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Challenges and Interventions in Raising the Quality of K to 12 Science Education

The low performance of students in international and national assessments proves that there are many constraints facing science education in Philippine schools. On its first attempt to participate in PISA in 2018, the Philippines scored 357 in Science Literacy, placing the country second from the bottom similar to that in mathematics literacy. Filipino grade 4 learners also ranked low in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2019 (TIMSS). An average score of 249 points in the overall Science achievement scale in 2019 TIMMS is significantly lower than any other participating country. While these dismal results may be depressing, our participation in these large-scale assessments should be acknowledged as a step forward towards addressing curriculum and learning gaps in the country’s basic education.

Learners’ poor performance in the assessment certainly depends on many factors: class size, low expenditure allocated per student, lack of readiness to answer computer-based tests, language used in the assessment, poverty, learners’ anxiety levels, teacher quality, and learning resources. Apart from these factors, it has been admitted through Sulong EduKalidad that the schools’ curriculum and learning environment could also explain the below-par performance of Filipino learners.

A mapping of the content, competencies, and standards of the K to12 Curriculum against the content, knowledge domains, competencies, and cognitive demand of the PISA 2018 Science Framework was conducted by Belmi and Mangali (2020) to examine the degree of alignment and identify possible gaps on the knowledge domains (content, procedural and epistemic), scientific literacy competencies, and levels of cognitive demand. The study revealed interesting findings, some of which are:

  1. In the PISA framework, three areas were covered under content knowledge: physical systems, living systems, and earth and space systems. Results of the mapping showed that all subtopics under physical systems and living systems are covered in the Grades 7 to 10 K to12 Science Curriculum. However, for the earth and space systems, two subtopics, Earth’s history, and The history and scale of the Universe are not found. This is a clear gap to take note of since the said concepts are specified in the PISA Science Framework.
  2. There are no specific competencies to address different types of chemical reactions anywhere from Grades 3-10. There are few competencies covering the formation of a new substance when exposed to heat or oxygen, but these are included in Grade 5 and an in-depth discussion of the topic may be limited. The types of chemical reactions, as an extension of discussing Chemical Bonding in Grade 9 may only be covered with depth based on the teacher’s discretion. Science teachers who are not actually Chemistry majors may not necessarily elaborate on those topics because they (the topics) are not actually specified in the curriculum.
  3. Topics on sustainability, population growth, and carrying capacity, topics specified in the PISA Science framework, are not discussed along with the topic on the ecosystem in Grades 7 and 8 and, thus may not guarantee that a 15-year old PISA assessment taker would have learned these just before the test.
  4. Two topics of procedural knowledge have minimal consideration in the K to12 curriculum with only one competency identified for each. These include the following topics: mechanisms to ensure replicability; the accuracy of measurement; the use of randomized controlled trials to avoid confounded findings; and to identify possible causal mechanisms.
  5. There are more competencies measuring procedural knowledge in Grade 8, and the least in Grade 10.
  6. When epistemic knowledge representation is examined per grade level, the majority of the constructs are covered in Grades 7, 8, and 9 only. There are no constructs identified in Grade 10.
  7. K to12 Curriculum has incorporated enough epistemic knowledge, but they are not necessarily distributed appropriately and accordingly across grade levels. The ability to be critical about the research work of the scientific community is a skill that a Grade 7 Filipino student may not be fully prepared for yet. The development of the said skill will require, among other factors, length of exposure, training, and even experience which science students can learn through the years as they progress from one grade level to the next.
  8. The majority of the learning competencies in the K to12 Curriculum is focused on the low-level sub-skills of identifying, using, and generating explanatory models and representations.
  9. Among the four grade levels (Grades 7-10), it is in Grade 7 where the distribution of the lower competencies are the lowest (67%), and the higher percentages are allotted in the higher grades (93% for Grade 10 as the highest)when it should be expected that these competencies should be mastered in the lower grades and the more complex set of scientific literacies in the higher grades.
  10. Interpreting data is a core activity of all scientists and is therefore essential in scientific literacy (OECD, 2018), and yet the K to12 Science Curriculum barely reflected these competencies.
  11. The bulk of discussion of all the topics in the K to12 Science Curriculum is concentrated in Grades 8 to 10 (from 29 -31% coverage), leaving Grade 7 with only about 9% coverage. Since PISA is given to 15-year old learners (approximately those in Grades 9 and 10), then it may be more beneficial to learners to introduce the science topics provided in the PISA Science framework early on rather than have them later in Grades 9 or 10.
  12. Comparing the percentage allotment of competencies across grade levels, it can be viewed that Grade 7 is allotted with the highest percentage of competencies with high level of cognitive demand when those competencies should have been placed in the higher grades.

Guided by the four key reform areas (KITE) of the Sulong EduKalidad Program, all of the recommendations offered in the study are worth considering. Some of the highlights are the following:

K to12 Science Curriculum Review and Update

The science curriculum should be unpacked and the content topics and learning competencies across grade levels should be proportionately distributed based on the level of cognitive demand and proficiency that a progressive learner should acquire.

Improvement of the Learning Environment

DepEd schools and other stakeholders (e.g. publishing companies, teacher education institutions) should take the lead to develop accessible learning and assessment materials that are similar or responsive to the PISA assessment structure on scientific literacy.

Schools should be provided with sophisticated and working science laboratory facilities where students can conduct meaningful experiments and research

Teachers’ Upskilling and Re-skilling

A wide-scale information dissemination on the results of the curriculum review and evaluation needs to be done to make the teachers understand and find ways to address the gaps in the curriculum they are implementing considering the global standards for scientific literacy emphasized in PISA.

All science teachers must be actively engaged in scientific research so they can share with their students the knowledge, skills, and practices of what a true scientist /researcher should be.

Engagement of Stakeholders for Support and Collaboration

A stakeholders’ forum may be initiated by DepEd at all levels to disseminate the overall results of the curriculum evaluation done and share the possible initiatives that can be implemented by any sector of the society to support the advocacies of Sulong EduKalidad.

Ensuring that our learners receive quality science education is a critical piece. Better teaching lies at the heart of any solution to the learning crisis. Therefore, despite several factors that may drive the learners’ performance, it is still the teachers who are at the frontlines of the movement to achieve quality education for all. To ensure quality education, focus on the continuous professional development of all teachers is indispensable in charting the roadmap for advancing Sulong EduKalidad.

Marilou J. Barredo

Marilou Barredo is a Biology Teacher in Celestino G. Tabuena National High School, Sorsogon City.

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