Science and Mathematics Education at Elementary level—Issues and way forward for learning enhancement

MALA KALITA

Introduction-
A solid foundation in mathematics and science at the elementary level develops the skills of posing hypotheses, designing experiments, analyzing data, recognizing patterns, seeking evidence, conclusions and proof, solving problems, while being open to new information.
Studying mathematics and Science not only develops more engineers and scientists, but also produce more citizens who can learn and think creatively and critically.
It is recognized that mathematical thinking is very important for India’s future and India’s leadership role in the numerous upcoming fields and professions that involve artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science, etc. The highest priority of the education system is to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary school by 2025 as emphasized in the National Education Policy 2020.
Science and Mathematics is commonly perceived to be difficult by most of the learners. With such perceptions, many students stop studying these subjects soon after it is no longer required of them which in a long run may be deeply problematic for society as a whole. This situation needs to be changed, especially as we prepare students for the continuously increasing demand for quantitative and computational literacy over the twenty-first century.
Rationale: 
Quality education is the major thrust area at all levels. Ultimate goal of all interventions is to ensure that each child achieves the learning outcomes appropriate to his /her age/grade. Goal 4 of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. For achieving this goal, continued and properly planned efforts are required.
Moreover, due to the prevailing situation of COVID 19 pandemic, the   learners are adversely affected as there was a total shift in the mode of teaching -learning from offline to online mode within a short time due temporary closure of all Educational Institutes, the learning loss posed by the pandemic is likely to be reflected in the National Achievement Survey 2021.

Some of the challenges /issues related to Science and Mathematics learning at elementary level may be due to one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Shortage of Science teachers at elementary level: One challenge that is faced in imparting quality education is shortage of Science teachers at elementary level. No doubt there is regional variation in this, but everywhere with more lucrative jobs available for science graduates; we find a disproportionate number of young people from the arts and social science backgrounds rather than mathematics and science coming to be trained as teachers. This has serious implications for the mathematics or science learning.

 

  1. Lack of facilities like laboratory and equipment to be used while teaching science in majority of the government schools which prevents students from doing hand on activity based learning.
  1. Teaching –Learning approach: It is common practice that students of class 6 to 8 learn the definition of science without understanding the concept behind that. Most of the Teachers never open the mesmerizing vistas of scientific world. Demonstrations are rare, laboratories are not well equipped. In this regard, workshops and development programmes for teachers is quite essential.

 

  1. Shortage of Higher Institutes with Science and Maths stream: It is also evident that there is shortage of higher institutes with Science and Mathematics stream and one of the other reason may be that ,they are not proportionately located ,most of them being located in urban areas due to which most of the students do not pursue the subjects at higher level and this also leads to their lack of interest for the subject at elementary level as they do not see any scope of continuing it  in the later stage of education or schooling.
  2.  Lack of motivation amongst some of the teachers in making the subject more interesting and joyful: Teaching learning process should be more energetic and vibrant, for this science and mathematics need  to be made ‘relevant’ to the students from the point of view of their lives and their futures.
  1. Economic condition of the Students: The economic condition of the learners may also serves as a hindrance in their pursuing of subjects after the secondary level.

 

Way forward for enhancing Science and Mathematics education at Elementary level:

                       In order to promote child centered, child-friendly and empowering education by ensuring effective teaching-learning process and materials, conducive learning environment and acquisition of appropriate learning outcomes, the State has been taking various steps and initiatives from time to time  to ensure quality education from short and long term perspectives. As a follow up action of Gunotsav & NAS, various remedial measures have been taken for teachers, students and schools including development of Open Educational Resources (OER) for teachers, training of teachers, broadcasting of Radio Learning Programme- PRAGYA on remedial teaching, development of TLM on grey areas, additional academic support mechanism for addressing learning gaps of individual child etc. Besides, programmes like Reading Enhancement Programme, Science exhibition, Olympiad, Spell Bee competition, Resource Group initiative to improve Learning Outcome etc. have been successfully implemented.
However,   if we believe that the objective of quality education for our children is to develop the skills associated with learning and thinking, we need to do much more. New and innovative learning programs need to be implemented, integrating available technology to stimulate students' creativity, imagination and confidence. They need more hands-on and effortful learning in order to spark their curiosity and enjoyment of learning.
Some of the ways to mitigate the challenges are given below:

  1. Appointment of Subject specific teachers for teaching Mathematics and Science.
  1. Capacity building of teachers for Experiential learning so that teaching and learning will be conducted in a more interactive manner; questions will be encouraged, and classroom sessions will regularly contain more fun, creative, collaborative, and exploratory activities for students. Problem solving should also be integral part of the teaching learning process, providing information should not be only motive.  Emphasis on understanding of concepts rather than memorization is to be given.

 

  1. Creating print rich and resourceful school environment using BALA concept in every school.
  1. Formation of teachers circles at cluster level for exchange of good practices, innovative teaching strategies, sharing of academic resources. Topic-centered and Project-based Clubs and Circles to be encouraged and supported at the levels of schools, school complexes, districts, and beyond. Examples include Science Circles, Math Circles, Eco-Clubs, Health & Well-being Clubs and so on.
  2. Formation of science unit in every cluster comprising of teachers, educationist, members from Assam Science society, for providing resource support to the school complexes within the cluster. In this regard, the support of active senior citizens like retired teachers, educationist, school alumni and local community members may be suitably garnered. Databases of literate volunteers, retired scientists, alumni, and educators may be created for this purpose which is also emphasized in NEP in context of School Complexes.
  3. Science and Mathematics Convention at school/cluster/block/district level to motivate children to be engaged in learning Science & Mathematics through observation, experimentation, inference drawing, model building. Convention /Exhibition will be to offer a powerful platform to the learners  for building self confidence, developing communication skills and  team spirit 
  4.  Formation of clubs viz Science club, Maths club, Eco Club at school level which will empower students to participate and take up meaningful environmental activities and projects. Through this clubs students can reach out to influence, engage their parents and neighborhood communities to promote sound environmental behavior.

                  Various clubs have already been formed in Government/Provincialised elementary schools. However this needs to be made more vibrant by ensuring active participation of the students.

  1. Exposure visit of the upper primary school children to place of scientific interest is to enrich the life experiences of the students. It is aimed to grow scientific interest & temperament of the learners and to provide multiple ways to the learners to engage with concepts, practices and phenomenon within a particular setting.

        Virtual tour of the learners to world class museums, libraries, space research institutes will give them a better perspective of the world around them and motivate them to take up higher studies in the concerned field.

  1. Conduct of Olympiad, Quiz etc at regular interval: By appearing in Olympiads a student gets an early exposure to competitive exams thus enabling them to understand the exam structure, marking system, difficulty level and competitive mindset required to do well.
  2. Mentoring programme: Mentoring of schools by Higher Institutes will offer new dimension to learning by providing academic support to the Mentee School and aid in the overall enhancement of school performance. Mentoring programme will help to form teacher circles and offer guided learning which will help the schools to flourish and motivate the students to excel particularly in the field of Science and Mathematics.
  3. Technology enabled Learning using ICT and PAL to meet the individual learning need of all learners and to make teaching learning more interesting and joyful.

Thus, the  joint effort of all the stakeholders viz teachers, parents, community, educationist , educational administrators etc   will help to nurture a spirit of inquiry and creativity, love for Science and Mathematics and effective use of technology amongst the  children.

(The writer is a State Consultant (Teacher Training & Pedagogy), Samagra Shiksha, Assam)