Nurturing sense of wonder for science in youth

Dr Chew Tuan Chiong's elegantly written column on science education raises questions about whether the teaching of the subject in our schools - especially at the primary level - can be made better ("Learning science - let's not forget the 'why'"; July 3).

The question he cited, on the containment of heat, for example, also showed why teachers need to be savvy with definitions, and know their subjects well.

Currently, science is introduced to pupils through topical subjects - plants, body systems, magnetism and light, among other things.

There is very little emphasis on the body of knowledge they are grounded in, for instance, physics, chemistry or biology.

Connecting scientific concepts to science in the real world will help pupils categorise their observations and, perhaps, pursue a particular branch as an interest.

Why is this important?

Doing so allows pupils to understand the different branches of science and how they influence the world around them.

Connecting scientific concepts to science in the real world will help pupils categorise their observations and, perhaps, pursue a particular branch as an interest.

They may even find their heroes in the course of their study and say: "I want to be a physicist like Stephen Hawking and figure out how the universe works."

This can also help them in pursuing science as a hobby and help them eventually learn the scientific method.

At the primary level, there is another major disconnect.

Exam questions often take the form of experiments, and pupils are asked to deduce and describe. But primary school laboratories are often underequipped and pupils are rarely taken there for lessons.

Pupils can do well in exams with rote learning and without any hands-on study. I hope pupils can return to the days when science was taught as a way to understand the world, and not just a subject that you have an exam for.

For instance, you can teach pupils about the digestive system year after year, but a note about what a "pill cam" can do will cause a child to want to go out there and do better, either as a doctor or engineer and, perhaps, maybe even find a career in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or Stem, vocations.

Lai Tuck Chong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'Nurturing sense of wonder for science in youth'. Print Edition | Subscribe