SCMP Saturday, December 9, 2000

Maths and science teachers lack confidence in class


Teachers and students in Hong Kong lack confidence in the teaching and learning of mathematics and science, according to findings in the international maths and science study released this week.
Among the 38 countries or territories measured for teacher confidence in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study Repeat (TIMSS-R), Hong Kong ranks 22 in mathematics and 27 in science. This section of the study included a comparison of Secondary Two teachers' confidence in their preparation to teach.
Local students were found to think negatively of their abilities in the two subjects, despite ranking four and 15 in their average performances in mathematics and science respectively, according to the Hong Kong findings released by the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Education.
The study, the largest of its kind, is organised by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement in the Netherlands. More than 500,000 students in Primary One and Four and Secondary One, Two and Six were randomly selected around the world for the survey.
Chan Man-tak, lecturer in the Department of Science at the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd), said that science teachers' lack of confidence was worse in primary schools because most did not major in science. "Over 60 per cent of the primary science teachers studied arts in secondary school and are required to teach general studies, a subject which includes natural science and information technology. Their knowledge of science is only up to Secondary Three level," he said.
As for mathematics, Fung Chun-yip, president of the Hong Kong Association for Mathematics Education and lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at HKIEd, said: "Many maths teachers are the victims of rote-learning in their school days and they find it difficult to explain concepts concisely."
He added that the teaching quality in Hong Kong was relatively low compared with the mainland. "Given the same topics and curriculum, mainland teachers can make 70 per cent of students understand mathematics concepts taught while our teachers can only ensure 30 per cent of students comprehend them," he said.
Students' lack of confidence in maths and science was mainly due to their negative perception of the two subjects, according to Dr Wong Ngai-ying, associate professor of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "Our students associate mathematics with pressure and difficulties," he said.
Research he conducted three years ago indicated that students lost interest as early as Primary Three.
Dr Frederick Leung Koon-shing, principal investigator of TIMSS (Hong Kong) and dean of the Faculty of Education at HKU, said that the SAR's performance in the next TIMSS in 2003 would not be as high if the questions focused more on problem-solving and investigation techniques, in line with curriculum reforms in many countries.
But Dr Leung stressed Hong Kong should not strictly follow Western modes. "Different types of teaching should be used for students with different cultural backgrounds. Besides, the kind of training that Hong Kong students receive in mathematics is better in developing their basic skills than the teaching in many other countries," he said.