SCIENCE INSTRUCTION

It is true to suggest that science instruction is undergoing a revolution. This has, in part, been spurred on by falling enrolment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses. The popularity of science fairs, museums and in general discussions of scientific discoveries suggest that the feelings of wonder and amazement that science instills in people is still evident. Yet, as suggested in the introductory page, the gulf between scientific knowledge and public understanding of science has never been wider.

The way science is taught in schools is also changing. Traditional approaches that emphasise rote learning, memorisation and direct instruction are view less favourably these days. The ready availability of information means that there is no need for students to memorise chemical structures, equations, formulae and biochemical pathways (to name a few!). In most schools, the emphasis of science instruction is to teach students how to use information in meaningful ways - for example, to solve problems.

When do children being to‘lose’ their interest in science? Anecdotal evidence suggests that this occurs in junior high school (secondary schools). At these stages, students are often introduced to the formal practice of science. This includes learning new scientific concepts, undertaking experiments, including drawing conclusions from those experiments, communicating science (classroom presentations, science fairs, science competitions, etc). Is science instruction at secondary schools partly or wholely to blame for the declining interest in science?

I do not believe that science instruction is completely at fault here. There are many other confounding factors that influence the practice of science education at schools. For example, the‘realities’ of school instruction (e.g. rigid adherence to curricula, administration, funding and resources) are also responsible for science to be demonted from an‘exciting’ subject to a‘boring’ one. In the next few pages, I shall explore some of these issues.

Yet, despite the apparently gloomy outlook for science instruction and STEM education, there are many exciting developments that will surely enhance science education. Indeed, I am confident the exciting times that we find outselves in today (i.e. the information age) will catalyse the development of brilliant scientists and a highly informed citizenry.

Sham Nair 2014