I presented this paper on systemic underachievement that school science appears to initiate and encourage at the Second Peoples Education Congress on the focal theme 'Science Education In India.' The Conference was jointly organised by the Peoples Council of Education and Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education from 5th October to 9th October 2009. It was an enriching experience.
“Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country’s blood.”
Thomas Gray (1750)
These two lines from the “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray draw our attention to the many talents that remained latent and thus unsung. His observations on underachievement remain equally valid even today and may be all the more pertinent as it would appear that underachievement is being fostered by the formal education and examination system.
This paper founded on empirical research attempts to show how the current practices of school science, tailored mainly to produce ‘good’ examination results, provide a narrow and indistinct view of science that significant numbers of students at all ability levels fail to enjoy and make sense of. They ‘retire hurt’ either with poor self concept or use the widely accepted ‘difficult’ nature of science to sit back and not make adequate efforts to see the complete picture of science that is imperative to become efficient users of science. The main aim of learning science then becomes preparing for the examinations.
It is common knowledge that not all objectives are amenable to external examinations. However, logistical constraints to communicate and explore the nature, methods and knowledge of science combined with a poor management structure to monitor and support what happens inside a classroom further affect the acquisition of some of the feasible objectives.
This paper raises certain pertinent questions regarding the limited view school science has come to assume and its inadvertent repercussions on students’ learning and self esteem, identifies different types of underachievement, highlights the need for a refocus to prevent the delivery of school science as a ‘rhetoric of conclusions’ for examination success and proposes some corrective measures.