Across South Africa, numerous factors contribute to mainly the poor state of science education. How do you feel about science education in SA schools? Below I touch on a few possible contributors to this issue. However, I know that it goes much deeper than what I am about to say. Nonetheless, I hope these few things will encourage you to think about science education in your context and how it may be different from that of others.
South Africa lacks competent and expert science teachers. Science education in the country suffers from science instructors’ inadequate topic knowledge and teaching skills. The lack of teaching resources offered to and by schools, outmoded teaching approaches, overcrowded classrooms, lack of motivation and interest, inefficient or no laboratory usage, non-completion of the syllabus, parental roles, and language also contribute to this problem. Language contributes most to them.
A study found that more than 50% of the overall effect on Science scores in South African classrooms can be directly or indirectly attributed to language.
Possible explanation: both pupils and educators are fluent in multiple languages. Perhaps this is because understanding the “language” of science is an essential aspect of becoming scientifically literate. Keep in mind that a language consists of not just words but also gestures, idioms, and even pictures. As a result, specialised scientific terminology may consist of more than just words and phrases. It goes without saying that a qualified science educator must be familiar with and adept at using all of this specialised language.
I firmly believe that addressing the science teacher training quality in SA can play a significant role in making the language of Science universal and more accessible for learners who are being schooled in their second or third language. A good science teacher should have the skill to communicate abstract science concepts verbally and non-verbally. This is sometimes referred to as a “language-visualisation interplay” or a “hybrid of languages”.
Science is a language-intensive subject where students speak and listen as they present their ideas or engage in reasoned argumentation with others to refine their ideas and reach shared conclusions. Learners develop their models and explanations when they read, write, view and visually represent concepts. Thought requires language, and language requires thought. Read that again…
Besides the language problems teachers and learners face in science classrooms in South Africa, they are also confronted with a curriculum built from standards-based assessments.
A standards-based evaluation may limit teachers’ and students’ autonomy and creativity. South African science courses do this. Teachers and students should try different methods. Teaching and learning will acknowledge students’ abilities and interests when a curriculum has wide aims rather than rigorous standards. I noticed that the CAPS curriculum promotes rote learning and passive learning. Thus, it is antiquated and believes learners cannot perceive the world.
The aims set out by the science curriculum document show that the intentions of the curriculum and the actual execution of and engaging with it may be conflicting, as experienced by teachers and learners. Unfortunately, I am not (yet) in a position to change the curriculum. Instead, I propose that teachers be equipped to install autonomy in the science classroom and encourage creativity – even if teaching and learning are expected to occur within the restrictions of the CAPS document.
At Abakus Enrichment, we focus on the science learners’ strengths and ability to interpret the world around them.
Our science teachers encourage our learners to share their interpretations. If it is not in line with the theory, we guide them in the right direction instead of just giving them information and expecting them “to know”. We encourage our learners to “speak science” – use the correct symbols, units, terminology and visual representations when discussing a specific concept. Science should be something tangible and relatable, not something that scares and discourage creativity and interpretation.
Oh! Finally, there is not enough “scientific dialogue” encouraged in households and neighbourhoods (or sometimes at all). Our failure to discuss scientific topics at dinner or with friends is a huge barrier. I was fortunate to grow up with certain cosmos notions, understandings, and interpretations from my science-minded parents. I’m perfectly aware that the vast majority of homes in South Africa do not. The neighbours sometimes don’t believe in science. This is something that we discuss in class as well; many of your fellow students actually do worry about this.
In Science, there are both amazing discoveries and challenging problems, and we want students to be open to both. We inspire science!