solve problems and/or equations and be able to conduct, by way of procedure, the means to answer the question presented.

Unfortunately that kind of understanding and appreciation of mathematics and science is not being inculcated proficiently enough into the minds of the 

majority of pupils because according to the commentator our teachers lack the proper and complete knowledge to impart something that will resonate with students.

As a result of this “cook book” approach to imparting knowledge many children who have the potential to be decent or good mathematics and science students lose interest in the subject and treat it like a chore rather than something to be embraced and pursued over the following stages of their educational development.

The commentator rightfully points out that 

“problems such as low 

engagement and achievement in secondary math 

and science, reluctance of secondary students to take the higher and more difficult course in math and science, the decline in participation in undergraduate math and science courses and the shortage of math and science teachers” all have their origins in the quality of teaching that students receive at the primary and elementary level and the issues they have only continue unabated or addressed in the secondary years.

For a student there is nothing more bewildering or confidence sapping then being asked to learn a subject that one does not have a foundation in. 

But having said that, is it not then the teacher and school’s responsibility to come up with solutions to accommodate those shortcomings? 

If a student is struggling to gain the understanding of the subject at a certain level in order to progress 

to the next stage and be passed competent, should not the teacher attempt to incorporate remedial measures?

With schools expected to churn out students form one level to the next it is the ones that lag behind or cannot make the grade that are cast off or left behind despite in terms of learning the content despite being allowed to continue to the next grade. 

With the rigid education system and the subjects taken over the course of a school year the attention to detail that many schools should perhaps be devoting a portion of their time to is none existent.

In many cases, teachers are willing to give their time to extra tuition and other measures to bring students up to par with what is expected from a student at a certain level but the support from the schools in materials, facilities, scheduling and claims may not always be guaranteed.

With a sound base many a structure can be built but with a weak base the likelihood that the building will stand up to the test is surely degraded and that is basically the problem this commentator has pointed out which needs urgent addressing.

The impact of having math and science-challenged is felt none more so clearer then at the start of tertiary education when lecturers and tutors are left bemused by their students’ inability to grasp concepts and understand some basics of their courses. 

It is clear that there needs to be more uniformity in the quality of teaching as 

well as in the quality of teacher.

But this is really a classic “chicken and egg” situation where a student can only do well if he is taught well 

and given a chance to appreciate and respect the subject by a teacher who is equipped with the proper training to do the job of teaching that particular subject. 

The problem is a complex one and will only be solved gradually with commitment from all stakeholders – students, teachers, parents and the State.