Issues in Learning Math and Science

Why Children in English-medium schools are often weak in English

What can parents do?

It makes better sense to discuss this question with parents. The discussion that follows could be shared with parents, without any need to edit.

Briefly, learning a language is the easiest of all things to learn; every one learns to speak and understand the mother tongue without any effort – just listening to it being spoken around is good enough. English language learning is no different. The problem of English language learning in India is that many children have no opportunity of hearing the language being spoken around.

Fortunately, there is a way to hear English language even if it is not spoken around – read English language content! When we read, we hear our own words; reading is similar to self-talk. Extensive reading in English is the way to improve command over English language for your child. Please refer to the sections on Reading and Language for more on improving English language competence.

However, this question is interesting for another reason. If English is the language of instruction for your child and his command over English is weak, it will not be long before the performance in maths and science becomes a cause of worry.

Language is a fundamental skill – we think best in a language. Thinking as a process is memory intensive and long-term memory is most efficiently populated with words and their network of emotions, linkages to other words, images, creative and critical associations etc. rather than being populated primarily by images. Language competence and quality of thinking are organically linked.

Clearly, poor language skills will sooner or later start pulling down the performance in maths and science because these two subjects strengthen logic and reasoning skills – in other words, the thinking skills. Being good in maths and science without the commensurate level of command over English (the language of prescribed books) is not sustainable over a longer term.

To top it, the only language for transacting advanced maths and science in our country is English. No Indian language is rich enough to transact the cutting edge research in science and maths. For example, as of now, medical education in India cannot happen in any language other than English because of the vast vocabulary size of medical science and the way the vocabulary evolves out of deep-seated root words. Improve the English language skills of your child on priority.

On the other hand, being good in English but poor in maths and science is a rather simpler situation to address. The latter two subjects are highly hierarchical in terms of concepts and these concepts can be easily delivered if reading and comprehension skills in English are strong.

The other two common situations are –

  1. Good in English and science but weak in maths – This case relates to difficulty in development of logic. Maths is the most logical domain. Command over language and a good foundation of science endow adequate mix of language and logic needed to get to command maths sooner than later. As mentioned earlier, maths is highly logical and that implies that there is a very rigid hierarchy in teaching and learning of maths; higher level of maths cannot be understood without conceptual clarity of the relevant prior knowledge. Thus, conceptual backlog in maths must be covered up on priority.
  2. Good in English and maths but weak in science – This case relates to difficulty in the discovery of facts and the world around because science is about understanding the real world around us. This is a far easier situation to handle and extensive reading will help with a good start in improving science. Command over language and good logical thinking (due to command over maths) is more than half the battle won in learning science. Focus on concept-based learning will really help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *