Boosting STEM education

AS the nation prepares for back-to-school and with the looming shortage of teachers, particularly science teachers, the quality of science teaching and learning is of grave concern.

The challenges of the past two years continue to plague the education sector and are most definitely not to be discounted. Many of our students are lacking in foundational knowledge as well as have suffered learning loss in their subjects as a result of these challenges.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has taught us to appreciate the high value of science to public health, our economy, and our planet. It has emphasised the relevance and pricelessness of science to the future of humanity. Yet science education continues to be neglected and does not receive the attention it deserves. A country aware of the benefits of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education will work assiduously to provide the necessary support, funding, and promotion to ensure that our future generations advance along with the rest of the world.

.

The less fortunate schools, particularly in rural areas, would have suffered even more dire consequences resulting from the pandemic. These schools must be supported even more so with materials and resources, backed up by qualified teachers. Science subjects require laboratory techniques and experience. During the pandemic, students were only exposed to virtual labs. These students must be reacquainted with hands-on learning in the lab as a matter of urgency. This will include exposure to lab equipment, proper handling of these equipment, and most importantly, safety procedures. One must bear in mind that the major goal of science education is to develop experimentation techniques and to then use these skills to solve the problems of society. Therefore, practical activities remain a priority in boosting science learning.

National stakeholders in STEM education ought to coordinate their advocacy efforts and pay particular attention to addressing the disparity among schools and assist in providing high-quality learning opportunities. Many schools are in desperate need of laboratory equipment and chemicals.

As a science tutor myself, I believe that effective STEM teaching is a specific, learnt expertise which goes beyond subject knowledge. It is not only dependent on the teacher's qualifications or the student's intelligence quotient (IQ) but is dependent on a combination of factors. Teachers must understand that students are neurodiverse and must facilitate learning at a topic-specific level. Learning is inherently difficult, so this must be coupled with student motivation. The learner must be convinced of the value of the goal and must know that hard work and not innate intelligence is what is critical.

Many tools of presenting knowledge to the student must be employed for learning to be effective. Listening to passive lectures and/or doing repetitive tasks produce little learning. Learning is analogous to muscle development. We should focus on brain development and not just filling a brain with content. Teachers must not neglect the profound benefit of deliberate practice followed by timely and effective feedback. Research finds that lots of deliberate practice is required to reach an elite level of performance.

The successful STEM teacher must:

1) Zone in on the thinking and learning needs of the student. Tasks must be appropriate to the knowledge level of students. There must be connectivity between ideas.

2) Motivate the student – Always focus on the positives and strengths of the student. Encouragement and support are what is required. Make the subject matter interesting and relevant. Generate ownership of learning in your students.

3) Provide beneficial feedback – this is very crucial. There is no point in assigning practice if the student is not appraised of their successes or failures. This must be timely so that the scaffolding process is fruitful.

4) Encourage instructional conversations – this is simply a dialogue where students exchange ideas and experiences they have had related to the topic of discussion using scientific and technical terms. It may even involve argumentative deliberations.

5) Utilise graphic organisers – these are especially useful to visual learners and is simply a visual representation containing a central point from which different branches and sub-branches are formed using arrows to point the sequence or direction of a process.

Those above are just a few of the best practices of an operative STEM teacher which should be a matter of the daily routine. I urge parents as best as possible to monitor and reassure their children in these very trying times to strive for their goals as we seek to boost STEM education.

DR KARLA HYLTON

Dr Karla Hylton is the founder and CEO of Your Empowerment Solutions (YES) Institute, offering mathematics and science tutoring as well as a host of workshops for parents, teachers, and students. She is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools. Reach her at (876) 564-1347; e-mail: ceo@yes-institute.com; or visit www.yes-institute.com, or www.khylton.com.

DR KARLA HYLTON

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login

HOUSE RULES

  1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper; email addresses will not be published.
  2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.
  3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.
  4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.
  5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.
  6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.
  7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy