These days, our Ministry of Education has been rigorously vetting through the different sources of textbooks for school use and this has helped to raise the bar significantly. As authors start to becoming creative in using nice graphics and straightforward language to depict Chemistry concepts, school textbooks have definitely surpassed those used decades ago. In fact, it is now common to see students using it for self-revision and making summary notes on their own.
However, there are still questions raised about whether textbooks are enough.
Children and their parents have often wondered why school exams are getting increasingly tougher with time, to the point that the common examples and practice questions provided in school textbooks are becoming insufficient to help students be well prepared for their tests.
Unfortunately, teachers find themselves stuck in between, as they have to juggle between making parents happy and at the same time, are not given the privilege of setting an easy exam paper in order to distinguish the students’ ability for banding purposes. This is especially true that preliminary exam papers tend to be harder than the national exams so that students do not get complacent and ensure that they pick up their socks to do well in them in order to be given the chance to select the school of their choice at the next destination of their education journey. Growing competition between schools also mean that teachers setting the exam papers cannot slip up in terms of the difficulty level of the exam papers to be set.
Think about it. If school textbooks are enough for students to get enough exposure and practice for their exams, why then is the market for assessment books so huge? You just have to walk into any Popular bookstore and you will easily find a huge section containing several aisles filled with assessment books from different authors and publishers. This is also not to mention that the tuition industry is worth billions of dollars as tutors look out for various sources of materials for their students to gain mastery over Chemistry questions.
This is one factor that has resulted in many parents seeking tuition lessons for their child, in order to narrow the growing divide between the MOE syllabus taught in schools and the variety of questions found in exams.
As students progress to higher tertiary education, the reliance on school textbooks become less prominent. The various junior colleges in Singapore do not really focus on teaching Chemistry from textbooks. Rather, it is determined by the Chemistry departments of each junior college to create its very own lecture handouts and tutorial practice questions for their students.
This may seem counter intuitive to some, but the shared stack of lecture handouts and tutorial questions will help to save the teachers both time and effort required to come up with their own. Furthermore, it is easy to amend the lecture handouts and tutorial questions whenever there is a need to compared to what is found in textbooks.
This is in alignment with the different requirements at higher tertiary education compared to primary or secondary school education. At junior college level, the learning of Chemistry often takes into account a more complex approach towards a deeper understanding of the subject, and this may explain why there are many teachers who will prefer to come up with their own set of learning materials in accordance of their respective teaching methodologies and styles. Furthermore, individual junior colleges may have a preference towards teaching certain Chemistry topics over others first based on their own judgement on what is most suitable for their students.
At polytechnics and universities, this trend of the absence of standardised textbooks can be similarly seen there as well. Each lecturer will have a recommended set of reference books for the individual courses that they teach and even then, most of the questions from tests and exams can be easily answered if students study the lecture notes and tutorial problems that their respective lecturers hand out to them. This teaching culture at tertiary education may be due to the fact that most students are already independent and require less hand-holding by their teachers. In addition, textbooks also do not come cheap and it may be seen as a waste of money as students can easily gain access to them in their school library. With digitisation of materials also becoming more common, students also have the option of not purchasing the reference books, but instead finding for soft copy versions of them online.
To sum it up, whether it is at the primary school or university level, textbooks are definitely not enough as additional resources will still be needed to enable teachers or tutors to properly educate students in the subject of Chemistry.