"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Friday, March 15, 2013

Science and Mathematics Education: What Is the Current Situation?

In order to solve a problem, the first step is to understand it. Knowing the situation is key to providing the appropriate solution. Again, this parallels good practice in medicine. A correct diagnosis is necessary to make the right prescription. It is important to have the data that inform and in both science and math education, without paying attention to evidence leads to solutions that are based on wild guesses, preconceived notions, and anecdotes. In the United States, Horizon Research recently released its 2012 survey of math and science education in the country:
To read the full report, visit
http://www.horizon-research.com/2012nssme/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/2012-NSSME-Full-Report1.pdf
Although this survey pertains to the United States, it is helpful to see what the questions are. The questions asked in this survey are equally applicable to science and math education in other countries, including the Philippines. Oftentimes, asking the right questions lead to answers that can enlighten and help understand the problems one faces. Of course, the results of the survey as these pertain to a specific country, the United States of America, are interesting on their own. I have a friend who grew up in Singapore and one major complaint I heard from this person regarding education in the United States is the general lack of subject teachers. Teachers in US schools are assigned to teach an assortment of subjects while in Singapore, apparently, there is a math teacher, a science teacher, a reading teacher even in primary grades. This issue alone, forms one of the important questions that may be asked in surveying the state of math and science education in any country.

I would like to highlight then the following pieces of data from the survey. (These are copied from
Banilower, E. R., Smith, P. S., Weiss, I. R., Malzahn, K. A., Campbell, K. M., & Weis, A. M. (2013). Report of the 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education.Chapel Hill, NC: Horizon Research, Inc.)

  • Teachers' Degrees: "As can be seen in Table 2.5, very few teachers of science/mathematics at the elementary level have college or graduate degrees in these disciplines. The percentage of teachers with one or more degrees in science/mathematics increases with increasing grade range, with 52 percent of high school mathematics teachers and 61 percent of high school science teachers having a major in their discipline. If the definition of degree in discipline is expanded to include degrees in science/mathematics education, these figures increase to 73 percent of high school mathematics teachers and 82 percent of high school science teachers."
  • Teacher's College Coursework: "Table 2.7 shows the percentage of science teachers in each grade range with at least one college course in each of a number of science disciplines. Note that 90 percent or more of science teachers at each level had coursework in the life sciences, 85 percent or more had at least one course in science education, and roughly 70 percent had a student teaching experience that included science. In contrast, in both chemistry and physics, the percent of teachers with at least one college course in the discipline increases substantially with increasing grade range."

  • Teacher's College Coursework beyond Introductory Level: "Tables 2.8–2.13 provide additional information about secondary science teacher coursework in biology/life science, chemistry, physics, Earth/space science, environmental science, and engineering, respectively, in each case showing the percentage of middle and high school teachers who had one or more courses beyond the introductory level as well as the percentage who have completed each of a number of individual courses. Typically, high school teachers are substantially more likely than their middle grades counterparts to have taken coursework beyond the introductory level in a given discipline. Earth/space science and environmental science are the exceptions, where the course-taking profiles of middle and high school science teachers are quite similar."








  • Elementary Mathematics Teachers' College Coursework: "Turning to elementary grades mathematics, as can be seen in Table 2.20, nearly all teachers have completed college coursework in mathematics for elementary school teachers and mathematics education. Roughly half of elementary mathematics teachers have had college courses in each of a number of areas of mathematics, including algebra and statistics."
  • Middle and High School Mathematics Teachers' College Coursework: "Table 2.22 shows the percentage of middle and high school mathematics teachers with coursework in each of a number of areas. Note that nearly all high school mathematics teachers have completed a calculus course, and 79 percent have taken a course in advanced calculus. Similarly, more than 3 out of 4 high school mathematics teachers have had college coursework in linear algebra and in statistics. Other college courses completed by a majority of high school mathematics teachers include abstract algebra, differential equations, axiomatic geometry, analytic geometry, probability, number theory, and discrete mathematics. Substantially fewer teachers at the middle grades have had college coursework in each of these areas."

Aside from teachers' background, another relevant piece of data is the time spent on these subjects:
  • Instructional Time Spent on Subjects: "The survey also asked the approximate number of minutes typically spent teaching mathematics, reading/language arts,science, and social studies in self-contained classes. The average number of minutes per day typically spent on instruction in each subject in grades K–3 and 4–6 is shown in Table 4.2; to facilitate comparisons among the subject areas, only teachers who teach all four of these subjects to one class of students are included in this analysis. In 2012, grade K–3 self-contained classes spent an average of 89 minutes per day on reading instruction and 54 minutes on mathematics instruction, compared to only 19 minutes on science and 16 minutes on social studies instruction. The pattern in grades 4–6 is similar, with 83 minutes per day devoted to reading, 61 minutes to mathematics, 24 minutes to science, and 21 minutes to social studies instruction.


And, of course, resources are important. In this particular area, the survey measured the teachers' perception on whether resources provided are adequate or not. 
  • Instructional Resources: "As shown in Table 6.25, perceptions of the adequacy of resources vary substantially by content area in elementary and middle school classrooms but are essentially the same in high school classrooms. This summary view echoes other findings reported in this section, suggesting that science instruction in the earlier grades is underresourced from the teachers’ point of view."


The above excerpts comprise a very small fraction of the entire report. There are other important questions asked. Teachers' characteristics such as age, race and gender are included. Equity issues are also covered by figuring out how teachers and resources are distributed among schools. With regard to training, teacher development programs as well as how long ago these teachers have taken a college course in math and the sciences are also examined.

The performance of Philippine students in the international standardized exams in math and the sciences is among the lowest in the world. The tables shown above are good starting points to diagnose correctly the problems the Philippines faces in both science and math education. Proposing solutions without looking at the data is like walking into a dark room without a flashlight. It is very likely that solutions drawn from mere guesswork and prejudices are not going to work, and problems will simply continue to linger. Science and math education in the country may even deteriorate further without paying attention to evidence.





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