Should Science Teachers be Paid more


Lawrence Krauss is a smart guy, he’s a professor of physics, he’s written a whole plethora of books on science and has an award list from the scientific community that’s longer than my sunday grocery list (and trust me that list is looong).

He’s also famous for one of my favorite books, the science of Star Trek, in where he explains things like warp speed an teleportation. So in general Lawrence is a pretty big voice in the physics community and when he says something people usually listen–they may not agree, but at least they listen.

I recently watched a 2 hour video of him conversing with Richard Dawkins about ‘Something from Nothing’, and I was really intrigued, but what really caught my attention was a 5 minute piece he did for Big Think about why Science Teachers should be paid more than Humanities teachers. It’s quite interesting to think about, the general premise being that:

1) Teaching directly from the syllabus or from the curricula is both bad and anti-productive for students.

2) Science Teachers who’ve actually had training in Science are far better equipped to teach it, because they can extend beyond the syllabus and curricula.

3) But to get Science Teachers who’ve actually been trained in Science–you need to compete in a job market for scientifically trained people.

4) The market for the Scientifically trained is far more competitive (price wise) than the market for someone with a degree in history or languages.

5) So in order to get the best science teachers, we should pay them more than we pay the humanities teachers.

Of course Lawrence ends his video, with a caveat that he doesn’t think this is the best solution but something to be debated, and for the most part, there’s been no debate due to teachers union and government intervention…etc.

Malaysian perspective of paying Science Teachers more

I think this was a good idea, at least good enough to debate on. About 2 months ago the Education ministry was considering giving incentives to students and parents to encourage them to take up Science subjects, including giving free books and grants for students, and tax relief for parents. Of course just like everything else in Malaysia, it’s being politicized with Teresa Kok almost instantly rebutting the policy, pointing to her own experience.

If we look at the TIMMS study, I was shocked to find out that nearly 13% of Form 2 students in Malaysia are being science by teachers who don’t have a bachelors degree, with 1% of them being taught by teachers with just an upper-secondary education. However, further analyzing the data for Malaysia we see something even more striking. If we break up the teachers into 4 categories by the education and then take the average student scores for those categories we find:

1) Teachers with a Major in Science and Science Education: Average Score 429

2) Teachers with a Major in Science only : Average Score 434

3) Teachers with a Major in Science Education Only: Average score 385

4) Teachers with some other Major : Average Score 440

Now first thing to notice is that the ‘Average mean’ we should aim for as a country is 500. So all the teachers are failing to meet the minimum level of scientific literacy for their students. Secondly, the teachers with just a Science Education major seem to do so badly as to warrant the question of should we just get rid of science education all together. Finally, it’s really hard to see how a Teachers with a major other than Science or Science Education on average do better than teachers with such majors. It’s just shocking and beyond explanation. That being said, to come back to the first point– these teachers still fail to meet the minimum global benchmark, but they are what Malaysians would term ‘Jaguh Kampungs’.

Should Malaysia pay Science Teachers more

I think we should. If we start with the assumption that we want to promote scientific literacy in Malaysia, and if we accept that we need human capital in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) to further our economy and progress the nation in general, then we need to come a realization that science is far more important than history, languages, arts and humanities in general. Yes, I know you like English and Bahasa Literature–but to be honest–science is more important for this country.

It sounds controversial and taboo to talk about this, to say one subject is more important than the other. It’ll sound much more diplomatic and subtle if we said we prioritize a holistic approach where humanities and sciences are paid equal attention and receive equal amounts of the resources–but that’s not the truth. The truth is that Science and Maths are at the forefront of any developed nation and we need it more than we need the humanities, and we should find some way of increasing the intake of sciences in schools and then increasing the quality of those students that finally come out of an education in science.

So it’s great to see things like the Malaysian Toray Science Foundation, that is a charitable organization aimed at promoting science education in Malaysia. Among other things, it’s been consistently giving out a Science Education Award (SEA) to teachers in recognition of their innovative and effective teaching methods in science education. At least we have a Japanese company that’s willing to promote scientific literacy in Malaysia–I wonder when will our local companies step up to the plate.

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