Studying any subject can be difficult, and there’s no exception when it comes to sciences. In fact, education experts say students tend to find it harder to appreciate scientific concepts, which explains the continued abysmal performance pattern in this field.
Jacky Abagwaneza, a graduate from University of Rwanda-Huye Campus, says, mathematics is in every science subject like biology, chemistry and physics, and therefore lacking mathematical understanding means forgetting the dreams of becoming a doctor, pilot, chemist, or any other scientist.
“Some students suffer ‘mathematics phobia’ - a feeling of tension, apprehension or fear about one’s ability to do maths -which subsequently interferes with their performance in science subjects. This anxiety is as a result of the long-held notion by many that the subject is hard to understand’,” she explains.
Professor Blaise TChapunda, the academic director at African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Kigali, says, a big number of students switch from sciences to arts thinking the latter have little to do with mathematics.
However, he notes that not all science courses have a lot of mathematics.
“Sciences are more fundamentally based on concepts than mathematics and equations. Therefore, it’s possible to pass sciences without mathematics although a many sciences subjects have a lot to do with calculations,” he says.
Educationists speak out
Twaha Kaya, a lecturer at University of Kigali, says, the major cause of students failing pure sciences is because they are always pessimistic about passing these courses.
He says it’s more of a wrong attitude of students who believe that science subjects are hard to pass and that science subjects are too sophisticated for learners.
“Pure sciences in African settings are taught very narrowly, which is different in the West where students have laboratories and do research. They forget that we need people who are going to invent, and science without research and experimentation becomes baseless,” he says.
Erik Skeaf, a teacher at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, USA, says, parents need to talk to the children about the difficulties they face in studying, especially in science courses.
“Many students are taught in abstract terms when at school; so if parents checked their performance and revision at home or at school, they would know where and when to offer the support required,” he says.
Faustin Mutabazi, the chief executive of the Education Consult Bureau, a company that deals in mentoring fresh graduates, agrees that a big role should be played by parents, who having grasped the government’s vision of promoting sciences, ought to encourage their children to go for sciences when they are with them at home.
Citing western countries, he adds that they have managed to excel in the fields of technology and medicine because their students are encouraged to study science courses. “These countries invest heavily in research and even put in place incentives to promote sciences, a thing many developing countries are not yet doing quite well,” says Mutabazi.
Clement Biramahire, the head teacher Nyakabanda Primary School, says, learning sciences requires practicals and expertise in the laboratories, because without that learners deal with many complications, which has a negative long-term effect.
“Many schools lack the necessary instructional materials, which is a big challenge in the context of promoting science courses,” he says.
Biramahire says much as there is no best study method that will work for everyone, every learner needs to determine which study methods work best for them. “If one method doesn’t work for you, try another method.”
Aloysius Muhunde, a student at Technische Universidad Berlin in Germany pursuing aeronautics, says, students are sometimes discouraged from doing sciences since they can hardly find employment after completing their studies.
“Another problem, especially in many African countries, is that students who pursue courses in arts fields such as administration and human resources management, are usually paid more, yet science courses require more in terms of time and resources,” he says.
Adje Kizza, a student at University of Tourism, Technology and Business Studies, says for sciences to be embraced more, teachers at primary school level must be well-trained to nurture pupils at that formative stage.
“Policies like automatic promotion affect the uptake of sciences and therefore they should be revised,” she says.
Education experts are also hopeful that the new competency-based curriculum will encourage more students to take up sciences since one of its core ingredients is to make learning more participatory (learner-centred).