Lack of students taking Science

June 1, 2014

There are not enough students taking science-based subjects at the upper secondary and tertiary levels for Brunei to stay competitive and meet its Vision 2035 goals.

See Leng Yee, deputy principal (Administration) at Meragang Sixth Form Centre (PTEM), said students who previously took science-based subjects in secondary school tend to take non-science subjects in sixth form.

“Over the years, the number of students taking science-based subjects is less than 200. There are several reasons.

“Some students were forced to take science-based subjects in secondary school so when they enter sixth for; they chose the subjects that are non science-based because they consider these subjects to be easier,” added See, who is also a Chemistry teacher.

In 2010, statistics from the Ministry of Education showed that only 25 per cent of students enrolled in the science stream at the upper secondary school level.

A 2010 study by the think tank Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS) found that many students tend to choose “soft” subjects compared to science, engineering or other professional and vocational courses.

A guide by the top 20 UK universities under Russell Group, said “softer” courses include media studies, art and design, photography and business studies while scientific subjects are seen as more academically challenging.

A senior official earlier this year said education gaps persist in promoting research and innovation as more students chose to take “soft” subjects.

Assistant Surveyor-General Dr Hjh Mas Suriaia Wati Hj Abd Hamid had said low achievements of tertiary education graduates in Science and Technology was also a factor that caused Brunei to be left behind in meeting its Vision 2035 goals.

During a mini forum, “Vision 2035: Closing the Gap” in March, she had said the average pass rate for students who take pure science for O Levels is 84 per cent. However, for Mathematics, the average pass rate is only 38 per cent.

Dr Debbie Guan Eng Ho, deputy dean of Graduate Studies and Research at Universiti Brunei Darussalam’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, said one of the factors there is an insufficient number of students taking science-based subjects may be due to lack of interest.

“I don’t think teachers promote the relevance of these subjects enough. We know it is very relevant especially in Brunei, but we don’t see it in schools.

“The nurturing part actually has to start from secondary school level. By igniting the interest of sciences earlier, students would be more keen to take science-based subjects at university level,” she added.

Dr Ho said teachers can used problem-based learning in which students learn about a subject through the experience of problem-solving, making learning more fun and subsequently attract students’ attention.

Learning sciences should be more real and relevant and not just something students learn in schools, but rather learning what can be applied in everyday life, she said.

“We also need to adopt a more research-oriented kind of thinking where students should be encouraged to look into new things and be more creative.”

She added: “Another way our country can ignite the interest of students is by boosting the research components by building research institutes for sciences.”

“I think we need a research centre specifically just for scientific research. By setting up these institutes, it would also help develop our own scientists as well,” added Dr Ho.

See believes that science is not for everybody. “In order to take science subjects, a student needs to have quite a strong background in English as well as Mathematics because they are interrelated. If a student does not have a good command of English, it might be difficult for them to understand.”

She added that a lot of students lack interest in science because most of them view the subject as boring or difficult.

“I think perhaps science teachers can be more innovative in the matters of teaching.

“Even though we have syllabus constraints, I believe with the help of technology, teachers can be more innovative by bringing technology into the classroom. This method might draw the students’ interest,” she added.

See further said having pre-requisite knowledge is important and believes that promoting the sciences should be done earlier.

“If a student doesn’t have the basics or background about science during lower secondary, it would be difficult for them do science subjects for A levels.

“One of the methods we take to motivate students by inviting ex-students to the school as life examples. We found this method more effective in encouraging students to take science subjects,” she said.

Meanwhile, Muntasir Mumtahid Chuat, who is currently doing a degree in Business and Social Administration at UK’s Bangor University, said Brunei is slow in development because of the lack of science and technology institutes in the country.

“I feel that Brunei focuses too much on the oil and gas industry. If Brunei has its own science and technology research centre, it can attract and open up more opportunities for students in Brunei,” said the undergraduate.

However, Applied Physics graduate Hj Mohammad Redza Hj Hussin said Brunei is improving its scientific research in the energy sector.

“We were lacking students in the scientific field before, but now there are more students involved. I can see there is an increase in local PhD students under energy and applied physics.”

The UBD graduate said there should be better research facilities to promote innovation, and more quality teachers as that is where students first learn about science.

“I think Brunei is doing well right now especially with the number of exhibitions going on that aim to spread awareness, such as the Energy Week.”

Hj Mohammad Redza further said non-science subjects are not necessarily “softer” as they also play a role in the country’s development.

“Scientific development plays a direct role in the country’s development, while these soft subjects play an indirect role.

“If we are to develop our future based on science alone, it would make us non-versatile, therefore diverse knowledge of the people and students are needed,” he added.