NWU academic discusses chemical education as heart of central science
Prof Helen Drummond presented her inaugural lecture on 23 August 2018 at the North-West University’s (NWU’s) campus in Mahikeng. The title of her lecture was “Chemical education as the heart of the central science”.
Prof Drummond explained to the audience that chemistry is often called the central science because of its role in connecting physical sciences with life and applied sciences such as biology, medicine and engineering, as well as earth sciences. The centre (or heart) of this central science is education – passing it on to the next generation.
“When we talk about the centre of a person, we normally talk about the heart as it is in the centre of the chest,” said Prof Drummond. “Education puts the heart into chemistry.”
Prof Drummond said research in chemistry is very important for the advancement of the economy, and therefore education in chemistry is vital. However, South Africa performs poorly in science and mathematics, as proven by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study studies, conducted every four years by the Human Sciences Research Council.
“Much has been written on the need to improve chemistry teaching and learning, focusing on innovative ways of teaching. Some researchers have suggested that chemistry should be made more attractive to students, and as a result there has been various changes to the curriculum and the mode of presentation, computers and technology have been introduced in chemistry classes, and different modes of instruction such as blended learning have been recommended.”
Prof Drummond encouraged students to develop a good understanding of the concepts of chemistry. ”Chemistry teaching should follow a skills based approach. Students should learn content knowledge along with skills and strategies, and be able to use these to think critically and creatively.”
Many skills and strategies are needed to learn chemistry effectively. Prof Drummond, her colleagues and postgraduate students have undertaken various studies to test and improve students’ competence in a wide range of skills. These include language, mathematical, graphical, three-dimensional visualisation, information processing and reasoning skills.
“Our studies have shown that many students fail chemistry not only because of lack of chemical knowledge, but also because they are incompetent in basic intellectual skills and strategies.
“Many teachers feel that, due to the large content of the chemistry syllabus, they do not have sufficient time to teach students the necessary skills and strategies during their courses. However, students who are competent in intellectual skills and strategies generally perform better both in secondary and tertiary level chemistry courses, and also have better problem-solving skills. This should be an incentive for teachers to concentrate on skills and strategies when they teach subject content,” concluded Prof Drummond.
Prof Helen Drummond presents her inaugural lecture.