Thinking strategies Help Students Solve Problems

PNG INSIGHT initiative on Past Examination Papers Online is an approach that is an important policy discussion agenda. Given the slippages in the content, methods, and quality of teaching, performance standards in the subject learning areas examined at the completion of high and secondary school press students to prepare themselves well ahead of examinations.

Consequently, these issues and challenges briefly discussed herein to deepened members of the public perceptions on the examination papers, examination, teaching and learning, school curriculum, and memorization and thinking strategies.

Research: All learning is individual

Dr Tapo is basing his position upon his local knowledge and 41 years of experiences, supported by his research study in National Standards/Local Implementation: Case Studies of Differing Perceptions of National Education Standards in Papua New Guinea (2004) contemplates that educators have limited horizon on educational achievement standards in the standard-based-education system. All learning is individual. Hence;

  1. kind of knowledge or skill students should know,
  2. how well they are expected to learn it,
  3. applying knowledge and skills prescribed in the curriculum content and levels of performance and
  4. specifying how learners achievement will be assessed are educational achievement standard pillars.

There must be curriculum content, teacher knowledge, quality teaching, teacher quality, and classroom practices to measure, assess and award grades to each student or group of students.

Individual child knowledge and skill mastery

Examination and assessment are aspects of classroom measurement of an individual child mastery of knowledge and skills learned and awarded grades as the achievement of standards. A child’s destiny ‘self-image’ or self-esteem, and expectations of survival from completing school education make or break the sole purpose of education of a child.

Education plays an important role in building wholesome person simultaneously boosting national development and setting global social, economic and political activities. Attaining fail to lower grades, as a measure of their educational achievement of standards creates anxiety and position of despair despite 18 years of education.

Key determinant of educational practice – examinations

The past continues to haunt education authorities knowing that national examinations continue to be a key determinant of educational practice in Papua New Guinea. The examinations taken at grades 8, 10, and 12 determine the progression of students to the next level of education. Weeks, (1985) investigated and reported that pupil’s high achievements in the national examinations are associated in part with promotional opportunities for teachers and headteachers.

The image of good headteachers and schools is associated with good examinations results. Weeks, (1985) and Guthrie, (1985) investigated and argued that there is more to education than examinations, and suggested that it is unfortunate if teachers lose sight of their other roles and devote more of their allocated time teaching for the examinations.

Bias towards examinations – review lacking

Currently, an established monitoring system exists as an inspection system to monitor performances of schools and teachers for accountability purposes, but little has been done to review the bias towards examinations.

The inspection monitoring system focuses on teachers’ performance of non-pedagogic roles and as a result, little is known about how well pupils are achieving in the subject learning areas of the school curriculum.

Ross (1991) suggested that examination remains the main factor influencing selection to tertiary institutions because “opportunities to enter modern sector employment are scarce and the rewards for doing so are of great importance to teachers and students” (p. 1). Teachers’ classroom behaviours are strongly influenced by the national examinations taken by their pupils.

Research work on quality issues by Weeks (1985a) revealed parents had strong convictions that a good headmaster plays an important role in their children’s future, by ensuring that all children pass grade 6 national examinations. To the parents “children passing the examination is a measure of school quality” (p. l97).

Teachers’ and headteachers’ performance ratings, appointment and promotion are associated with students’ examination performance (Weeks, 1985a). However, there are two down-sides to examinations. First, the introduction of continuous assessment in schools to count towards a certain percentage of total marks revealed that teachers had inadequate conceptualizations of assessments and provided texts of doubtful validity. Second, examinations do not measure the socialization processes of learning such as appreciation of equity and level of participation of children in learning activities.

School children’s socialization processes

The generic examination requirements fail to acknowledge rural and urban school children’s socialization processes, which are equally important to the children’s learning contexts and education (Thomas, 1976; Bray, 1985; Gibson & Weeks, 1990; and Townsend, 1985). Thomas (1976), Bray (1985), Gibson & Weeks (1990), and Townsend (1985) all discussed factors contributing to children’s low standards in examination achievement levels. These factors include:

  • language difficulty;
  • the lack of and turnover of teachers;
  • teacher absenteeism;
  • the lack of appropriate content related textbooks for teachers and students;
  • the lack of material and equipment;
  • absence of science laboratory and chemical storage;
  • teaching behaviour is based more on formalized lessons than on the application of learning
  • processes to the needs of particular children;
  • learning is passive in heterogeneous classes; and
  • children not interested in learning.

Arguably, numerous factors inhibit the provision of education and achievement of learning outcomes and outputs of schools. The system continues to mass-produce great numbers of pupils whose education terminates early from grades 8 and 10, many of whom have not attained the level of proficiency in the subjects’ learning areas.

Importance of memorization of facts and thinking

The next section discusses the importance of memorization of facts and thinking.

The immediate challenges central to all of the approaches taken the century-long learning phenomenon of Thinking versus Memorizing of facts in late 1960-1980s are worth revisiting; such as students were routinized memorizing of facts, learn to remember and then display this at the Grade 6, Grade 8, and Grade 10 examinations.

Knowledge gathering and remembering facts

When the students fail to understand the examination questions and cannot remember the facts, they fail to meet the achievement level to high school or the tertiary and university education.

The school education examination in Papua New Guinea from 1975 to 2020 and beyond is all about Knowledge Gathering and Remembering. It is significant and very much dependent on the quantity of teaching, quality of teaching, and teacher quality.

The problem has and continues to be so (and is urgent) and acute problem associated very much to the Problem Solving or best described as thinking.

Teaching thinking strategies required to solve problems

Almost all high and secondary school education in Papua New Guinea failed to focus and have limited teaching, and learning processes learn more towards scientific approach teaching thinking strategies required to solve problems. Hence, its an apparent strategy and definite means to knowing the facts from knowledge and skills taught and learned in primary, high and secondary examinations.

The amount of time spent in teaching and learning of mathematics, Science and Grammar, is interconnected to the number of multiple practices each child assumes in class in these subjects are significant to avoid the dependency on past and recent examination papers.

Teach children more. Make them work harder

The current culture of schooling and learning is dependent on schools and teachers must teach children more and make them work harder to increase their information on the level of knowledge and skills planned around the subject learning learned.

Foremost, the level of individual child intelligence and termly achievements are correlated to subject learning areas facts (knowledge and skills acquisition). Students primarily learn best if they can remember these facts.

Emphasis on the thinking strategies – examinations

The ambiguity of language and phrases used in the past and more recent examination papers indicate the facts of knowledge and skills examined can or could lead to confusion.

Some questions can mislead students selecting or choosing to answer a question in future examinations because of a similar question and answer from the past examination papers. The 2020 and 2021 examination papers will need a thorough critique from the persons with the English language as the first language.

The Quest for high and secondary examinations is placing more emphasis on the thinking strategies that lead children to creativity, problem-solving, inquiry, and critical approach of thinking in a subject learning area learning.

Papua New Guinea children in 21st Century must be encouraged and have a voice in determining subjects taught in the National Curriculum and examined, and the rules applied in assessing and measuring of facts in knowledge and skills in examinations.

Quality of teaching and teacher quality – thinking strategies

Quality of teaching and teacher quality needs major shifts towards thinking strategies and say goodbye to the current heavily depended ideology of ‘chalk-talk and certainty-principle‘ which is central to there is a right and wrong answer to every question!

Dr Michael F Tapo, EdD


Editor’s note: We are delighted to have received this article from the former PNG Education Department Secretary, Dr M.F Tapo. He has over 40 years of experience, working in the education sector and his contribution is invaluable, balanced and insightful. His original commentary on PNG Insight blog (in regards to our PNG Maths Exam Resource website) can be found here.

RECOMMENDED READ: You can also our earlier post on the Mastery Approach to Teaching Mathematics in PNG Schools – A Comparative Analysis

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