Why Science Education Matters in the Early Grades

There are a lot of things to be learned about ourselves and the world we live in. There are zoos and museums where we could bring our children. While children see these wonderful things with their own eyes coupled with our own interests and excitement, knowledge is, without any doubt, gained. And knowledge counts, especially in reading. We often confuse reading comprehension with literacy. These two are not identical. Reading comprehension is so much more than being able to read words. Reading comprehension requires us to derive meaning from text. Such process requires us to draw from what we already know. With the poor performance of students in the Philippines in reading comprehension exams, there is unsurprisingly a greater call for "learning to read". Some even go as far as blaming the mother tongue - multilingual based education. All of these fail to see that reading comprehension is not equivalent to being proficient in English. Reading comprehension relies on background knowledge and experience. For this reason, children of privilege often do better than children from low-income families.

When K to 12 was introduced in the Philippines, there was greater emphasis on language acquisition and learning. First grade students spend most of their time on "oral fluency". Giovanni Tapang described this move by the Department of Education in an article in the Inquirer:

Several days ago, Education Secretary Armin Luistro was reported to have announced that Science would be dropped from the subjects being taught at the Grade 1 level. This decision of the Department of Education is based on the design of the K+12 curriculum and the department’s efforts to decongest the Basic Education curriculum. Instead of Science, the Grade 1 curriculum will focus on “oral fluency” and include learning areas on the Mother Tongue, Filipino, Edukasyon sa Pagpapakatao, Mapeh (Music, Art, Physical Education and Health), Mathematics, Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies) and English. Science will be introduced as a subject only at Grade 3.
The delay in the introduction of science in basic education means a lot more than postponing the science education of Filipino children. It also means a delay in developing reading comprehension. There is recent research that highlights a strong correlation between science knowledge and reading comprehension. And the correlation appears even stronger in children who are English language learners:


Above copied from
Hwang, H., & Duke, N. K. (2020). Content Counts and Motivation Matters: Reading Comprehension in Third-Grade Students Who Are English Learners. AERA Openhttps://doi.org/10.1177/2332858419899075

In the above graph, third grade students in the United States are sorted according to their performance in a test that measures science knowledge. Students that do not perform well are in the "Science SD = -3", those that perform average are in "Science SD = 0", while those who have excellent performance are in "Science SD = 3". In each group, students are further divided between English-language learners (EL) and those who speak English at home (ML). For each of these groups, the performance in reading comprehension can be predicted. For both English language learners and native speakers, a poor science background results in poor performance in reading comprehension (RC is either 0 or 1). On the other hand, with a good science background (students with Science SD = 3), 94.62% of English language learners score high in reading comprehension. Their performance is even better than those of native English speakers. 

The authors of this recent study specifically state the following:
Results of this study also call into question the practice of pulling students who are English language learners out of content area instruction in order to teach them basic reading and language skills at the expense of content knowledge development.
What the Philippines did in its overhaul of the basic education system is in fact identical to what the authors are warning us about. It is also identical to what we often do when we deem students as "not advanced" and therefore should be provided only with a lighter more basic curriculum.

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