Sunday March 30 2014

Teaching of sciences should be based on development priorities

By Stephen Christian Kaheru

The Commissioner for Secondary Education recently announced plans to recruit 3,650 science teachers to plug the capacity gap that dogged the delivery of sub-Math and computer studies, declared compulsory at A-Level three years ago.

From the Pinard horn to WinSenga, from vendors to RimaVend, from ink and paper registration to Plerola, from blood samples to Matibabu, from diesel to solar-powered “Kayoola,” the quest for science to impact Ugandans is gaining tempo.

The conduit through which science for development is delivered remains an appropriate curriculum. Assessment of curriculum and examinations in 2007 indicated that Uganda’s secondary curriculum was merely laden with content, drawing together examination syllabi.

Resonance between the curriculum and development priorities is imperative if Uganda is to bank on science to confront national challenges with home-grown breakthroughs.

A 2009/10 review indicated that Science and Mathematics are mainly taught by A-Level drop outs. Whereas more than 2,000 secondary science teachers had been re-tooled by 2008 through in-service training, immersing science teacher trainees at Kabale, Unyama, Muni, Kaliro in competence-based preparation would sustainably resuscitate science teaching. In Rwanda, despite its admirable enrolment, teacher training remains integral to enhancing quality of education.

In 2010, the student to teacher ratio in secondary school was reported at 18, undermining constructive interaction. Consequently, teachers’ methods lean towards “teaching about science” rather than “enabling learners to become scientists.”

When the Uneb chief lamented that “there were difficulties with questions requiring explanations, descriptions of experimental procedure, use of chemical symbols and formulae, writing of units and dealing with tasks that require practical experience,” the writing is on the wall.

Teaching sciences is next to assembling facts, formulae, which learners reproduce in exams. We are reminded, however, that “science is not about facts but a way of understanding and representing our world.” Physicists explore what constitutes matter, how it changes and the power behind its change. Students of Chemistry draw on their understanding of atoms, molecules, ions to explain how plants make food, how fuel burns, what causes rusting.

As a science of pattern and order, Mathematics employs numbers to empower learners establish the truth by interpreting loads of data.

In a country where bookstores are flooded with pamphlets, learners are less enthused to deepen their understanding through the works of Lambert, Abbott. While parents are already contributing towards reading material, it is for teachers to contextualise content.

Science classes, unlike many of the arts, are facilitated through on-going practical exposure. However, only 455 out of 911 government schools had functional science laboratories in 2009.

Learning sciences happens through inquiry, understanding, deduction. Assessing these abilities, however, is often sacrificed at the altar of pen and pencil, pass or fail examinations. Contemptible science grades are not peculiar to Uganda. Releasing KCSE results, Kenya’s education minister in 2009 wondered whether “our children have an inherent cognitive disability in science and maths” .

Evidently, the science crusade has to be won on various fronts. The rapidity of scientific advancement compels us to ardently nurture the hatcheries in Namayingo, Abim, Mayuge, Manafwa, among others, if we are to multiply our breed of scientists countrywide.
Mr Kaheru comments on national and regional development issues