Science Education

The quest for a sustainable development model must surely be the Holy Grail for all policy-makers in the poorer countries of the world, not least here in Guyana. There is now a consensus that unless the educational standards of the people match their countries’ development needs, the latter will never be sustainable. President David Granger has asserted that the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) have to be the foundation of any such educational improvement at this stage of Guyana’s development. And in the STEM curricula, the natural sciences take centre stage.
But this recognition of the STEM foundation of our educational thrust is not new and the previous Administration launched several initiatives to raise standards in this area. It is important to investigate what has happened to these efforts so that the same mistakes are not repeated as we go forward. One of the initial hurdles faced by the PPP Government was a pernicious attitude developed during the 1980s’ collapsed economy that education in general, and science in particular, was of no import. There were no jobs available for persons with “papers”.
With the post-1992 rehabilitation of the economic base, this view has been altered somewhat but rather disappointingly, the enthusiasm for science in our students at all levels remain abysmally low. It would appear that, as in the US, science is still perceived as “hard”, even though at the primary level it is compulsory. By the time students reach third form in the secondary schools, where they are “streamed”, only a tiny minority opt for the sciences. This voluntary winnowing-out process continues even more dramatically at the tertiary level with only a literal handful sticking with the natural sciences.
Five years ago, the World Bank approved a credit of US million to finance the UG Science and Technology Support Project. An estimated 6300 students and faculty were supposed to benefit from this project, intended to “strengthen science and technology tertiary education in order to advance Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS)”.
The Ministry of Education simultaneously moved on several fronts to rectify the multifaceted problem of – low interest in science in the primary and secondary schools, which serve as the feeder for UG. There was firstly the challenge of having adequate numbers of trained teachers; secondly, the building of labs and thirdly, the challenge of motivating students from the very lowest levels to stick with the natural sciences. The Ministry offered scholarships to teachers who elected to study the sciences (and mathematics) at the tertiary level, while at the student level considered waiving the examination fees for students writing the sciences at the CSEC Examinations. It has also built some labs, but these are very expensive. What is the result and status of these initiatives?
There was also another innovation that many felt had the greatest potential. NCERD collaborated with UNESCO to develop a “National Science and Technology Policy” and also to find ways to implement such policies. Then, in 2011, the Ministry of Education announced its collaboration with UNESCO on what has been labelled the “Global Microscience Experiments Project”.
This hands-on project had been tried in dozens of other countries in Eastern Europe and Africa that wanted to increase the scientific coverage in their curriculum delivery. It consisted of booklets that described the basic experiments underlying the scientific knowledge that in Guyana most science students had to cram. But more germanely, used five types of “microscience” kits, the components of which could be recombined to match specific curricula that individual countries may design. These kits could have been used from the primary levels. The lack of exposure to actual experiments had been the single greatest impediment in making science attractive to our students. This was especially true for boys who are socialised to need more “hands-on” active learning environments.
Could someone advise on the status of the above before reinventing the wheel?