Nov 05, 2010 News
Physics in the local education system was yesterday regarded as “a bird with an injured wing and the abandoned child” by renowned Physics Professor, Dr Lloyd Kunar. He was at the time presenting the feature address at a one-day Physics workshop held at the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD) in Kingston, Georgetown.
According to Dr Kunar, who is currently attached to the Faculty of Technology and Natural Sciences at the University of Guyana, throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, perhaps with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago, there seems to be a general malaise with respect to physics. He lamented the fact that fewer students are attempting to undertake physics beyond the general level and even fewer pursue the subject at the degree level.
“The situation has gotten so bad in Guyana that there is no longer a degree programme offered by the University of Guyana. Merely an Associate Degree is offered. Apparently physics is seen as either too abstract or of no career value…This is absolutely wrong,” Dr. Kunar emphasized.
In citing statistics on the state of physics in Guyana, he revealed that approximately one quarter of the population are children who attend primary and secondary schools. Of these schools, 105 are secondary with 357 science teachers, a development which has led Dr Kunar to conclude that no school has its full complement of science teachers.
Some 238 additional teachers are required, thus resulting in a shortfall of about 40 percent. In addition, he opined that of the 357 science teachers, only about one to two percent are graduates trained to teach physics.
“In the recent Caribbean Examinations (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) one third of the schools submitted entries, totalling 689, to take the general physics examination. I am happy to say that 67 percent of these students obtained grades of one to three, indicating under the circumstances the superb work done by the non-graduates of physics in 34 local schools, nine of which are in Georgetown.”
However, when the results of Physics are compared with that of Mathematics, for the entire country, a disappointing situation is realised. According to Dr Kunar, only 35 percent of the 9,473 students had better than a grade three. And this state of affairs, he said, is indeed worrying as mathematics is considered the language of physics.
He noted that it is difficult to determine a single factor responsible for the reluctance of students to pursue physics beyond the general level. He noted that some may be preconditioned by the school environment by what is said about physics, that is, ‘it is only for the bright’ or some may feel that mathematics is too much of an obstacle in the pursuit of higher physics.
In addition, he speculated that it is possible that the teaching system or pedagogy does not motivate students even as he questioned whether there are physics curricula that are adapted to the intellectual development of children.
“Does the lack of trained, knowledgeable and vibrant physics graduates play a role in a student’s choice? Very likely…Do people know what physics is and are therefore able to advise their children on career decisions?”
He further noted that for many parents, students and the general public, physics seems abstract and remote, or cold and alienating.
Dr Kunar asserted that since the ’50s, and particularly the late ’70s, there has been an ongoing evolution of the social, economic and cultural structure, resulting in life becoming more challenging, and monetary concerns are necessarily of great importance to students and teachers. Consequently, careers are chosen very often based on quick monetary gains, he added.
And it is the conviction of Dr Kunar that although teachers might be competent and conscientious, they find it difficult to survive on their salaries and often seek private jobs in addition. This latter practice, he said, often result in students not receiving due subject attention from teachers. Naturally, if students are not grounded in the concepts of physics and its applications they will gravitate to another subject not involving deep intuitive and critical thinking, Dr Kunar opined.
Evidence of this dilemma, he pointed out, is especially noticeable at the level of the University, revealing that just this year the number of students entering the Biology programme overwhelmingly outnumbered the student entries for physics and chemistry.
“It was embarrassingly small for physics; I can count them on one hand,” he agonised.
But embracing physics, he noted, is important as it serves to reveal universal truths and serves to set standards for rational thoughts in the face of irrationality, even as it upholds the primacy of observation.
Physics, he stated, is undoubtedly the most fundamental of all the sciences and is a wide-ranging discipline, as it is an essential element in the natural sciences. He noted that all branches of engineering and technology are at the heart of almost every facet of modern life. As such, Dr Kunar explained that physics generates fundamental knowledge needed for future technological advances and extends the understanding of
other disciplines such as the earth, agricultural, chemical, biological, biomedical and environmental sciences.
Yesterday’s forum was also graced by Minister of Education, Shaik Baksh, who revealed that the hosting of the workshop came as a result of the combined concerns of Professor Kunar and those emanating from the Ministry. According to the Minister, it was recognised that only through the teaching and promotion of physics in schools that there would be more students graduating in this area in larger numbers.
“It is pitiful, really, the numbers that are coming out from the university, but really it is not the University’s fault. Clearly there must be a strong linkage between the university and the school system,” the Minister asserted. He revealed that the school system has not been producing or even attracting enough students in the science subject areas, with physics gaining the poorest response.
For this reason, the aim of the workshop, which saw the attendance of science officials within the public education system and science students, was geared at discussing the importance of physics as it relates to National Development and its linkages to the other sciences. It was also intended to motivate science teachers and build innovative skills for effective curriculum delivery; to provide information on the use of technology in teaching and to encourage teachers to develop their own activities using low-cost materials.
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