Across the world, science is increasingly being viewed as a subject of life-long utility to students and other citizens, whether or not they enter science-related careers. A more science literate populace is perceived as being better equipped to contribute to sustainable economic development and to the social welfare. Therefore, factors which contribute to high achievement in science should be of concern to decision-makers in all countries…
Sometimes in early 2010, there was an out cry in the parliament by the former Minister of Education and Vocational Training, Professor Jumanne Maghembe that there has been persistence in declining of performance in Science, Mathematics and English subjects. This was termed as a major challenge facing the education sector in last decade.
In December 2010, it was reported in the media that during the awarding of secondary school students who performed excellently in National Chemistry examination, the current Minister of Education and Vocation Training, Dr. Shukuru Kawambwa, issued a very significant statement that “Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) strategy cannot be achieved without strengthening science education at all level of education”
Dr. Kawambwa insisted that in order to enhance the provision of science education there is a need for public and private stakeholders to join hands and spearhead the development of science and technology in the country. He assured that his ministry is committed to solve the problem of lack of laboratory facilities in ward secondary schools, in order to help students to learn science both in theory and practical.
This article aims at discussing on the issue of declining on science subjects, the underpinning reasons for the declining of science education and proposes workable solutions.
Expanded scientific activity is thought to benefit national economic development through improved labor force capacities, promoting creativity and innovation, and the creation of new knowledge and technology.
According to Evan Schofer, scientific expansion and the accompanying cultural penetration of a progressive agenda of social improvement, such as by identifying environmental and health problems, and social welfare and human rights issues, that can result in regulation and direct constraints on productive economic activity in the short term.
Thus, science can be seen as encouraging a trade-off between short-term economic growth and boarder (and longer-term) social development. Cross-national analyses show that the size of a nation's scientific labor force and training system has a positive effect on economic development.
When you look around the world, it seems that the problem of declining in academic performance in science subjects is a worldwide phenomenon. It is a challenge both in developing and developed countries.
A report issued on 5th March 2007 by the California Council on Science and Technology show how critical is the problem of science teachers in the state of California. The report said that California faces a persistent and critical shortage of fully prepared math and science teachers and lacks the capacity to produce enough math and science teachers to meet future needs, according to a new report released today by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) and the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.
"The shortage of fully prepared math and science teachers is undermining the quality of the state's education system and hampering the ability to produce college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics" said Susan Hackwood, Executive Director of the California Council on Science and Technology.
"Already, more than a third of novice high school math and science teachers are teaching before completing a preliminary teaching credential for the subjects they teach. Without focused action, California will continue to fall far short of producing the skilled and knowledgeable math and science teachers it desperately needs over the next decade"
"Unfortunately, the shortage of math and science teachers hits hardest at low performing schools serving poor and minority students" added Margaret Gaston, Executive Director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. "It is exactly these students that most need a chance to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the higher paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that drive our economy"
Why decline ?
There a number of reasons why performance in sciences is declining such as poor teaching and learning environment including lack of laboratory rooms, lab equipment, science textbooks and materials, and lack of qualified teachers.
Lack of motivation among science professionals especially teachers due to lack of attractive incentives such as better salaries, housing, professional development courses, etc especially in public schools.
This kills the morale to perform better and therefore they result to shift to private schools which offer attractive salary and incentive packages or they go for re-training in other courses such as Accountancy/ finance management which have better pay and decent incentives.
Lack of proper and in-depth training in teachers colleges and universities. The teachers are taught more theoretically than practical.
This might be due to increasing number of students in higher learning institutions such that lecturers aims more at attaining and completion of their semester curriculum than ensuring students have practical skills. At the end of the day most of the science teachers end up mastering theory more than practical side. This makes it very difficult for them to provide adequate skills for students. This result in poor academic results.
Another reason for poor performance in sciences among students is the country’s poor education system which emphasizes on learners memorizing concepts instead of understanding them, is to blame for massive failure in science subjects including Mathematics. The teaching and learning modality has changed from imparting knowledge and skills to learners to that of enabling students to pass examination.
What to be done?
It is widely known that in order for science programs to yield better results there is a need for heavy investment especially in education institutions, in order to produce highly qualified students and professionals. The government needs to motivate the private sector to join hands in promotion of science and technology education, including funding for research and development.
There should be more investment in sciences at primary, secondary and tertiary education levels. Sometimes in mid 2010, the former Minister for Education and Vocation Training, Professor Maghembe announced that about USD 150 million has been set aside for purchasing learning and training facilities, construction of laboratories, teachers houses, capacity building for teachers (including science teachers). It is my hope that the funds and facilities will be utilized effectively and efficiently for investment in the science and technology sub sector especially in the remote and rural schools.
The Science Camps for both teachers and students is a useful model for developing countries to consider adopting and/or adapting.
In Tanzania there are science camps for girls. However, it needs to be well organized; it should involve a broad constituency (decision-makers, teacher educators, research scientists, teachers, parents, and students). Moreover, camps should be held in various centres countrywide, not only for some few schools or districts.
If the country wide ICT project announced by the President Kikwete, which aims at ensuring that in five years time every secondary school student will have access to internet connected computer, is going to be a reality, there is a possibility for teachers and students to be motivated to utilize such devices to learn more about sciences and down load science materials from the internet and learn at their own convenient time and pace.
There is a need to have a robust Policy for strengthening science education in Tanzania. I am aware of the on going process of developing a “Science Education Policy and Systems Standards for Science Education” by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training. It is my hope that this policy will chart a way towards advanced development in science education in Tanzania.
This article has not been comprehensive in addressing the whole issue of science education and technology; however your opinions are also important; please do not hesitate to contribute.
The writer is a specialist in Educational Planning, Policy Studies, Economics and Financing of Education. He is reached through: 0754 304181 or [email protected]