On 5 of September, the Quality Learning Foundation (QLF) in cooperation with the Kenan Institute Asia (http://www.kiasia.org/web/) organized a special lecture on “Improving Science Teaching” by Tom Corcoran, co-director of the Consortium for Policy in Education Research at Teachers College of Columbia University.
Tom Corcoran has seven years of experience working with Thai Science teachers since 2005. He urged several points in order to improve science teaching in Thailand. This is necessary since Thailand only ranks 49th our of 64 nations, and average reading scores have declined between 2003 and 2009.
In the first place, Thailand needs more science classes. Presently Thai students in Grades 7,8 and 9 (Matthayom 1,2,and 3) get three classes a week or 150 minutes, while in most nations, students take science everyday or have 250 minutes or more each week. “The scores of the programme for international student assessment (PISA) are low, and they have not shown improvement. Thailand can perform better by taking important steps without allocating significantly more funds and is not that difficult to do”, Tom said. “The problem is the amount of time allocated to science” and therefore the lack of motivation of students.
Figure 1. Mean scores in Science of selected countries (PISA 2009) Source: Asiancorrespondent.com
Figure 2. Mean scores in Reading of selected countries (PISA 2009) Source: Asiancorrespondent.com
Secondly, there are too many topics included in the Thai curriculum. “Thai science teachers should focus on big ideas and organize units around concepts instead of focusing on science facts. This will help students to get a conceptual understanding and it is important to develop better curriculum materials for teachers that provide them more guidence about misconceptions, key questions for monitoring, alternative representations, unit assessments, and analysis of common misunderstandings and errors”, Tom urged.
Last but not least, improving the literacy capacity of all teachers and emphasizing literacy in all classes. “If students cannot read and write, they cannot master science and maths. Science teachers are also literacy teachers. Students should write and reflect in notebook or lab journals,” he said. “ Students should also be encouraged to discuss and work in teams”.
Finally, Tom emphasized that all these three steps can be taken without allocating significantly more funds.