Educationalists argue activity-based study is preferable
Education experts have said a government policy to introduce science classes at first-grade level to improve "scientific literacy" may not have the intended outcome, saying that a better option is to encourage students to join more science activities instead of forcing them to study in class.
Students currently start science classes in Grade Three.
All primary schools should start science classes in the first grade from the 2017 autumn semester, which starts on September 1, says a notice released on the Ministry of Education (MOE) website on Wednesday.
The policy aims to "enhance the students' scientific literacy" at primary school and it requires schools to have at least one class on science per week in the first and second years.
Four areas should be studied, including physical science, life science, science related to technology and engineering, the Earth and universe.
Both parents and education experts have questioned the policy, expressing their worries that the policy may add to the burden on young students.
"Although the intentions behind the policy are good and Chinese students' scientific knowledge should be improved, it would be better to encourage more scientific experiments and activities instead of having compulsory courses," Chu Zhaohui, a research fellow at the National Institute of Educational Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Young children may get interested in different scientific fields and their understanding of science also differs from one another. Instead of sitting in class, 7-year-old children should be encouraged to get out into nature and do science activities driven by their curiosity and interests, Chu said.
"Scientific literacy is more about developing a scientific way of thinking and having a scientific attitude and spirit, which should be enhanced by changing the education system that focuses too much on exams," Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, told the Global Times.
Whether society respects and appreciates scientists and their achievements, as well as whether scientific misconduct is dealt with properly, will also affect the country's scientific literacy, Xiong said.
Becoming a scientist is less attractive to Chinese students now, according to the Program for International Student Assessment held by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2015, only 16.8 percent of Chinese students expected to pursue careers in science, well below the 38 percent figure in the US and the average in OECD countries of 24.5 percent.