Science achievement at the primary level

May Hung May CHENG, Wing Mui Winnie SO, Chiao Liang Joseph TSANG

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Perspectives: In the Report on Review of 9-year Compulsory Education (1997), the importance of the quality and standard of educational attainment is highlighted. The report points out that "the attainments of some primary school leavers may be two or more year levels behind their classmates" and suggested a quality assurance mechanism "to guarantee the minimum educational attainment of all pupils". The Target Oriented Curriculum (TOC) is regarded as a basis for the development of the quality assurance mechanism. Furthermore, the recommendations in the report suggested that the present Academic Aptitude Test (AAT) should be replaced by the Academic Ability Assessment (AAA), consisting of two components, language ability and mathematical ability. Though the AAA or the AAT are adopted for scaling pupils' educational attainment, schools and parents tend to attach more importance to the subjects which are tested. However, other subjects like General Studies should be equally significant in terms of curriculum time. While Mathematics learning is seen as important as language abilities, pupils' ability in Mathematics have often been associated with their attainment in Science. Recently, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) has released part of the results. Among the 41 participating countries, Hong Kong ranked fourth in Mathematics achievement whereas in Science achievement Hong Kong was much further down the list making a position 24. This is quite unexpected as the other four top ranked countries in Mathematics achievement (Singapore, Korea, Japan and Belgium) were also among the eleven top ranked countries in Science achievement. In the Second International Mathematics and Science Study conducted in 1984-85, science achievement for Hong Kong Primary four pupils and lower secondary students were rated among the lowest of all the twenty-four participating countries (Holbrook, 1990). This is a disturbing situation that Hong Kong shows such difference in Science and Mathematics achievement and, in particular, Science achievement is persistently low. Science should not be neglected as an important element at the primary level. Science as a subject is gaining much importance in the agenda for elementary education in many parts of the world. The National Curriculum in the UK is a good illustration of the recent trend. In the US, the nation's education goal is published in America 2000: An Education Strategy (1991) which stated "By the year 2000, US students will be first in the world of science and mathematics achievement". Rowe (1992) argued for the importance of "early access to science for all". This reflects the growing public and professional belief that early access to science is an important mission for primary as well as compulsory education. As Science is regarded with such significance, how much do we understand about the pupils' attainment in science at the primary level in Hong Kong. Though Hong Kong has ranked low in these international comparisons, a summative test at primary four cannot reveal a full portrait of pupils' learning in the whole primary education. Differences in achievement in such global comparisons are inherent as there are differences among countries in the content of the curriculum, class size and amount of homework, etc. While recognizing the importance of the subject and the disturbing situation in science achievement in Hong Kong, there is a need to conduct local achievement tests that further explore and define the problem in science education. The present study is diagnostic in nature and attempts to construct a more realistic portrait representing science learning effected at the primary level in the local context. By comparing the actual learning of the pupils with reference to the local curriculum taught, the results indicate the strength and weakness more precisely than in international comparisons. Method: The present study aims to reflect Science achievement at the primary level in Hong Kong. Pupils from twelve schools are invited to participate in the study. In each school, thirty pupils at either primary 3 or 6 were interviewed. Questions are read to pupils to avoid the problem of misunderstanding due to difference in language abilities. Answers are marked by the interviewer on standard answer forms. In some questions, pupils are asked to draw on the answer forms. The questions tested pupils' understanding regarding major scientific learning in one of the three areas: light, electricity, growth and reproduction. A total of 60 responses are gathered for each area at either level. The questions are designed based on the local primary curriculum, the former science curriculum as well as the present General Studies curriculum and reference is also made to science learning projects (Primary Space Project, 1990, 1991). The questions tapped pupils' science learning at various levels: recall, comprehension, synthesis and application. Results: At the point of writing this proposal, the results are being analysed. By checking the correct and incorrect responses, misconceptions in the various areas are summarized. Possible influences on pupils' learning are implied from the results. Preliminary findings revealed that pupils perform better in questions that require only recall and comprehension. On answering questions that require more thought, many pupils simply answer "I don't know" showing their reluctance to think. A number of misconceptions in the various areas are identified. For example, those concerning the correct way of connecting a circuit are comparable to findings in overseas countries. In answering the questions on reproduction, students who are new immigrants tend to have more difficulty in understanding and answering them. This may be due to the fact that they are unfamiliar with the local curriculum and their previous science learning and attitude towards learning this topic (reproduction) is different. Significance of the Study: The findings of the present study can raise local educationalists' concern in science achievement and be more aware of the world wide move to produce "science literate citizens" in the compulsory education agenda. Drawing on the findings, further studies that inform the direction of development in Primary education can be established. Moreover, the findings is a basis for the design of a test on "scientific literacy" for local primary pupils. The local instrument tailor-made to the learnings of Hong Kong pupils will probably reflect a more accurate picture on science attainment. Finally, information provided by the present study on pupils' achievement has important implications on teaching. Teachers can be more aware about specific weakness in various areas and adjust their teaching according.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1997


Cheng, M. H. M., So, W. M. W., & Tsang, C. L. (1997, November). Science achievement at the primary level. Paper presented at the Hong Kong Educational Research Association (HKERA) 14th Annual Conference: Compulsory Education and Beyond, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China.


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