Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Helen Williams | Grade 4 science curriculum overbearing

Published:Tuesday | September 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM

In 1999, the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) replaced the Common Entrance Exam. Because science and social studies had previously been given little emphasis, exams in these subjects, based on topics covered in grades four, five and six, were introduced in GSAT.

The science curriculum was overloaded with content, much of which would be taught again at the high-school level. Great pressure was exerted on the students to get them to commit to memory a large amount of information. Therefore, a decision was made, as I understood it, to cut down on the content and have tests at the end of each of grades four, five and six. More emphasis was to be placed on developing critical-thinking skills and less on rote learning.

A new National Standards Curriculum, for the grades one to nine levels, was written and should have come into operation at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, but was delayed. According to JIS:

"Under the new system, emphasis will be placed on project-based and problem-solving learning, with science, technology, engineering and mathematics/science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEM/STEAM) integrated at all levels. The approaches will allow the learners to have hands-on experiences that are similar to real-world situations, making the learning experience less abstract and more concrete."

I was, therefore, disappointed and alarmed when I perused the grade-four science book The New Integrated Approach - Science Workbook 4 by G. Harper, M. Dennis and D. Ellis, published by Gem Publishers, which adheres strictly to the curriculum produced by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI). The content is MORE than that in the GSAT curriculum.

Several topics previously taught in grade six are now to be taught in grade four, namely the eye and the ear; flowering plants - types of plant, root and shoot systems and the flower. Forces and work - types of forces and friction; sinking and floating, previously taught in grade five, are now in grade four. The other topics previously taught in grade four remain, except for simple and complex machines; and rocks, minerals and soils.


Appropriate for small classes


This might be appropriate for small classes, with ample space in the classroom; with pupils at or above grade-four reading level who have acquired process and enquiry skills in lower grades; in schools having the resources to purchase equipment and space to store it; and with specialised science teachers who are familiar with the curriculum content.

However, most of our grade-four children are in large, overcrowded classes. Many of them are reading below grade-four reading level and have not acquired any process and enquiry skills. Schools do not have the resources to buy and care for equipment. Teachers, not being specialised science teachers, have familiarised themselves with the previous grade-four curriculum. It is most unfair to them to switch the curriculum at such short notice.

For several topics, students are required to research on an electronic device, and in many instances to download and print pictures. How many children have access to a printer, and are able to download and print without help? I have to ask, what is the educational value of this activity? It is a mindless waste of time and resources.

The end-of-unit tests consist of multiple-choice questions only. This system of testing, while capable of grading large numbers of scripts in a short time, has the effect of encouraging teachers, parents and students to prepare for that kind of test. It does not encourage critical thinking, analysis, and enquiry skills.

If we want our children to become critical thinkers, we need to cut down on the content of the curriculum and devote more time to development of enquiry skills. I am appealing to the MOEYI to do this.