Science education hampered by lack of equipment
In a country that wants to become a technology hub, science education is important. Yet for the teachers involved, explaining chemistry without being able to carry out experiments is proving a difficult task.
Juvenal Sibomana, a biology teacher in Nyamagabe School of Science, is struggling. Obviously he finds biology and other sciences fascinating, but he’s having a hard time getting the message through to students.
“How can you teach anatomy theoretically, telling students that lungs are located in this part of the human body; believe me, it takes time to explain that without lab equipment,” Sibomana says, adding that it is easier with botany, because then at least he can take plants to class to practically explain the type and the parts of the plant.
Students too are complaining. Clement Kagabo, for instance, a senior five biology and chemistry student in Birambo, Northern Province, says the situation in his school is pretty bad, and that they have to study in an imaginative way.
“In chemistry for example, we are being told things which we will never understand unless we get a laboratory to set up experiments,” Kagabo remarks. “It is difficult for us to understand that a mixture of certain chemicals can cause an explosion or a change of color without really seeing it happening.”
The students are now worrying about their exams, Kagabo points out, given that this year’s National Exams, which will also include practical tests.
The ministry of education is aware of the problem, and is gradually equipping schools across the country. According to Diogene Mulindahabi, the director of schools construction and equipment in MINEDUC, 30 schools in each district have already been supported with lab didactic materials, and more are to follow.
“We are targeting 60 more science schools in the whole country before the end of 2010,” Mulindahabi explains, yet he adds that there are limitations given the high cost of such equipment. “The process of equipping science schools is not as cheap as you might think. For example, biology or physics apparatuses and chemicals are expensive and have to be imported from abroad. So it passes through the public procurement agency, which causes some delay in the delivery.”
Moreover, the director points out that some schools do not have appropriate rooms for laboratories, thus they first have to be constructed.
At the same time, the ministry is looking for partnerships with the private sector to solve some of the problems. For instance, some of the science equipment can be made locally, and MINEDUC is now examining how it can be done by private companies.
It also has to be noted that recently the MacMillan publishing company launched a science website to assist teachers. The idea is to ensure that all schools with science subjects have sufficient resource materials in biology, chemistry and physics and that teachers can share experiences through the website
According to Ruth Mutoni the editorial assistant in MacMillan, 30 teachers have been trained in using the site and in updating it for instance by publishing experiments they have conducted. She points out that it’s essentially the teachers who determine the content.
“Almost 80% of content on the website is a gap to be filled by these teachers, so they should delve deep into the subjects and share experiments with others,” Mutoni says.
That also explains why some of the content on the website is not relevant to the country, as some of the participants in the training pointed out.
“I think the idea itself is good, but there is content that cannot be applied in the Rwandan context,” explains Emille Mukiza, a physics curriculum developer in the National Curriculum Development Center. “For example, there are chemistry experiments using raw materials that cannot be found here, or that are expensive, like uranium.”
Ruth Mutoni admits this, but says that it’s exactly through teachers’ contributions that should provide the locally relevant content. She adds that after the website has been operational for three months, Macmillan together with the teachers will make an evaluation.
It has to be noted, though, that a subscription fee has to be paid to access the website. Whether the small teachers salaries will allow this, is another question.