Teaching STEM subjects in English: experiences and challenges of secondary school teachers

As one aspect of becoming a competitive country the Education system of Kazakhstan set a long-term goal that states: Secondary school science teachers should be able to conduct their lessons in English language. The disciplines to be taught in English were biology, chemistry, physics and computers and the international research term for the science subjects was known as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The plan of how this reform might be implemented ‘lit a bulb’ in my head. I decided that this should my thesis topic and started to investigate the experiences and challenges of teaching STEM subjects in a local context.
There were very few schools in Kazakhstan which had an experience of teaching science subjects in English. Having interviewed my interviewees I came across interesting findings.
The main experiences of these teachers were regarding terminology issues. For instance, there was a dispute about whether to restrict the usage of L1 and L2 or whether to allow code-mixing during the lesson. Teachers also shared their practice on their teaching approaches. Thus, in order to make a lesson more engaging teachers were using ICT, gamification and CLIL approaches. The surprising factor of these teachers was that they spoke a lot about teacher’s personality. From this, I concluded that how teachers act and try to collaborate with students during the lesson are, perhaps, the basic skills that help them to overcome the challenges.
There were three major findings that came from teachers’ responses about the challenges. Majority reported that there are difficulties with mixed-ability of learning of students. Some students understood the content in one lesson, when others had to repeatedly put efforts. There were also existing stereotypes regarding students’ gender in learning STEM. Female students were believed to be less successful at science subjects. One last finding about the challenges was about language barriers. The same as students had different abilities to learn, pupils also had different English proficiency levels. This, set new obstacles for teachers.
In conclusion, I believe that the country is on the right track and that this reform will be successfully implemented in Kazakhstan. Right time never comes if you do not go for it and when, if not now?!science-clipart-nature-6

 

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